Book review: So, Anyway… by John Cleese

3/5 stars

Audible version, narrated by John Cleese.

This is the first part (out of I don’t know how many) of John Cleese’s autobiography. I was not aware that it was part 1 of x when I purchased it, and I’m not entirely convinced it warrants multiple parts to be honest. He could have cut down on a lot of the stuff in the first instalment and included much, if not all, of the later years as well.

So, if you want to read this book to be regaled by stories of Pythonness, be advised that that only comes in briefly at the end (last chapter or so).

That being said, though there were undoubtedly parts that dragged a little, I did very much enjoy the book overall. I found Cleese’s musings on psychology and even more his thoughts about writing comedy most interesting and illuminating. I’ve always wanted to be funny, but it’s actually quite hard work, even for the likes of the Pythons. Cleese suggests that you’ll have more success building on existing material and jokes that you find funny rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, which tracks with a lot of other writing advice really and makes good sense. It also kind of makes trying to write something funny a little less intimidating.

This book covers childhood and pretty much up to the Python era, including meeting Graham Chapman and writing for the Cambridge Footlights and a ton of other things together both for radio and television.

While the anecdotes are mostly funny and interesting, I find he doesn’t really get very personal. Which to me is part of the point of an autobiography – being able to get an insight you can’t get from Google. I mean he does share stuff, but I also feel like he glosses over a lot. And I find the way he talks about his peers, colleagues and I guess friends, kind of strange. He seems a little cold and analytical, a little distant. He can definitely express admiration for someone’s talent as a writer, actor or businessman, but there’s just.. something missing.

Towards the end there’s also quite a few sketches included in full, which is fine and probably works quite a bit better in the audio book than the print version, but it still feels a bit like filler.

Cleese is definitely a fine comedic writer and an intelligent man, and I’m not sorry I picked this one up, but it fell a little short of expectations.

A note on the audio: He speaks pretty fast and it took a little getting used to. Not that I couldn’t clearly hear what he was saying, just that there wasn’t much dramatic reading as such. And generally I find it kind of charming when people laugh at their own jokes, but there are a couple of places where that became distracting – particularly the first time when I had no idea what he was laughing at. He does have a pleasant voice though.


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