Who better to write a history of comedy than John Cleese? The actor/writer always comes first and foremost to my mind when I think of British humor, and he's up there with the greatest screen comedians of all time. Unfortunately, he doesn't think he's appropriately funny these days, when television is targeted at, "American teenage kids," and he says he'll never do better than Fawlty Towers. So, he's giving up on writing scripts and is instead concentrating on a book about stage and screen comedy, from silent cinema to modern favorites like Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard.
Though he singled out Gervais and Izzard while telling The London Times about his book, which will serve as a text for classes he plans to teach, I'm not thinking that his concentration will be primarily on British comedy, though he does seem to have some problems with current American trends -- I wonder if he will be celebrating actors such as Ben Stiller or TV shows like Friends. Cleese is, of course, the man who brought us some of the silliest routines ever to appear on film, but I think even he finds new comedy to be pretty dumb. He told the paper, "I very much want to teach young talent some rules of the game."
Other icons he will focus on in the book include Americans Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, The Marx Brothers and Bill Hicks along with Brits like Tom Stoppard, Alan Bennett, Alan Ayckbourn and Michael Frayn. Whether or not he'll teach the genius of his own work, particularly Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda was not revealed. Perhaps he'll be too modest to venture there on his own, but students will most certainly request some insights into that territory. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the book and I hope that The Times' claim that Cleese is retiring to teach the class does not mean he will never appear on screen again.