Idle after a show in Rutland, Vermont, 2003
|Born||29 March 1943
South Shields, England
|Occupation||Actor, author, comedian, composer, musician, singer, writer|
|Spouse(s)||Tania Kosevich (1981–present)
Lyn Ashley (1969–1975)
Idle was born in South Shields, County Durham (now Tyne and Wear) in Harton Village, the son of Nora Barron (née Sanderson), a health visitor, and Ernest Idle. His father had served in the Royal Air Force and survived World War II, only to be killed in a hitch-hiking accident on Christmas Eve 1945. His mother had difficulty coping with a full-time job and raising a child, so when he was seven, she enrolled him into the Royal Wolverhampton School as a boarder.
The school had begun life as a Victorian orphanage, and during Idle's time was a charitable foundation dedicated to the welfare of children who had lost one or both parents. Its pupils, who were mainly the children of dead English soldiers, still referred to it as the 'Ophney'.
Idle is quoted as saying: "It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid to grow up in. I got used to dealing with groups of boys and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances and being smart and funny and subversive at the expense of authority. Perfect training for Python."
Idle stated that the two things that made his life bearable were listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes and watching the local football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite this, he disliked other sports and would sneak out of school every Thursday afternoon to the local cinema. He was eventually caught watching the X-rated film BUtterfield 8 [sic] and stripped of his prefecture, even though by that time he was head boy. Idle had already refused to be senior boy in the school cadet force, as he supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and had participated in the yearly Aldermaston March.
Idle attended Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, where he studied English. At Pembroke, he was invited to join the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club by the President of the Footlights Club, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Footlights Club member Bill Oddie.
Idle became Footlights President in 1965 and was the first to allow women to join the club.
Idle starred in the children's television comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set opposite his future Python fellows Terry Jones and Michael Palin (who were both former University of Oxford students). Terry Gilliam provided animations for the show. Other members of the cast were comic actors David Jason and Denise Coffey.
Idle wrote for Monty Python mostly by himself, at his own pace, although he sometimes found it difficult in having to present material to the others and make it seem funny without the back-up support of a partner. John Cleese, another member of The Python Group, admitted that this was slightly unfair – when the team voted on which sketches should appear in a show, “he only got one vote” — but says that Idle was an independent person and worked best on his own. Idle himself admitted this was sometimes difficult: “You had to convince five others. And they were not the most un-egotistical of writers, either."
Idle's work in Python is often characterised by an obsession with language and communication: many of his characters have verbal peculiarities, such as the man who speaks in anagrams, the man who says words in the wrong order, and the butcher who alternates between rude and polite every time he speaks. A number of his sketches involve extended monologues (for example the customer in the "Travel Agency" sketch who won't stop talking about his unpleasant experiences with holidays), and he would frequently spoof the unnatural language and speech patterns of television presenters. Additionally, like Palin, Idle is said to be the master of insincere characters, from the David Frost-esque Timmy Williams, to small-time crook Stig O'Tracy, who tries to justify the fact that organized crime master Dinsdale Piranha had nailed his head to the floor.
One of the younger members of the team — a year behind Cleese and Chapman at Cambridge — Idle was closest in spirit to the students and teenagers who made up much of Python's fanbase. Python sketches dealing most with contemporary obsessions like pop music, sexual permissiveness and recreational drugs are Idle's work, often characterized by double entendre, sexual references, and other "naughty" subject matter — most famously demonstrated in "Nudge Nudge." Eric Idle originally wrote "Nudge, Nudge" for Ronnie Barker, but it was rejected because there was 'no joke in the words'.
A competent guitarist, Idle composed many of the group's most famous musical numbers, most notably "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", the closing number of Life of Brian, which has grown to become a Python signature tune. He was responsible for the "Galaxy Song" from The Meaning of Life and (with Cleese) "Eric the Half-a-Bee", a whimsical tune that first appeared on the Monty Python's Previous Record album.
After Python ceased to exist as a regularly active ensemble in the early 1980s, all six members pursued solo projects. Idle's first solo work was his own BBC Radio One show, Radio Five (pre-dating the real Radio Five station by 18 years). This ran for two seasons from 1973 to 1974 and involved Idle performing sketches and links to records, with himself playing nearly all the multi-tracked parts.
On television, Idle created Rutland Weekend Television (RWT), a sketch show on BBC2, written by himself, with music by Neil Innes. RWT was 'Britain's smallest television network'. The name was a parody of London Weekend Television, the independent television franchise that provided Londoners with their ITV services at weekends; Rutland had been England's smallest county, but had recently been 'abolished' in an administrative shake-up. To make the joke complete, the programme went out on a weekday. Other regular performers were David Battley, Henry Woolf, Gwen Taylor and Terence Bayler, and George Harrison made a guest appearance on one episode.
A legacy of RWT was the creation, with Innes, of The Rutles, an affectionate parody of The Beatles. The band became a popular phenomenon, especially in the U.S. where Idle was appearing on Saturday Night Live — fans would send in Beatles LPs with their sleeves altered to show the Rutles. In 1978 the Rutles' mockumentary film All You Need Is Cash, a collaboration between Python members and Saturday Night Live, was aired on NBC television, as written by Idle, with music by Innes. Idle appeared in the film as "Dirk McQuickly" (the Paul McCartney-styled character of the group), as well as the main commentator. Actors appearing in the film included Saturday Night Live's John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, as well as George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Idle wrote and directed The Rutles comeback in 2008 for a live show Rutlemania! to celebrate the 30th anniversary. The performances took place in Los Angeles and New York with a Beatles tribute band.
In 1986, Idle provided the voice of Wreck-Gar, the leader of the Junkions (a race of robots built out of junk that can only speak in movie catchphrases and advertising slogans) in Transformers: The Movie. In 1987 he took part in the English National Opera production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Mikado, in which he appeared in the role of the Lord High Executioner. In 1989 he appeared in the U.S. comedy television series Nearly Departed, about a ghost who haunts the family inhabiting his former home. The series lasted for six episodes as a summer replacement series.
Idle received good critical notices appearing in projects written and directed by others — such as Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), alongside Robbie Coltrane in Nuns on the Run (1990) and in Casper (1995). He also played Ratty in Terry Jones' version of the The Wind in the Willows (1996). However, his own creative projects — such as the movie Splitting Heirs (1993), a comedy he wrote, starred in and executive-produced — were mostly unsuccessful with critics and audiences.
In 1994, he appeared as Dr. Nigel Channing, chairman of the Imagination Institute and host of an 'Inventor of the Year' awards show in the three-dimensional film Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!, which has been an attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot since 1994 and at Disneyland since 1998. The film also stars Rick Moranis and other members of the cast of the 1989 feature film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In 1999, he reprised the role in the second (and controversial) version of the Journey Into Imagination ride at Epcot, replacing Figment and Dreamfinder as the host. Due to an outcry from Disney fans, Figment was reinstated into the ride. Idle is also writer and star of the three-dimensional film Pirates — 4D for Busch Entertainment Corporation.
In 1995, he voiced Rincewind the "Wizzard" in a computer adventure game based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. In 1996, he reprised his role as Rincewind for the game's sequel, and composed and sang its theme song, "That's Death". In 1998, Idle appeared in the lead role in the poorly received film Burn Hollywood Burn (see Criticism). That same year, he also provided the voice of Devon, a dragon, in Warner Bros. Animated film Quest for Camelot.
In recent years, Idle has worked with people who regard him as a huge inspiration, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, in which he voiced Dr. Vosknocker. He has also made three appearances on The Simpsons as famous documentarian Declan Desmond, so far the only appearance on the show by a Python. From 1999 to 2000, he played Ian Maxtone-Graham on the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan. He has also acted as Narrator to the AudioNovel version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and Waddlesworth the parrot in 102 Dalmatians and the video game of the same name.
In late 2003 Idle began a performing tour of several American and Canadian cities entitled The Greedy Bastard Tour. The stage performances consisted largely of music from Monty Python episodes and movies, along with some original post-Python material. In 2005 Idle released The Greedy Bastard Diary, a book detailing the things he and the cast and crew encountered during the year-long tour.
Spamalot is a musical comedy based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The medieval production tells the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they journey on their quest for the Holy Grail. Spamalot features a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by Idle and John Du Prez, direction by Mike Nichols, and choreography by Casey Nicholaw.
More recently, Idle provided the voice of Merlin the magician in the DreamWorks animated film Shrek the Third (2007) with his former Python co-star John Cleese, who voiced King Harold, and he is to reprise the role in Shrek Forever After (2010). He reportedly stormed out of Shrek the Third's premiere and said he may sue the producers of the film after seeing them directly copy a gag from his earlier film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The gag in question is banging coconuts together to imitate hoofbeats — a running gag throughout the film.
Idle's play What About Dick? was given a staged reading at two public performances in Hollywood on 10–11 November 2007. The cast included Idle, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Emily Mortimer, Jim Piddock and Tracey Ullman.
Idle has written several books, both fiction and non-fiction. His novels are Hello Sailor and The Road to Mars. In 1976, he produced a spin-off book to Rutland Weekend Television, entitled The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book. In 1982, he wrote a west end farce Pass The Butler, starring Willie Rushton. During his Greedy Bastard Tour of 2003, he wrote the diaries that would be made into The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America, published in February 2005.
Idle also wrote the book and co-wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Monty Python's Spamalot, based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It premiered in Chicago before moving to Broadway, where it received the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004-05 season. Idle won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.
In a 2005 poll to find "The Comedian's Comedian" (UK), he was voted 21 in the top 50 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
An example of Idle's idiosyncratic writing is "Ants In Their Pants" — a poem about the sex life of ants. It starts as follows:
Idle is an accomplished songwriter, having composed and performed many of the Pythons' most famous comic pieces, including "Eric the Half-a-Bee", "The Philosophers' Song", "Galaxy Song", "Penis Song (Not the Noel Coward Song)" and, probably his most recognised hit, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", which was written for the closing scene of the Monty Python film Life of Brian, and sung from the crosses during the mass crucifixion. The song has since been covered by Harry Nilsson, Bruce Cockburn, Art Garfunkel and Green Day. Idle, his fellow Pythons, and assorted family and friends performed the song at Graham Chapman's funeral.
In 1990, Idle sang and co-wrote the theme tune to the popular British sitcom One Foot In The Grave. The song was later released, but did poorly in the charts. However, when "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" was adopted as a football chant in the late 1980s, Idle's then neighbour Gary Lineker suggested Idle re-record and release the popular track. This led to a surprise hit, some 12 years after the song's original appearance in Life Of Brian, reaching number 3 in the UK charts and landing Idle a set on Top of the Pops in October 1991.
In 2004, Idle recorded a protest song of sorts, the "FCC Song", in which he lambastes the US Federal Communications Commission for fining him $5,000 for saying the word "fuck" on national radio. Fittingly, the short song contains 14 uses of the said expletive. The song can be downloaded in MP3 and OGG Vorbis format at the Internet Archive. In 2005, he received multiple Tony award nominations for his songwriting work on the Broadway musical Spamalot.
In June 2007, "Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)", a comic oratorio by Idle and John Du Prez premiered at the inaugural Luminato arts festival in Toronto. Idle himself performed during this 50-minute oratorio, along with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The composer, John Du Prez, was also present. Shannon Mercer, Jean Stilwell, Christopher Sieber, and Theodore Baerg sang the principal parts. The American premiere was at Caramoor (Westchester County, New York) on 1 July 2007. Soloists were the same as in the Toronto performance, but the accompanying chorus was made up of members of New York City's Collegiate Chorale. The show was revised and expanded for a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2007, including two sell-out nights at the Sydney Opera House. A tour during the summer of 2008 included performances with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia, and Houston.
Idle was voted the 21st favourite comedian out of 50 in The Comedian's Comedian 2005 poll by comedians and comedy insiders.
Idle married his current wife, Tania Kosevich, an American, in 1981. They have one daughter, Lily, born in 1990.
Idle in recent years has been criticised for commercializing the legacy of Monty Python. In Slate, Sam Anderson wrote in the article "And Now For Something Completely Deficient" that though Idle "has earned a spot in Comedy Heaven for his Python days...his jokey "exposure" of his own exploitation (he has called tours "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" and "The Greedy Bastard Tour") is more irritating than funny." Of Spamalot, Anderson opined that "Python was formed in reaction to exactly the kind of lazy comedy represented by Spamalot — what Michael Palin once described as the 'easy, catch-phrase reaction' the members had all been forced to pander to in their previous writing jobs".
Spamalot has had mixed reactions from the other Python members. Terry Jones described it as “utterly pointless and full of air”. Cleese lent his support by voicing God in a recorded performance that was integrated into the musical. Palin observed: "It's a great show. It’s not ‘Python’ as we would have written it. But then, none of us would get together and write a ‘Python’ stage show." Terry Gilliam displayed a mixed reaction to the show, calling it "Python-like".
In 1998, Idle appeared in the lead role in the film Burn Hollywood Burn. The film was nominated as 'Worst Picture of the Decade' in the Golden Raspberry Awards (known as the Razzies) — and was awarded five Razzies including 'Worst Picture of the Year'.
In 2000 The AV Club gave the album Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert the title of 'Least Essential Solo Album' of the year. It said "the year's true nadir came from an unexpected source, beloved Monty Pythoner Eric Idle, who preceded his depressingly low-rent, if honestly dubbed "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" tour with the equally unimpressive, if no less accurately titled Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert."
There has also been criticism of Idle from the other Rutles, who reunited for the Archaeology album in the mid-1990s without him. On the Channel 4 programme What The Pythons Did Next, Rutles drummer John Halsey (aka Barry Wom), said that he had to switch off Idle's The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch after 10 minutes. Innes was more diplomatic on the same show, saying "we used to think he had delusions of grandeur, now we know it's only grandeur".
Eric Idle (born 29 March 1943) is a British comedian, writer, and actor.
Eric is famous for his songwriting and singing skills. The songs he wrote or sang were put to best use in his work with Monty Python, in the television programme and in the movies. He wrote the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". This song was written as the closing song of the movie Life of Brian.
|Graham Chapman • John Cleese • Terry Gilliam • Eric Idle • Terry Jones • Michael Palin|
|And Now For Something Completely Different • Monty Python and the Holy Grail • Monty Python's Life of Brian • Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life|