‘So, what have I learned over my long and weird life? Well, firstly, that there are two kinds of people, and I don’t much care for either of them. Secondly, when faced with a difficult choice, either way is often best. Thirdly, always leave a party when people begin to play the bongos.’
Eric Idle’s ‘sortabiography’ tells his story up to recent times, from his grim and rebellious schooldays to his recent tour with fellow elderly Python, John Cleese… with many wild anecdotes and smart reflections along the way. The tone of the book is pure Eric Idle and as you might expect, Pythonesque. His love for other people really shines through, for friends, colleagues, family, and particularly his second wife Tania. I felt that he was writing a memorial not only for himself, but for departed friends such as George Harrison, David Bowie, Robin Williams, Graham Chapman and Carrie Fisher. There is an awful lot of ‘name-dropping’ because he did party with so many famous folk, but this is part of the joke. In the Apology at the beginning, Eric introduces the book as his ‘pathetic addition to the celebrity memoir’, so there’s already a sense that he’s parodying the genre. There are also plenty of illustrations, both black and white and a colour section. The award for cheekiest photo goes to the Playboy cover featuring his wife’s rear. The one of Eric in a ballerina costume, shaking hands with Prince Charles, is probably the funniest.
The book also acts as a guide to Eric Idle’s major work. There isn’t as much emphasis on the Monty Python TV series as you’d expect, because so much has already been written about it, but the films, songs and musicals have more coverage. His most famous song, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, is the thread which runs throughout, as the song’s life has expanded far beyond its original outing in Life of Brian. The narrative was so true to Idle’s persona that after finishing it, I felt that he was my friend, albeit the kind of friend who plays jokes on you and then writes about them in a book.
If you want to read about sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll, plus comedy and the meaning of life, you could do worse than pick up this memoir.