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Eric Idle On His New Show: Comedy, Music, Philosophy 'And One Fart Joke'

Eric Idle has been in show business since 1961. He was a key member of the definitely legendary British comedy group Monty Python's Flying Circus, and he was responsible for many of Monty Python's songs.

He was the musical one when those six comedians disbanded and went on their solo ways.

Idle made quite a bit more comedy TV and acted in films, most notably The Rutles - a spoof movie of the Beatles in which he played the Paul McCartney character.

He also had great success on Broadway with his musical Spamalot, an adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It won the Tony award for musical of the year and a Grammy for best musical theatre album.

Since then, Eric has not stayed idle. The one-man musical he's bringing to New Zealand is named after his most famous song, from the movie Life of Brian, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'.

"It's got comedy, it's got music, philosophy and one fart joke," he told RNZ's Sunday Morning.

"We got a lot of surprises, and it is really a one-man-musical, and I'm trying to make it as entertaining and as funny and as interesting, 'cause there's a few little sad moments and philosophical moments and valedictory moments, and quite a bit of singing."

The laugh-a-minute show includes tributes to his late friends, comedian Robin Williams and Beatles star George Harrison. Harrison famously stumped up the cash for the Monty Python troupe to make their boundary-pushing 1979 classic Life of Brian, which Idle once called "the most anybody's ever paid for a cinema ticket in history".

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"He put the entire budget up by mortgaging his house so he could see the film, and that film still would not have been made but for him."

Harrison died of cancer in 2001, aged 58.

"We were pals for quite a long time, you know, and went on holidays and things, too," Idle said.

"It's nice for people to see this other side of people - you know, who were famous and legendary in their worlds - just as regular people enjoying their life and having a nice time on holiday and living like regular human beings, which they were."

The show includes "lots of new stuff" about the Rutles, he said, "a sort of sequel that nobody knows about that I made".

After more than 60 years in show business, Idle said he's "sort of stuck with it" now. The royalties from Monty Python and his other work "sadly" haven't kept him as well-financed as his character from the group's popular 'The Money Programme' sketch.

"Show business has changed. Everybody started ripping people off, like, musicians don't get paid. People who write songs don't get paid.

"Spotify killed everything. YouTube steals everything. And now the television has been ruined and destroyed by the streamers who refuse to pay anybody properly.

"You know, they come from a world of hi-tech. They don't come from showbiz world where you have to understand, you have to nurture everybody in the tent in order for the circus to go on. So things are not as how they might be perceived, and that's not easy for people to notice in like, the newspapers. How do they know what's going on?

"It is a sad truth, it doesn't really matter. Things always change. And ... I like being in the circus. My great-grandfather was a ringmaster in a Victorian circus, so I've been in both the Flying Circus, and I'm genetically part of the circus, so it doesn't bother me to have to go on the road and entertain people."

These days, Idle lives in Los Angeles, saying his home country has "gone crackers".

"You know, when they left Europe, that was insane. And you know, they had 18 years of Conservatives. I find it a very horrible place, you know?

"I mean… I love the football, and I like the cricket. And I still have friends there, but… it's really annoying. You know, you can't go to Europe for more than three months. It's really stupid of them, and I think they got themselves into a real mess."

But he doesn't like everything about his adopted home either.

"I have to go away to France for about three months a year because ... they sort of have Trumpitis. They can't stop talking about it."

Idle said his favourite comedians were mostly his contemporaries - "Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett" - but his all-time favourite was his friend Robin Williams, "the quickest and the fastest and the brightest and the most amazing stand up there will ever be … the Einstein of comedy".

Williams died by suicide in 2014.

"And then there's Billy Connolly, who is also the most wonderful comedian, and he is more reality-based on his own existence."

Another of Idle's famous late friends was David Bowie - who could have made a career in comedy, Idle suggested, had he not been a musical genius. Idle is godfather to Bowie's son, filmmaker Duncan Jones.

"I know his dad would be so proud of him. And his dad ... was hilarious, by the way. He loved comedians, and we would just mess around and be funny all the time - we got on people's nerves.

"He was so funny. I've seen him do impressions being interviewed on some of the old chat shows… Truly funny."

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Live! comes to New Zealand in October for three dates - in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

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