The Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumnus and creator of the hit musical “Spamalot” delivered Whitman’s 2013 Commencement Address. He reveals what song he wants played at his funeral and laments about having to speak at what he called “Bacchanalia.”
By Edward Weinman
Whitman Magazine: Well, don’t you mean “Baccalaureate”?
Eric Idle: You go to your party. I’ll go to mine.
Why did you decide to deliver Whitman’s 2013 Commencement address?
I was asked to by President [George] Bridges. I said, “Well, I need to ask my daughter [Lily Idle ’13]. I wanted to make sure she was happy and comfortable with it, because it’s her day. Not mine. But she was thrilled.
What is your favorite skit from Monty Python?
I don’t have one. I don’t like Monty Python. I’m not a fan. I was in it.
Are you joking right now?
Okay, how about the skit with the three nuns jumping on a trampoline. Was there such a sketch? You see, Python stopped in 1983 and that was the movies. The TV show stopped in 1973.
What was it like to perform before the world during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics?
What? Perform before a billion people. That’s the biggest [audience I’ve performed for] so far.
So far? Are you planning something bigger than the Olympics?
I’ve not given up on the one-and-a-half billion [performance]. Maybe I’ll be at the World Cup final. I’m not waiting for them to ask. A billion people is fairly staggering. I remember doing “Saturday Night Live.” You open the door, and there were 30 million people watching live [on TV]. But it makes no difference. You just perform to the people in the room.
Speaking of the World Cup. What football team do you support? Are you from Manchester?
I’m not from *%$@# Manchester.
Well, you lived in Manchester. It says on your bio. Where are you from?
I’m not telling you now.
Then tell me what football team you support.
I don’t support any football team. It’s an old fashioned idea. You watch both sides and not care who wins, so you don’t feel like you want to commit suicide after the match. Only way to be happy supporting the [Barclays] Premier League is to not support 11 men in shorts. Who do you support?
I support Arsenal.
Oh, slash your wrists now!
Back to the interview. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from the film “Life of Brian,” once placed third in a poll of what songs British people would like played at their respective funerals. What song would you like played at your funeral?
The song is more important than that. It’s been in the top 10 of funeral songs for the past 20 years. Along with “My Way” and “Slash your wrists if you support Arsenal.”
There is no such Arsenal funeral song. So, tell me, what song would you like played at your funeral?
People no longer have funerals. They have memorials. People are too busy for funerals. I Tweeted last week that I’ve decided what to do with my ashes. I’ll put them on eBay.
Do you frequently Tweet?
I enjoy Twitter. It’s very good for one-liners.
On your blog you quote Graham Chapman [a member of Monty Python]. “Life is like a yacht in the Caribbean …it’s alright if you’ve got one.” Do you have your yacht?
I don’t have a yacht. My advice would be to never have a yacht. Go on a friend’s yacht instead. They say about a yacht, “There are only two great days. The day you buy it and the day you sell it.” Boats are a disaster. It’s on water. It sinks and bangs into things. I wouldn’t mind living in the Caribbean. But I think I actually said this quote. [Graham Chapman] never said anything that witty in his life. But it’s generous of me to pass it on as his.
Any parting advice you’d like to pass along to the Class of 2013?
“Life has a very simple plot: First you’re here, and then you’re not.”