Anyone can make themselves unpopular – but it takes a past master like John Cleese to be really irritating!
The secret, he says, is to let the other person believe it’s all totally unintentional – and that’s just the first of many tricks of the trade he’s giving away in this hilarious video. With the help of Python pals Michael Palin and Graham Chapman, Connie Booth from Fawlty Towers and Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor, Cleese Demonstrates the uncanny ability to keep his victims just the right temperature under the collar… one degree below the boiling point!
Parents, waiters, salesmen, talk-show hosts – for some people, irritation is a way of life. The reason of us have to work at it. After watching this video you’ll possess all the know-how you need to irritate for business or pleasure… as well as discover from where Basil Fawlty got so many of his ideas!
Find out just how to pay back job interviewers, movie chatterboxes, garage staff, even bank clerks in the only way they deserve. And there’s a gold-plated bonus for Monty Python fans to treasure in Cleese, Palin and Chapman’s “Airline Pilots” sketch – an undiscovered classic of British comedy.
Recorded in front of a live and thoroughly irritated audience, this is John Cleese at his brilliant best!
eyelights: John Cleese. Michael Palin. Graham Chapman.
eyesores: poor direction. poor staging. too many one-note jokes.
“Why would you want to watch this? It’s a costume thing.”
‘How to Irritate People’ is a 1968 television special hosted by John Cleese and written by Cleese and (long-time writing partner and future Python) Graham Chapman, with some additional material by Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor.
All were from ‘At Last the 1948 Show‘ at the time and had been met with some success, hence this programme. Cleese, Chapman and Brooke-Taylor were joined on screen by Michael Palin and Connie Booth (who was then Cleese’s spouse).
What ‘How to Irritate People’ proposed was to explore the myriad ways one can annoy others – sometimes surreptitiously and/or maliciously. It consisted of a series of sketches of variable length, each introduced by Cleese in an authoritative manner.
It was made for the American market but was largely forgotten until the ’90s, whereupon it was released on video at a length of 68 minutes. Interestingly, it is said that the original programme was longer and that the TV broadcast was shorter.
However, only this home video version appears to exist.
1. Parents: A couple (Palin and Booth) are trying to watch television, but his dad (Cleese) is being annoying (he’s talking throughout, getting in the way, …etc.). He’s being a pest, but the mom (Gillian Lind) is also an irritant without meaning to be. It’s a great on-note joke, but it overstays its welcome. 6.5
2. The Cinema: This one focuses on some pepperpots (Brooke-Taylor, Chapman, Cleese), at a cinema, reacting to the film in various ways – which annoys another cinemagoer (Palin) in the front row. 5.0
3. At the Restaurant: A young couple (Booth and Cleese) are on a dinner date. He’s being overly considerate, asking her every other moment if she’s comfortable, …etc. It’s too much, though, not subtle enough, and it’s repetitive as hell. 4.0
4. Groveling Waiter: A stuffy couple (Booth and Chapman) go to an Indian restaurant that has a groveling waiter (Palin). It’s super-exaggerated (literally kicks himself, licks chair clean, bashes head on wall, …etc.) but funny. 6.5
5. Car Shop: A salesman (Palin) refuses to look at a customer (Chapman)’s car, always coming up with excuses and evasions to ignore the problem(s) with it. This is apparently based on a true experience of Chapman’s. 6.25
6. Actors: Backstage, in the make-up room of a theatre, an actor (Chapman) comes by to compliment his colleague (Palin), fishing for compliments in return. 5.5
7. Quiz Show: A game show host (Cleese) has to contend with a senile pepperpot (Brooke-Taylor). It’s a rather droll skit, and Brooke-Taylor is really sinking his teeth in the part, but Cleese is way over-the-top here. 7.0
8. Asking for a Ride: It’s a comparison of a party guest (Chapman) asking another (Palin) for a ride and then the same setting with him trying, in a ridiculously roundabout way, to get the other person to offer it to him instead. 6.75
9. Mothers: A son (Cleese) is bored on his visit to his parents’ place, wanting to go out, but his mom (Lind) guilt trips him while his dad (Chapman) lies catatonic in their comfy chair. Cleese’s performance is a bit raw, but the text is good. I love how the son confronts his mom at the end, taking delight in it. 6.75
10. Airline Pilots: Two pilots (Chapman and Cleese) play “I spy” mid-flight but get bored of it, so they decide to start messing with the passengers by saying disturbing or incoherent things on the intercom. The airline attendant (Palin) comes in to tell them how the passengers are reacting, and they have a good laugh at everyone’s expense. 6.75
11. Job Interview: A clerk (Cleese) interviews a job applicant (Brooke-Taylor), asking all sorts of unusual questions, whilst taking notes – much to the disconcertment of the interviewee. It could have been funny, but it’s quite repetitious. 6.25
12. Couples: A young couple (Booth and Palin) invite an older couple (Chapman and Lind) for drinks. The conversation is stilted, so the young woman awkwardly goads her partner to tell a joke. Meh. 5.5
13. Talk Show Host: In a spoof of variety/talk shows, the toothy host (Cleese) is introduced in an overblown and overdrawn fashion. Not bad, and thankfully not too long. 6.5
14. Discussion Show: In an old-style talk show, the host (Cleese) discusses freedom of speech whilst preventing the guest (Chapman) from speaking. It’s super exaggerated. Eventually, the guest loses it and desperately tries to attract attention so that he may finally get to speak. 6.5
The best parts of ‘How to Irritate People’ are the introductions, which show Cleese at his smug best, telling us how to be irritating in subtle ways, preventing our intended victims from getting angry, thereby not releasing tension and causing brain damage.
In most instances, the sketches are full of terrific ideas and have great lead-ins. Unfortunately, many of them are stretched for far too long, becoming one-note jokes. Further ruining the gags are the sloppy direction and performances.
Still, it has its moments, and it’s interesting to note the first use of the term “pepperpot” and the genesis of future Monty Python sketches (notably the ‘Parrot Sketch’ and the ‘Argument Clinic’) can be found at the heart of some of these skits.
In the end, I would only recommend ‘How to Irritate People’ to die-hard fans of Monty Python; only they would get some pleasure out of this mish-mash of skits. Everyone one else would have a difficult time finding any quality entertainment here.
Date of viewing: February 28, 2015