- Title: Why There is No Hope
- Written by: John Cleese
- Genre: Monologue
- Actors: John Cleese
- Venue: Roy Thomson Hall
- City: Toronto
- Year: 2019
Perhaps John Cleese is right. Perhaps there is no hope for mankind.
Directly after the towering British funnyman had delivered a lecture on the world’s bleak, paralyzing dysfunction, the floor at Roy Thomson Hall on Monday evening was opened up for questions. Cleese had laid out his case for societal hopelessness using cynicism, statistics and occasional asides. He had quoted Socrates, Will Rogers, even his own psychiatrist. His theory was that most people are clueless, and, even worse, had no clue that they had no clue. It made sense, but was by no means an indisputable contention. So, the first question from the audience, on the matter of the world in peril?
Someone wanted to know how much alimony Cleese had paid his third wife. The world is doomed, Cleese had just announced, and yet one of its citizens needed to know that the Monty Python and Fawlty Towers comedian had paid about $20-million to a psychotherapist from Oklahoma who, according to Cleese, said she was from Texas because it sounded classier.
Rome smoulders, and the fiddlers are taking requests.
About six years after touring Canada with his, ahem, Last Time To See Me Before I Die show, the 79-year-old Cleese is back with a new monologue. The jaunty, quote-driven Why There is No Hope show kicked off in Halifax earlier in the month and ends at Victoria’s Royal Theatre. The man of silly walks and dead-parrot skits is learned and inquisitive, which is more than 90 per cent of us – by his estimate and others – can say.
On stage, Cleese got right to it, telling his crowd that the notion we live in a rational, intelligent society is “absurdism” and “fantasy.” Offering up some numbers, he said medical errors accounted for the third-most deaths in the civilized world, right behind cancer and heart disease. Cleese also asserted that death rates do not spike during doctors’ strikes.
Here we are, putting so much faith in what nine out of ten doctors are telling us, and yet, according to Cleese and others, it’s only the tenth doctor who’s any good at their job.
Honing in on his own experiences, Cleese told stories about skeptical BBC executives who thought his beloved hotel-based sitcom Fawlty Towers would never work and about the 10-out-of-11 Hollywood studio heads who passed on his eventual hit movie A Fish Called Wanda. They got it wrong.
Over the course of an hour or so, with impeccable comedic timing and a teleprompter full of sayings from such eggheads such as Winston Churchill, poet E.E. Cummings and mathematical physicist Lord Kelvin, Cleese offered his theory on confirmation bias, misguided self-esteem and the evil of egos. His notion is that most people have no idea on how anything works, and that we delude ourselves into thinking we do. We’ve even invented a language: Baltic Slovak, or “B.S.”
Worse than our stupidity is the problem that stupid people prefer to be led by other stupid people. So, when Pope Pius XII said “Kindness is for fools,” we take his word on it just because he’s “wearing the right hat,” Cleese said.
The monologue was lively and humourous, though there were no gags per se. Instead Cleese took the approach of Will Rogers, who said, "I don’t make the jokes, I just point them out.”
For instance, Cleese pointed out that most of the world’s jerks – he used another (nastier) word – were men. He named some of those jerks, while also mentioning the theories of the thinkers he admired. They were also all men. Other than his wives, women weren’t part of Cleese’s equation.
Pig-headedness and patriarchy have gotten us this far. Some of us have arrived to the opinion that women are the hope of the world. Cleese? He’s not quite there yet.
John Cleese’s Why There is No Hope continues to Kitchener, Ont., London, Ont., Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria.