Monty Python thrilled a sold-out Beacon Theater here, with a 40th anniversary screening of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" at the Tribeca Film Festival, and a Q&A with John Oliver that brought the house down.
The evening began with four of the five surviving Pythons sitting in a basement pub a few blocks from Manhattan's Beacon Theater. Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam shared war stories and lots of laughs while they waited for the arrival of John Cleese. Listening to the troupe banter over pre-show drinks, two things were clear. I'm one lucky www.montypython.com correspondent, and these legends of comedy truly love each others' company.
Two boxes of coconuts duly arrived at the restaurant, with the idea that the Pythons' van would be adorned with them as they arrived at the Beacon for a red carpet walk. While management scrambled to find string, John Cleese ambled up 63rd Street and took his seat in the van that would carry the entourage the eleven blocks to the theater.
I sat with John as we waited for his fellow Pythons and he seemed pleased with the press conference earlier in the day and expectant for the evening. Messrs. Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin soon took their seats and we were off.
The Upper West Side rush-hour traffic made the short drive slow going, but the Pythons were loose, wise-cracking the whole way. Eric told a ridiculous story about a judge who had been reprimanded for (correctly) using the word niggardly while Terry G. regaled me with stories about his latest projects.
We soon arrived at the Beacon to a huge cheer from the assembled onlookers and a crush from the NYC press on the red carpet. The Pythons posed and gave interviews in various pairings, and the coconuts that were to adorn the van were given away to anyone within arms' reach. Terry G. and Eric gave interviews to two pre-teen reporters, and made sure they got the last of the coconuts for their efforts.
Inside the Beacon, as the expectant crowd filed in, the mood backstage was exuberant. After a briefing and some more laughs John and Eric went off to grab a bite while the two Terrys, Mike P, Python insider Howard Johnson and I made our way to seats to watch Holy Grail.
I sat next to Terry J. (just behind Mike and Terry G.) and we both laughed often, enjoying the experience of seeing the troupe's 40-year-old masterwork on the big screen. When the knights who say "Ni" came on the screen we both roared with delight.
As the film ended we were ushered backstage and each Python was wired up with a microphone. They chatted with moderator john Oliver, who was relaxed as can be, considering the circumstances. Soon it was time for the Pythons to take the stage.
To roars of delight John, Terry G., Eric, Terry J. and Mike took the stage and spent the next 40 minutes regaling John Oliver and the 3,500 lucky fans in attendance with stories of the making of Holy Grail, the recent O2 reunion shows and even some answers to questions from the crowd.
At one point John declared himself finished with the proceedings and hilariously exited stage right, only to reappear limb by limb from behind the curtain on stage left, behind John Oliver. He then grabbed a chair and sat next to Oliver, and soon each of the Pythons were playing along with the gag, switching seats, facing away from the crowd and cracking jokes all at once.
Oliver tried in vain to get control of the proceedings but soon gave up and was forced to move to a Q&A, from cards submitted by fans. But the Pythons declared the questions "awful", with John hilariously chastising the American audience for blowing their opportunity. Oliver soon took to roaming the crowd, but fared no better until he finally hit on a blonde in the middle of the orchestra level.
"Try the blonde there," Eric said. "The only American blonde John hasn't yet married."
The crowd screamed with delight but soon the Pythons were exiting, a banner at the back of the stage reading "Piss Off!"
Backstage the mood was high, with friends and well-wishers coming to offer congratulations.
Kevin Kline greeted John warmly, while other friends and relatives clamored for a moment with the nearest Python (or at least a drink!) in the jam-packed green room. The revelry lasted for nearly two hours, with each of the Pythons telling me how much fun they'd had. Mike was especially pleased to find Holy Grail so seemingly fresh, while the Terrys each enjoyed seeing their directorial debut on the big screen for the first time in ages.
Soon there were hugs and the crowd thinned as first John, then Terry J. made their way back to their hotels. Mike and Mrs. Palin soon followed, while Terry G. and Eric stayed and chatted with friends till the bitter end.
Long after midnight, as the Beacon Theater and Tribeca Film Festival staff began clean-up duties, the last of the entourage headed out into the brisk New York City night, with Eric declaring the evening a spectacular success and great fun.
While the main event is over, there are more screenings and Q&As with various groups of Pythons over the course of this Celebration Weekend, so keep checking back here for more reports from "the inside".