Thoughts on “So Anyway…” by John Cleese

See how Cleese’s mouth is obscured in the picture? That’s an excellent metaphor for the entire book.

“So Anyway…” is John Cleese’s rather unusual autobiography .  It’s a basically chronological account of John Cleese’s life, but Cleese bobs and weaves so artfully that it’s nearly the end of the book before one realizes that he hasn’t really revealed very much.  Cleese has suffered four marriages, but only accounts for one – Connie Booth.  Cleese and Booth divorced, but you wouldn’t know it from this account – he gives a few sparing details of their courtship, and says nothing of the tension or strain that typically characterizes a divorce (one theory is that the book is meant to be “Volume One” of a series).  I’m not the first reviewer to point out that Cleese moans and groans rather a lot, and that he appears to have enjoyed precious little of his marvellous success. He reads a little like a slightly frustrated academic – one almost gets the sense that Cleese feels he wasted himself on comedy.  This is a massive shame.  Cleese has given me and millions of others immense pleasure over the years – I even had the pleasure of listening to him speak on three occasions at Cornell University, where Cleese was a “Professor-at-Large” for a few years.  All of this said, I rather enjoyed the book as it went on.  Cleese is sparing with details about his life, but he is generous with advice to writers and with reflections on the art and practice of comic writing – all of which I found most instructive.

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