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Eric Idle’s Very Naughty “Messiah”

Eric Idle’s Very Naughty “Messiah” (photo)

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On October 23, 2009, The Royal Albert Hall in London hosted an oratorio, a night of singing and orchestral music from a choir, symphony, and soloists. The performers were in their formal wear. The conductor wore tails. The house was packed. It was like a scene from an especially tony episode of PBS’ “Great Performances.” Or, at least, it was… until a man strode onto the Albert Hall stage in full drag, wig and pearls, to introduce and narrate the evening’s entertainment: a one-night-only performance of “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy),” a spoof of Handel’s “The Messiah” based on Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” The man in drag was one of those Pythons, Michael Palin. The “Baritonish” soloist to his left was fellow Python alum Eric Idle, who wrote “Not the Messiah” with his longtime musical collaborator John Du Prez.

Idle has the sort of career that makes him seem ill-suited to his last name. He’s spent the years since Python’s dissolution in the early 1980s not only acting, but writing (most famously the Broadway musical “Spamalot” with Du Prez, but also several novels and non-fiction books) and touring (with shows like “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python”) as well.

Though Idle and Du Prez had already performed “Not the Messiah” in more than a dozen times all over the world, last fall’s concert at the Albert Hall, documented in the new DVD of the same name, was special, publicly reuniting four of the five surviving Pythons — Idle, Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam — for the first time in years. I spoke with Idle about the origin of the project, setting Python to music, and why he’s glad “Flying Circus”‘s success in the United States came after the series had already ended in England.

05312010_ericidle2.jpgYou said on the recent Monty Python documentary series “Almost the Truth” that the origins of “Life of Brian” came on the “Holy Grail” press tour, when a journalist asked you what was next for Python and you responded, “Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.” Did something similar happen for “Not the Messiah” while you were doing press for “Spamalot”?

No it came about because my cousin, Peter Oundjian, who’s the principal conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, wanted us to work together on some kind of comedy that could bring people back into the symphony hall, especially young people. I thought that was a nice idea but I didn’t know what it should be. When I thought about it, I realized, “My gosh, ‘The Messiah’ — what about ‘Not the Messiah?’ It’ll be really perfect. We’ll tell the story of Brian and we’ll treat it as if it were a grand oratorio with real singers and opera people. That will add to the mock heroic quality and make it funnier.”

This seems like a much more challenging endeavor than just making “Brian” into “Spamalot 2” on Broadway.

Oh yeah, it’s much more musical. We had 240 musicians. And it’s always challenging whenever we do it, because you usually just get one day with the orchestra to practice the whole thing, this complex piece of music. Normally you’d have three or four days, and the choir would have rehearsed it, and the soloists have rehearsed it. But each place we go — if we go to Washington, we have to get the Washington Symphony Orchestra. We go to Houston, we have to get the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Each time is a huge, new job. It’s not like a musical that you can just tour.

Did you re-watch “Life of Brian” as you were writing the libretto?

05312010_ericidle3.jpgNot really, because I tried to think about “The Messiah,” not the movie. In England they also have this thing called the Nine Carols service where the head shepherds announce things and tell the story; that was also in my mind as being similar to the structure of what we’re doing here, telling a story about a woman who gets knocked up by a Roman centurion and gives birth to Brian in a cowshed and then the tragedy of him being mistaken for a messiah.

Were you a “Messiah” fan?

I love “The Messiah.” It’s the most wonderful piece of music. But it’s been bizarre because we’ve gone to places where they’ve done ten nights of “The Messiah” and we were on the last night as “Not The Messiah.” [laughs]

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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