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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]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.