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Greed Is Good
By Bill Ketzer

Eric Idle
The Egg, Oct. 22

‘Good evening, I’m Eric Idle, and I’ll be your greedy bastard for the evening,” said the Monty Python legend, introducing himself to the audience last Wednesday at the Egg. “If you are here hoping to see Billy Idol, you can fuck off now.” With that, he picked up a hollow-body and promptly delivered a rousing version of The Meaning of Life’s “Penis Song,” explaining afterward that he often wonders why his songs are so filthy. “Then I look out at you lot,” he quipped, resplendent in a Prada silk smoking jacket. He unabashedly placed a garbage can, or “encore bucket” at the edge of the stage, explaining that encores are no longer free in this day and age. His age, it seems: “I wanted to call the show ‘The Angina Monologues,’” he claimed, “but greed prevailed.”

Greedy bastardism seems fairly rampant in the new millennium (with or without shameless references to genitalia), so why shouldn’t this celebrated actor-comedian join the ranks of our Wall Street market-timers, Congress and my wedding photographer in the pursuit of the almighty dollar on the backs of middle-class debtors?

In fact, I am beginning to suspect that even the concept of National Security is nothing but a clever, sequined marketing ploy, one that trickles down into even the most innocent acts of commerce. I say this because there was only one parking garage open beneath the Empire State Plaza for this event, where a team of either OGS or corrections personnel checked the credentials of each passenger in each vehicle with the dexterity of Frankenstein’s monster. Hence, fields of brake lights peppered the highway all the way back to I-787, causing the Hart Theatre to be practically empty at showtime—but that didn’t stop the promoter from dimming the lights and urging all the earlybirds to slam and cram their overpriced snack items and make toward the seats. Hell, no.

Once we were seated, said promoter appeared with his hands in a knot and furtively announced that the curtain would be delayed for about a half-hour due to poor time-management skills on behalf of ticket purchasers. He blamed the audience! So the lights came back on and all were urged back out into the lobby to buy more fattening, expensive baked goods and heavily salted snack treats. This inadvertently (or not) benefits the Greedy Bastard as well, because the audience also gets another prolonged crack at the merchandise table. In fact, Idle himself concedes in his daily online journal that the debacle boosted their sales. Ah-ha!

But now for something completely relevant. Flying solo presented an interesting structural challenge for Idle, but the seasoned master handily struck a suitable balance between old Python favorites and his newer material, tying it all together mightily with stand-up monologue and historical anecdotes from his childhood and bits from Python’s humble beginnings at Cambridge, Edinburgh and the BBC. His post-World War II experience at Wolverhampton Boys School in particular (“Not the end of the world, but you can see it from there,” he claimed) still fuels his need for laughter, for the almost nihilistic silliness that shines in older musical numbers (“I Like Chinese” and “The Lumberjack Song”), and classic slapstick (“Nudge, Nudge, Know What I Mean?” and “The Bruces”). It is as if Catholicism itself burned a hole in him that he must continuously pack with the salve of levity to this very day. While Maurice Blanchot “came out of the muddy pit with the strength of maturity,” Idle has transcended his experience of youth with immaturity, which at times is arguably much more effective against your oppressors.

Wednesday marked the first time on this tour that “The Getty Song” was performed, an acerbic platitude penned for an appearance at the posh Los Angeles museum after being prevented from singing the aforementioned “Penis Song”—in a gallery full of paintings of naked men and their penises. False modesty has always been a traditional Python target along with religion, nationalism and fascism, each still ripe for the picking in Idle’s realm. Newer material like “National Anthem” and “Killing for God” (here Idle dons a 10-gallon hat—we get it) remains appealing in its silliness rather than slipping into that smelly crevice of bitterness and disgust that tends to make ticket sales flounder. I mean, these are the guys who are supposed to take us out of that funk, and Idle still understands that, as does his supporting cast, particularly Jennifer Julian and screenwriter Peter Crabbe. Crabbe did a bang-up job opposite his boss, filling John Cleese’s big, silly shoes as Mr. Vibrating (“The Argument Clinic”) and the Holy Grail’s French Taunter with venomous confidence. He also confirmed my homeland-security paranoia with a satirical military general’s diatribe on the systematic elimination of tourists from upstate New York. Clearly the outfit does its homework on each region, as Crabbe accuses Manhattan residents and “those French frogs” from Montreal of infiltrating the plaza, Indian Ladder Farms, Lark Street, and the Adirondacks to ogle the beautiful foliage. (“You sick bastards!” he cries. “The leaves aren’t beautiful, they’re dying!”) Hard to believe they’re only a few dates into the tour. That said, there were inevitably a few miscues and some less-than-perfectly-timed sketches, but nothing really detrimental to the performance as a whole. Idle remains quick, cutting and daftly hilarious.

At once perceptive and sarcastic, Idle’s challenge in getting the audience laughing was about as formidable as can-hunting tortoises in someone’s swimming pool. Despite his claim that Monty Python is a “bit of a curse from a good natured fairy,” it is obvious that this association has ultimately prepped a brilliant mind for longevity. So let him be greedy. At least the man delivers an actual service for his fee.

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