Tonight and Friday: Eric Idle with the Houston Symphony

If there's anyone directing traffic at the intersection of music and comedy, it's Eric Idle, co-founder of England's immortal Monty Python troupe and ace Beatles parody band the Rutles. Idle's latest whimsy is the comic oratorio "Not the Messiah," where he and Spamalot collaborator John du Prez riff on both Handel and Python's 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian. An L.A. resident for the past 15 years, the genial Idle spoke with the Press last week while vacationing in Provence, France, where "it's even hard to take a phone call - that's about the most work you can do."

On “Not the Messiah”:

"It’s mock opera – a grand subject, so it’s very easy to mock. The great advantage is everybody knows the plot. For this one we did Brian, which is probably the most closely plotted of all the Python films."

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," from Life of Brian

On Monty Python’s musical talents:

"We made an album with lots of songs [1980’s Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album]. Mike [Palin] and Terry [Jones] wrote “The Lumberjack Song” and “Every Sperm is Sacred.” I wrote "The Penis Song" and “Sit on My Face” - mine were a little ruder. I found it easy because I play the guitar."

On the sheep in "Not the Messiah":

"The sheep are very important. Of course the shepherds witness the angels in the sky. We have these specially made sheep, Animatronic, made by this puppeteer who works on Sesame Street. She made me a penis fish one time. We were going on tour for obscure reasons, and took it on the Bill Maher show. She didn’t work on Sesame Street at the time."

Monty Python, "I Like Chinese"

On du Prez's “Not the Messiah” score:

"John calls it "iPod shuffle." There’s only one Handel type number. There’s a bit of doo-wop. It goes all over the spectrum of music. It’s rather lovely. The score is fantastic. The choir go nuts. They have a real ball."

The Rutles, "Ouch!"

On the first time he saw the Beatles:

"We were at Cambridge University – it would have been 1963. It affected Cambridge – suddenly people stopped wearing tweeds and elbow patches and started wearing leather jackets. They did 1961 to 1970. That’s a long time for a group of men to work together. I was thinking Python actually outlasted them, we went 1969 to 1983 or so. But then, we were older and had degrees."

On plans to do anything for Monty Python’s 40th anniversary next year:

"I don’t think so. We’re going to come out with a book called Monty Python Live. I don’t think there’s any will to get up and do something. But you never know."

"Ministry of Silly Walks," from Monty Python's Flying Circus

On the PBS success of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Python’s enduring popularity:

"It actually broke in Dallas. PBS Dallas was the first station to put it on. They don’t get ratings, so you don’t know who’s watching, and later it turns out to be millions of people. There’s no advertisers, so they don’t count them. My daughter’s just graduated high school, and Python’s cool. Not the hottest thing, like the Conchords, but it’s still pretty cool."

"Every Sperm is Sacred," from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

On du Prez’s preparation for “Not the Messiah”:

"John very much went into it. He took it seriously. It opened in Dublin - there’s a statue where “Messiah” was first performed. The orchestral stuff is fantastic. When he sent it back it was extraordinary. It was the first piece of work he could just run."

On Handel’s famous wig collection:

"I never got to see the wig room. I’ve had enough wigs to last several lifetimes."

Monty Python, "The Penis Song"

On touring “Not the Messiah”:

"I’m touring the sheds this year. We’re doing the Hollywood Bowl. We have fireworks there. Sadly, we can’t have fireworks in Jones Hall."

On visiting Houston, where he appeared as KoKo in Houston Grand Opera’s 1989 production of The Mikado:

"Not since then. Time flies. I’m looking forward to it – I do have some friends there at Café Annie. They feed me. I’ll bring some things to sweat into. Jones Hall is air conditioned, right?" – Chris Gray

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray