Best known as one sixth of legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, Eric Idle never rested on his laurels – though he was quite happy to make a bit of cash from them when the opportunity arose. Covering it all, from his working class childhood and the rise of the Pythons, to the creation of the Tony award winning Spamalot, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is now officially more than just the most played song at British funerals – it’s also the title of Idle’s wonderful ‘sortabiography’.
That Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is funny should come as no surprise. Witty and filled with that same streak of battiness that made his career, the memoir is an absolute delight. But it’s also a plethora of other things too – charming, heartfelt, sweet, and occasionally very sad.
Idle emerges as a man who loves his work, writing eloquently and enthusiastically about his creative ventures – even the ones that didn’t quite pan out as he’d hoped. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, we’re looking at you. Ideas flow from him, cultivated in part by the interesting (and often quite rock and roll) company he has kept throughout the years, and Idle is always frank about the hits and misses of his lengthy career.
He’s also unafraid to get personal, refusing to shy away from the mistakes he made in his first marriage, and loudly proclaiming his love for his second wife at every available opportunity. He’s generous with the compliments too and speaks effusively on the talents of very good (and very famous) friends, such as Steve Martin, Carrie Fisher, and Marty Feldman. Idle, it seems, knew and loved just about everyone, and the chapters dedicated to his friendships with late and great stars such as George Harrison, Robin Williams and, of course, fellow Python Graham Chapman, are particularly emotional, as he explores the impact of their deaths, from the perspective of both dear friend and enthusiastic fan.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life does seem to harken back to a time when this whole celebrity gig seemed to be a lot easier to get into. After all, by his early twenties, Idle’s star was already in the ascendant. But far from simply extolling the virtues of hard work and making your own opportunities (which I’m sure we could stand to hear a little less off, right fellow struggling Millenials?), Idle remains – on paper, at least – humble, grateful, and hardworking. Though I’m sure John Cleese would find something wonderfully scathing to say about that assessment!
Breezy, interesting, and with a cover that I can’t stop gushing over (seriously, it’s so shiny!), Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is a wonderful insight into one of British comedy’s most enduring and beloved stars. And one fervently hopes that it will find an audience beyond the general comedy and Monty Python fans that will likely be clamouring to read it. Idle’s musings (peppered with an endearing silliness that remains as engaging as it was way back in the Swingin’ Sixties) on his craft, the importance of friendship, and the real rebelliousness of Python have much further reach than at first might appear.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is available now through W&N, an imprint of Hachette Australia