on with kara swisher

Eric Idle Says Audiences Get to Decide What’s Not Funny

Kara Swisher talks with the comedy legend about censorship and cancel culture.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for FilmRise
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for FilmRise

Journalist Kara Swisher loves the Monty Python troupe, whom she grew up watching and feels she owes a debt of gratitude to for all the pleasure their comedy gave her in her youth. So she was thrilled to be able to interview Monty Python’s Eric Idle in the latest episode of On With Kara Swisher. She adores the “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life” song and credits Idle for always being able to a way to make fun of people and things without being cruel. They discuss what he finds funny, Monty Python’s legacy, how the troupe’s work compares to more recent comedy, and the dynamics of the TV industry. As seen in the below excerpt from the show, they also talked about censorship, a sketch John Cleese let BBC cut from Monty Python, and whether Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher have anything to complain about.

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Eric Idle: I think the thing about comedy is it’s disastrous when you want to be liked.

Kara Swisher: Yeah.

Eric Idle: I think there’s slight difference between American humor, American television, and English television — that on the whole, English comedians don’t want to be loved or don’t put that up front, whereas I think it’s very important in American terms that they’re somehow liked or lovable.

Kara Swisher: Liked. Did they edit you a lot at Monty Python and what did they edit out?

Eric Idle: They edited us hardly at all until about — they hardly watched it actually, which was good. And until about the third series, and they, they cut one or two things, but only small things by today’s standards.

Kara Swisher: Such as?

Eric Idle: They cut out a sketch, which was a, a wine-tasting sketch. And, uh, I, I, the guy said, “What do you think of this?” And I said, “Well, it’s, it’s a Burgundy, uh, it’s light, dry, it’s from the north side of the hill. It’s, it’s probably a Sauvignon.”

“No, sir, it is Oui Oui.”

And then he gives me another — “Ah, now this, this is very much, this is a Sauvignon, proper grape, you know.”

“No sir, it is Oui Oui.”

Kara Swisher: Oh, okay. So no urine jokes.

Eric Idle: It was completely a urine joke and I wrote it, I’m afraid to say, and John Cleese cut it. He went with the BBC. And I did a tour with him and I made him do it every night with me and it got huge laughs, so I got my own revenge.

Kara Swisher: Oh, that’s good. Urine jokes are always good. Um, how do you look at cancel culture today? Because now everybody is watched under great scrutiny. You didn’t watch, for example, the Chappelle monologue, for example. Do you follow him?

Eric Idle: No, I didn’t, because my wife watches it and she said, “Oh, you should watch it ’cuz it’s funny. He’s funny,” you know? And I said, “Oh, I will, I will.” Um …

Kara Swisher: Well, what do you think of the comedians, like Dave Chappelle, for example, is saying he’s being subjected to censorship or that he can’t say what he — He said it this week on SNL in his monologue.

Eric Idle: Yeah. Where does he say it? On SNL.

Kara Swisher: That’s right. Yeah. That’s a fair price. Yeah.

Eric Idle: Well, you’re not being that much canceled, are you? If you were in your room complaining, I, I’d, I’d have a lot more sympathy.

Kara Swisher: Right. So that he doesn’t pay the price, he just says he pays the price.

Eric Idle: I, I, it worries me when I, I, I didn’t like it when, you know, Bill, Maher complains about the audience not laughing. They’re telling you they don’t find it funny. You shouldn’t moan about the audience. There’s nothing wrong with the audience. If they don’t laugh at your jokes, there’s something wrong with your joke. And so I, I don’t — I’m not terribly sympathetic to that sort of attitude, to be honest.

Kara Swisher: That’s well said. Yeah. Do you — is there a comedian that you like? Do you think someone like Chappelle — who I think is brilliant many times, by the way — um, I just think he has been obsessed with trans people in a really creepy way. Um, who do you think is doing a great job?

Eric Idle: You, you mean — my best friend, you know, was Robin Williams. You know, I, I haven’t really recovered from that. I mean, you know, he was just so wonderful and you had to know him an awfully long time before he’d stopped being funny.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On With Kara Swisher is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Cristian Castro Rossel, and Rafaela Siewert, with mixing by Fernando Arruda, engineering by Christopher Shurtleff, and theme music by Trackademics. New episodes will drop every Monday and Thursday. Follow the show on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Eric Idle Says Audiences Get to Decide What’s Not Funny