John Cleese Headshot
Report a problem with this profile
[email protected]

John Cleese          

British Comedic Actor, Screenwriter & Producer

An instigator of some of the more groundbreaking developments in twentieth-century comedy, John Cleese is one of Britain's best-known actors, writers and comedians. Famous primarily for his comic efforts, such as the television series Fawlty Towers and the exploits of the Monty Python troupe, he has also become a well-respected actor in his own right and has co-written books on psychiatry entitled Families And How to Survive Them and Life And How to Survive It. Cleese grew up in the middle-class seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare and enrolled at Cambridge University with the intention of studying law but soon discovered that his comic leanings held greater sway than his interest in the law. He joined the celebrated Cambridge Footlights Society - he was initially rejected because he could neither sing nor dance - but was accepted after collaborating with a friend on some comedy sketches. He gained a reputation as a team player and met future writing partner and Python Graham Chapman.

Cleese entered professional comedy with a writing stint on David Frost's The Frost Report in 1966. While working for that BBC show, Cleese and Chapman met fellow Frost Report writers Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. They were soon collaborating on what would become Monty Python's Flying Circus with Terry Gilliam. The show, which first aired in 1969, was an iconoclastic look at British society: its genius lay in its seemingly random, bizarre take on the mundane facets of everyday life, from Spam to pet shops to the simple act of walking. Cleese stayed with Monty Python for three series; after he left, he reunited with his fellow Pythons for three movies. The first, Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1974), was a revisionist take on the Arthurian legend that featured Cleese as the Black Knight, who refuses to end his duel with King Arthur even after losing his arms and legs. Life of Brian followed in 1979; a look at one of history's lesser-known messiahs, it featured lepers, space aliens, and condemned martyrs singing a rousing version of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" while hanging from their crucifixes. The Pythons' third outing, the 1983 Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, was a series of increasingly outrageous vignettes, including one about the explosion of a stupendously obese man and another featuring a dinner party with Death.

In addition to his work with the Pythons, Cleese, along with first wife Connie Booth, created the popular television series Fawlty Towers in 1975. It ran for a number of years, during which time Cleese also continued to make movies. Throughout the 1980s, he showed up in films ranging from The Great Muppet Caper (1981) to Silverado (1985), which cast him as an Old West villain. In 1988, Cleese struck gold with A Fish Called Wanda, which he wrote, produced and starred in. An intoxicating farce, the film won both commercial and critical success, earning Cleese a British Academy Award and an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, and an Oscar for co-star Kevin Kline. Cleese continued to work steadily through the 1990s, appearing in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), The Wind In The Willows (1997), George of the Jungle (1997), and the James bond film, The World is Not Enough (1999). Moving into the 21st century, Cleese toured through Europe and Canada with his stage show, John Cleese—His Life, Times and Current Medical Problems, and his comedy tour entitled John Cleese: Last Time to See Me Before I Die. Many know him for staring as Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter movies. Since 2013, Cleese has focused on voice acting, including voicing King Gristle in the movie Trolls.

John Cleese is also respected worldwide for his corporate training programs produced by Video Arts, a company he founded in London in 1972 with four associates from the BBC. Despite his diverse interests, one of his steadfast commitments has always been to business training. He attributes his success at making hit training programs to his fascination with psychology and his love for acting, teaching and making people laugh. "Humor in training increases retention and decreases anxiety", Cleese said. "If the training point is surrounded with humor, it can be readily digested, remembered and applied".

Speech Topics


The Importance of Creativity

Too often businesses are all about one thing: business. With an eye ruthlessly fixed on the bottom line, businesses sometimes neglect to remember that the human capacity for enjoyment and fun can make for much better business climates than those in which an eye is invariably fixed on margins, overhead and costs. John Cleese, one of the most influential comic writers and actors of the past 40 years, shows you how an element of creativity in the business world can reap untold dividends, from recruitment, training and retaining employees, to better and more enjoyable customer service, to helping businesses innovate and accommodate change.

News


Monty Python's John Cleese, Eric Idle Reunite In 'Together Again At ...

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to comedians John Cleese and Eric Idle of Monty Python about their new show, Together Again At Last...For The Very First Time, ...

John Cleese on becoming a comedic legend the hard way - Videos ...

John Cleese raised absurdity to new heights as part of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." The towering comedic legend talks to correspondent Tracy Smith about ...

John Cleese to Guest Star on 'Speechless' Season 3 Premiere ...

John Cleese is joining the ABC comedy "Speechless" in a guest starring role.

Related Speakers View all


More like John