Eric Idle's Greedy Bastard Tour hits Calgary

Tonight, the Greedy Bastard hit Cowtown.

The Bastard in question, in case you’re wondering, is Eric Idle. For those of you buried under rocks since the day of your birth, Eric was one of Britain’s Monty Python comedy troupe, makers of several years of quality British television and such movies as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”, and “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”.

Eric is self-described as the sixth most friendly Python, after Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, and John Cleese. For those of you unawares, there are only six members of Monty Python. Having now met the man in person, he certainly is pleasant enough.

Eric is the only current touring (former) member of Monty Python. John has a successful acting career (although Eric’s is fairly prolific), Michael has done several series for the BBC (a documentary-like version of “Around the World in 80 Days”), Terry Gilliam is one of Hollywood’s more ecclectic directors, and Terry Jones has done some bit parts and a few books (he co-authored “Starship Titanic” with “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author Douglas Adams). Graham Chapman died in 1989.

This time through North America (running October to the end of December), Eric’s running under the banner: “The Greedy Ba$tard Tour: Another Stupid Evening…”. For all those who think he’s doing it just for money, he’ll agree with you 100% of the way. As he started off when he came on stage: “This is to earn money so I can send my daughter through college … and my wife through collegen.”

Tamara, Nick, and I went in a group of three, but weren’t the only Critical Mass folk out. Steve was there with his girlfriend, as was John with his. I can only assume there were others, but we never saw any of them. It was good to see that the three of us weren’t the only ones interested in a good laugh.

We arrived at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Theatre (usually referred to as just “The Jubilee”) around 19:35, for a 20:00 show. Nick and I are Python fans — Nick even knows some of the The Rutles (Eric’s answer to The Beatles). Checking the coats (and stashing the camera), we headed in to find our seats.

I’d never been to The Jubilee before. It’s not at all what I expected. It’s attached to the Alberta College of Art and Design (known more informally as ACAD), but does not look at all like a school auditorium. It’s a three-tiered honest-to-God theatre, regularly hosting operas and ballets. Tonight, it hosted an “adults-only” show. Some of Python’s material, and some of Eric’s comedy, is not for kids.

The stage was simple: a small piano on the (audience’s) left side, and a coat rack, chair, guitar stand, and throw rug on the right. Music played softly as people entered the auditorium. With only minutes to the show, the music became louder, as The Village People’s “YMCA” started playing. Several people in the audience did the motions in the chorus. Then one of the actors (it wasn’t Eric) walked out on stage as one of the Gumbys — a Python character known for abject stupidity. He attempted the chorus motions. The audience laughed.

The music changed to the infamous “Spam” theme, sung by ancient Vikings. (Yep, another Python skit.) On came Eric, to a cacaphony of whistles, hollers, yells, screams, and a lot of clapping. After the crowd calmed down, he started into his routine, pausing only to introduce something never done before: the Encore Bucket.

This was a shiny, stainless steel garbage can. It’s Eric’s way of ensuring that he comes on for an encore. The idea is that you throw money in there (or women’s underwear — he’s trying to break through the Tom Jones Barrier), and if there’s enough, he’ll do an encore. In reality, all money collected goes to charity (Eric keeps the underwear). So if you’re seeing Eric Idle’s Greedy Bastard Tour, bring a few extra bucks for charity.

The only time he took a truly serious note was to mark that tonight is the second anniversary of George Harrison’s death. Harrison produced movies, and footed the entire bill for “Life of Brian”. As Eric put it: “The most expensive movie ticket, ever!” Eric and George had been good friends for many years.

As Eric’s opening dialogue went on, he explained that he had been to The Jubilee before — 30 years ago, with the rest of Monty Python, on the first (and last) tour of Canada. Eric has been through Canada a couple of times since (his previous tour was “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python”). On his last tour, he was presented with none other than the Monty Python hook, a very long, crooked pole used to drag people offstage in their skits. The group had left it behind in Vancouver at the end of their tour 30 years ago, and Eric was presented it when he returned a couple of years ago.

As he said: “I can only imagine what this would fetch on eBay!”

I have to admit that I was a little skeptical as to the content of the show. I mean, I like Monty Python a lot, but would the show really be anything original? It was just Eric, and there’s no telling if the rest of the players would have the same comedic timing of Python. I was quite happily relieved to find that Eric’s happy band of six people (including himself) were quite up to the task. And even after many shows, his co-players can still crack up on stage.

We were treated to many classic Python songs, including “The Penis Song”, “The Philosopher’s Song”, “Sit On My Face”, “Eric The Half-A-Bee”, “I Like Chinese”, “Galaxy Song”, and of course, the “Lumberjack Song”. We hoped for “Every Sperm Is Sacred”, but not that night. (Tamara had never heard the “Lumberjack Song” before, but had it stuck in her head from the moment she heard it until well after we were home.)

The tickets weren’t cheap ($55), but it was worth every penny. The show was funny, and even localized. (They rewrote the “Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge” skit so that the wife was from Okotoks — something we found extremely funny, because Tamara’s from Okotoks.) They included some Canadian humour, including ye olde poke fun at Americans.

Two and a half hours after the show started, it was over. Nick and I ran into the autograph line so we could get things signed. We had hoped for the DVDs we had brought, but a sign read: “The Greedy Bastard will only sign purchased merchandise”. Thirty dollars later, I have a signed t-shirt. Hey, I might never get another chance to meet a Python.

I did get a chance to speak to Eric. I thanked him for coming to Calgary, and hoped he would return again. He looked quite tired (the show takes a lot out of you when you’re 62 years young), but was still the quintessential showman.

Even for a self-proclaimed Bastard.