John Cleese admits 'I wrote some of my best comedy when I was asleep'

John Cleese admits 'I wrote some of my best comedy when I was asleep'

John Cleese - 'I wrote some of my best comedy… when I was asleep'

Ben Chapman

By Ben Chapman

Published: 01/12/2023

- 21:14

The legendary Fawlty Towers star opened up about creativity

John Cleese has revealed the secret behind writing great comedy....taking a nap.

Speaking on his GBNews series The Dinosaur Hour, the legendary Fawlty Towers star opened up about creativity.

ow to come up with a better idea, was never mentioned at my school. But then I joined the Cambridge Footlights, and I found that I could write something on a blank sheet of paper which would make people laugh.

“And then I discovered something else. If I wrote a sketch in the evening but got stuck and went to bed, when I got up in the morning and sat down at my desk, I saw the solution almost straight away. And this happened so often I slowly realised that my brain must have been working on the problem while I was asleep. And that's when I decided to try to understand what creativity is all about.”

John continued: “You see, when people are trying to create, they want a quiet place with no interruptions where they can let their minds play and wander wherever they want to go without any hurrying.

"And sometimes they feel confused because they've never been there before and they're okay with that. Executives and managers are the polar opposite, they want to control everything they demand clarity, they prize quick thinking, and they like their employees to work hard and humourlessly and always in a hurry.

John Cleese

John Cleese wrote some of his best comedy in his sleep


"So, it's not surprising that the creatives and “the suits' don't get on. But we need them both because, as The Economist magazine once said about Hollywood, if the creatives are in control, the place soon goes bankrupt, and if the suits are in charge, then all the films are finished on time and under budget, but nobody wants to go and see them because they're so boring.

"So there has to be balance and that has to come from the top because they're the ones with the money and the power."

In a series of interviews to broadcast on Sunday evening Cleese asks a number of writers the stories behind some of their best work.

Sir Tim Rice tells Cleese that the legendary rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar failed to initially take off - because producers were concerned a stage show dealing with religion wouldn’t attract audiences.

Sir Tim says: “I've always said there are really no hard and fast rules, because when we wrote Superstar, we couldn't get anybody to stage it, any theatrical producer. They said ‘well, the two guys are unknown”. But above all, they said, ‘religion, forget it, it would never work’.

“We'd sort of said rather feebly. ‘Well, it's not really a religious piece, it's about, it's a story and it's being told in a new way’. And because nobody wanted to stage it, we were forced. Our manager managed to get a deal to do it on record.

“And that was great because firstly, we ditched any idea of having dialogue, which we'd thought about, and we turned it into an opera in the sense that it was non-stop music with no speech. And, also we were able to use much bigger forces.

“Andrew [Lloyd Webber] could have a rock band and a big orchestra and a choir, which had we staged it, even in the West End, you wouldn't have had that in those days. The technology wasn't there. And we probably would have opened in a very nice provincial theatre with a nine piece band.”

The Dinosaur Hour will be broadcast at 6pm on GB News on Sunday.

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