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John Cleese: 5 Fun Thoughts About Aging

The Monty Python comic, 79,  stars in 'Hold the Sunset,' a comedy about grownups in love 

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John Cleese, still making TV shows and movies at 79, says he got his start in comedy when he realized that he could deflect his schoolmates' teasing by making them laugh.
Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

John Cleese is back on TV in Hold the Sunset (streaming anytime on BritBox), his first BBC show since Fawlty Towers 39 years ago. Written by Charles McKeown (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), the “seniorcom” stars Cleese and Alison Steadman, 72 (Mrs. Bennet in the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice) as a couple of old friends and old flames who decide to get married and run off to someplace sunny for a grownup honeymoon — until her middle-aged yet not very grownup son leaves his wife and kids, moves back home and thwarts their retirement plans. The Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks actor offers a few reflections on his new show about a December-December romance and his views on life and comedy at age 79:

On his character in Hold the Sunset

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For the first time in my life, I'm playing myself. And my wife [says] it's the first time she's ever seen me onscreen and recognized me, because I just sit there making snarky remarks and hoping someone else will open the front door.

On whether life is too short to edit oneself  

Oh, yes, I think that's right. The closer you get to death, the more you don't give a ----. It's as simple as that.

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Cleese (left) stars with Jason Watkins and Alison Steadman in the BBC series "Hold the Sunset," which is available to American viewers through the BritBox streaming service.
Adam Lawrence/BBC

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On aging

I think [after] about the age of 60, height becomes a handicap, because you get old and stiff, and you can't move properly, and trying to get into things like cars becomes a major undertaking. I would say for the first 60 years of my life, I was very grateful that I was tall. And now it's very inconvenient.



On his greatest accomplishments at 79

My greatest personal accomplishment is to have established a really good relationship with our cats. My greatest professional accomplishment is, or will be, a movie that I'm writing now. It's a light comedy about cannibalism, and it's called Yummy. [Cleese may be kidding; what's certain is that he's just published a book of his lectures, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years (Cornell University Press), and his next films are 2019's The Naked Wanderer and The Martini Shot, costarring Derek Jacobi, 80, and Matthew Modine, 59.] 



On the childhood source of his grownup comic gift 

It was a survival mechanism when I went to school. Because I was very tall, and everybody teased me for being called “Cheese,” and I found if I could make them laugh, the atmosphere improved, and they embraced me more happily.

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