April 30, 2010 / 7:11 PM / 9 years ago

Neil Innes: And now for something completely different

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Neil Innes, sporting a black beret with a bathtub rubber ducky on the top, is standing on the stage of a 42nd St. blues club thumbing his nose.

The whole audience is making the same gesture and blowing raspberries back at him.

Pythonesque? You bet.

Innes, often called the seventh member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus because he wrote songs for the manic comedy group, is on a one-man tour, singing and playing his wry ditties and looking to recruit “Ego Warriors.”

He wears a mischievous grin as he leads the audience in a pledge, getting them to repeat in unison: “I swear to defend self-esteem wherever it may be, without ever appearing pompous or idiotic.

“And never to repeat, parrot-fashion, anything I am told by anyone posing as a figure of authority. So help me, Rhonda. Help, help me, Rhonda.”

The audience cheers.

Innes, whose tour is called “A People’s Guide to World Domination,” was a member of Britain’s iconic Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the 1960s before working with the Pythons.

A new album, “Innes Own World,” features bits from his British radio shows and his whimsical take on life summed up in his theme song, “How Sweet to be an Idiot.”

“I’m no longer just ‘Neil Innes, ego warrior and style guru.’ I’m also a fame slut,” he told Reuters.

“I’m 65, a pensioner — it’s funny, I always moaned I would never get going ‘til about now. Everything I’ve done has been a sort of dress rehearsal for now.”


Not that his career has been without success. After the Bonzos, with whom he recorded the 1968 hit “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” he wrote songs for the Pythons’ TV shows and films. For the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” he wrote the lines: “Living here in Camelot/We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot,” which spawned a hit Broadway show, “Spamalot.”

“I wrote a lot of the songs, ‘Kings of the Round Table,’ that was John Cleese’s lyrics and ‘The Minstrel,’ that was Eric Idle’s lyrics. I did a lot of incidental music of the Medieval variety,” recalled Innes.

“My budget was 2,000 pounds to do the music — slightly more than the coconuts,” he laughed.

Although the Pythons’ Idle worked with composer John Du Prez on the “Spamalot” stage show, several of Innes’ songs were included. “I get a check now and again,” he said.

He also collaborated with Idle on the Beatles spoof film, “The Rutles,” and he has had TV success with “The Innes Book of Records” and several BBC children’s shows.

But, raised on BBC’s 1950s “Goon Show,” radio has always been his first love and he has gravitated back to the airwaves.

“It’s pure imagination, plus you can podcast now and you don’t have to go anywhere near a suit (boss) to tell you what to do and what not to do!”

Innes’ ideas give full rein to his absurdist viewpoint. “I’m going to do all the kinds of things I wanted to do on television. like a reality show called ‘Desperate Celebrities.’


“You get celebrities in conditions of extreme luxury, in exotic locations and their task is to solve the world’s problems — like make poverty history,” Innes giggled. “It’s something you can do on radio.

“I do an East Enders-type soap called ‘Saga City’ — run the words together and you get another word. Or, there’s a radio quiz with a fashion slant called ‘Give us a Twirl’ in which the studio audience has to guess what I’m wearing!”

Innes is like a child in an ice-cream store. “When I was a kid, I wanted to draw things and I became quite a good painter. I got a degree in fine arts, but what can you do except teach someone else to get one?

“This is such fun, it’s like painting with sounds. It’s like I’m getting back to what I was as a six-year-old.”

Innes is testing the water to see how far he can go. “The world out there is ready for more satire,” he said.

“Satire has a very poor track record. I was talking to John Cleese about it and his take was that when he was younger he felt the world was mostly sane, with pockets of insanity that you could reach with humor.

“But now I believe that the world is totally insane and there are one or two pockets of sanity, you don’t really need comedy at all,” Innes said.

“Python sort of deconstructed television and it has not made a blind bit of difference!”

Reporting by Steve James; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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