Best Known For
Comedian John Cleese is most famous for his work with the comedy group Monty Python, and for the popular British television series Fawlty Towers.
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In 1963, John Cleese decided to follow his interest in comedy. He had been in a Footlights show called Cambridge Circus. Cleese soon landed a job writing jokes for BBC Radio. He later made the move to television, working on a new venture called Monty Python's Flying Circus, a zany comedy series. Cleese created a new TV series, Fawlty Towers, in 1975. He has since starred in films and written several books.
John Marwood Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, England on October 27, 1939. A talented comedian, John Cleese has been delighting audiences since the 1960s. He is most famous for his work with a comedy group known as Monty Python, and for such solo projects as the popular British television series Fawlty Towers.
Cleese grew up in a small coastal town in England. His father, Reginald, worked as an insurance salesman while his mother Muriel stayed home. His family name had originally been "Cheese," but his grandfather changed it to "Cleese" when he entered the military to avoid being picked on.
As a child, Cleese loved soccer and cricket. He went to St. Peter's, a preparatory school in Weston, when he was 8. He had his first acting role in a school production when he was 12, but he had no great theatrical aspirations. Instead Cleese dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. "The whole idea of show business was not an option—like wanting to be an astronaut," he explained in The Pythons: Autobiography.
After St. Peter's, Cleese went to Clifton College. There he learned that being funny could be a good way to make friends. At home, Cleese watched television with his parents who sometimes tuned in to such American comics as Jack Benny, George Burns, and Phil Silvers. He also became a devoted fan of The Goon Show, a radio program that featured the likes of Spike Mulligan and Peter Sellers.
Finishing his studies at Clifton in 1958, Cleese returned to St. Peter's as a teacher. He worked there for two years before heading off to Cambridge University, planning to study law. Cleese displayed his comedic talents as a member of the famed Footlights Dramatic Club, which previously had featured the likes of Peter Cook and David Frost. With the Footlights, he performed at the Beyond the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1962. He befriended Graham Chapman, a fellow member of the troupe, and the two would later become collaborators.
After he earned his degree in 1963, Cleese decided to follow his interest in comedy. He had been in a Footlights show called Cambridge Circus (first known as A Clump of Plinths) that year at the university, which later went to London. "I had a choice between earning 12 a week working as an article clerk in a law firm or 30 a week in the theater. I thought, 'This sounds a bit more interesting,'" he told Back Stage West. Cleese even traveled with the show when it ran on Broadway for several weeks in October 1964.
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