Idle is well aware of his many claims to fame. But he takes particular pride in an odd datum from his body of work: namely, the fact that his 25-year-old tune "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" now ranks among the top five most-requested songs at funerals.
"I mean, it's got death right there," he says. "It gets it right out in the open. And it's a lot better song than 'My Way,' isn't it?"
That resoundingly non-funereal tune is but one entry in a catalog of songs that Idle will be bringing to Centennial Hall in a one-show-only performance on Sunday, April 30, a stop on a nationwide tour billed as Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python: A Rather Stupid Evening of Skits and Songs.
The tribute show, Idle says, grew out of a performance last year at Los Angeles' Getty Museum, when five hundred fans filled a small auditorium to hear him revisit, after a long silence, tunes from Monty Python's heyday three decades earlier.
"I used to stay far away from Python material," Idle says. "I'd been doing it for a long time, and I needed a bit of a break. I stayed away for nearly 20 years, when I didn't do much of my own thing at all. I've been doing other people's material all that (time), acting in films and television shows that have not always been my idea of what's funny.
"Really, though, there's not much funnier than the things that John (Cleese), Michael (Palin), Terry (Jones) and Graham (Chapman) wrote for Monty Python. It's been a lot of fun to reinhabit these old bits, to step into the past and see what we can do with it."
Some of the "old bits" that Idle will perform, along with a dozen supporting singers and dancers, are "The Lumberjack Song," "Spam," "Bruce's Philosophers' Song," "The Galaxy Song" and "Eric-the-Half-a-Bee." Idle also promises a number or two from his Beatles' parody band The Rutles.
"They're all rather silly songs," Idle says. "I'm calling this my 'Sillypalooza' tour. I was thinking of calling it 'Tits and Violence.' (For what it's worth, Idle's website warns that the production, far from being for adults only, is "not suitable for anyone.") But 'Sillypalooza' says it all."
The show, Idle notes, is the first time that Monty Python's songs have been performed live since 1981, when the group performed at the Hollywood Bowl. "It seemed like time," he explains. "I went off and asked the other Pythons for permission to do the songs. They all said yes, of course. I mean, why wouldn't they? They get to stay at home. I go out and do all the work, and they earn royalties.
"I did tell the Pythons that they all ought to do it -- that there ought to be shows called John Cleese Exploits Monty Python, Michael Palin Exploits Monty Python, and so on. Failing that, I invited them to join in this tour. 'Come and follow me,' I said to them, 'and I will show you where there is fun to be had.' "
So far, Idle says, none of the other Pythons has committed to performing with him, but he holds out hope for a surprise appearance or two along the way.
Whether his colleagues' walk-ons will occur in Arizona, Idle cannot say. They will likely await the larger, vastly more lucrative audiences of New York City and Chicago. Not that Idle is shielding anything from his Arizona audiences. He decided to begin the nationwide Exploits tour here, after all -- and for the simple reason that he hadn't spent time in Arizona before. "I don't really know what to expect," he admits. "Is it hot? Will people like us? Is it like L.A.? I'm looking forward to seeing the place."
Idle promises a splendid time for all, and he encourages his Tucson audience to dress for the occasion in their favorite Python garb -- a Gumby kerchief, say, or a Mr. Neutron cape, or a Teddy Salad flea collar.
"The people of Tucson are loony," he acknowledges, "so we'll go through the audience and select the best-costumed one to join us onstage for our 'Spot the Looney' segment. In Winnipeg, Canada, years ago, we did that, and the whole front row of the auditorium was dressed as a single caterpillar. Those staid Canadians! Anyway, we'll sing a song and then remove our guest's liver. That's something you don't see on stage everyday, organ extraction."
When asked whether he finds it at all strange that audiences should still clamor for Monty Python after all these years, Idle pauses a beat before replying. "It's mysterious, yes. But it's also very heartening. I think of it this way: there's not much better than making people laugh, and Monty Python did lots of good things that people enjoy."
Besides, he adds, "It's very healthy to be silly."