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Lawyer Could-Have-Been: John Cleese

As a member of the “Monty Python” troupe, John Cleese helped transform the epic, and to some, dull tales of King Arthur’s life into comic relief. He helped create a generation of comedy centered on hilarious stupidity.

From parts in Broadway musicals, movies, to the Monty Python series, Cleese (right) has simply done it all. He is an accomplished writer, director, producer and actor. However it took time for Cleese to find his acting niche. His work has its roots in law school, ironically enough.

Cleese was brought up in a middle class family, with parents determined to provide their children with the best education possible. Cleese, who was short for his age, developed a sense of humor as a defense tactic against bigger bullies. As a student of the Cambridge School of Law, Cleese got his first taste of acting as a member of the legendary “Footlights” group. Cleese graduated from Cambridge Law, but did not pursue a legal career. He had discovered an alternate calling in life.

After graduation, Cleese moved on to the BBC, traveled throughout the world, and eventually produced the Monty Python series. The troupe’s influence can be seen on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” and “South Park.” Created in the 1960s, the Monty Python sketch comedy is thought by some to be “as fresh today as it was decades ago.” The man who has dedicated almost the entirety of his life to comedy, even his arms and legs (remember the black knight in “Holy Grail”), perhaps would not have received such enlightening roles if he had not attended Cambridge.

Cleese’s successes and failures extend beyond the theatrical world. Perhaps his favorite personal achievement is having a species of Lemur named after him. Just take a look at his website. He has been through two marriages and is now onto his third. As the “Grail” Knight might say, “’tis but a flesh wound” on Cleese’s life and seems to only provide more material for his comic sketches. Like most ex-wives do.

– Kelly Dohnal

One comment

  1. Elwood "Sandy" Sanders, Jr.

    Another Cambridge grad who was an attorney in “real life” (for a short time) but is best known for a non-legal accomplishment was Harold Abrahams, one of the heroes along with Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire (The 1924 Olympic movie). Abrahams won the gold medal in the 100 meters, setting a record, and Liddell who said, “if I run I run for God” in the movie, won the 400 meters. Liddell became a missionary to China and died in a prison camp in 1945. Abrahams died in 1978. He was also a sportscaster and reporter. Chariots of Fire won the 1983 Best Picture Oscar in an upset over Warren Beatty’s Reds (about the American Communist John Reed); I can say its a great and inspiring movie.

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