Idle Weekend - The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America


Away from the screen, Susan Omand spent her Idle Weekend reading The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America...

Let’s see... ex-Python takes 80 Days and an entourage on his travels across land and sea and then writes a book based on his journal entries. Sounds kinda familiar doesn’t it? But this isn’t Michael Palin globe-trotting to exotic places on a literary recreation (although you can read my thoughts on that here if you want). Even Mr Idle seemed to have some misgivings on the idea from his quote on the book jacket:

'I still feel somewhat nervous encroaching on the Palin territory of writing a travel diary based on a journey ... though it is true, I reason, that all the Pythons have been involved in documentaries. So this must be a Python thing. What is this urge to probe and examine by ex-comedians? Are they tired of dressing up as women? Surely not.'

So I must admit to approaching the book somewhat warily, since I’m not the biggest Python fan. However, it turns out that this is, to part-quote a Monty Python catchphrase, “something completely different.”

The Greedy Bastard from the title stems from the style of tour across North America that Eric Idle undertook. Instead of going for an all out full production with massive staging, sets, complexities and overheads, his agent persuaded him that he could strip the comedy right back to basics and go for a stand-up routine with minimal extras needed, meaning they could keep more of the money taken on the doors – i.e. to be Greedy Bastards. As it turns out there ends up being more than just him on the tour, with a couple of “rock and roll” tour buses, complete with bedroom, ferrying him and the people he needs from place to place as they make their way through venues and cities of various sizes, honing and perfecting the act, until they reached LA.

However this book is a lot more than just a travel diary, although it does include stories and anecdotes from Idle’s “life on the road” of this tour, like not being allowed to use the toilet for anything other than a pee on the tourbus or how annoying it was that one of the theatres gave away their own free programme so the glossy expensive one on their Merch stands didn’t sell. This book also serves as a memoir, as thoughts on the tour trigger reminiscence and we get a lot of autobiographical detail of his life growing up, how he met his wife and suchlike, as well as memories of times with friends, sometimes funny, like the time Terry Jones did a striptease while conducting a German band at Munich's Mardi Gras, and often bittersweet, like the joy of getting to ride in one of the cars on the final day of the Tour de France with Robin Williams and Michael J Fox.

For me though, the thing that surprised me most about this book was the new appreciation it has given me of Eric Idle the man as being much more than Eric Idle the Entertainer. Yes there’s a lot of the type of superficial crudity that I would expect from him in the very blatant and Pythonesque “nudge nudge, wink wink” style of writing he adopts as he delivers his anecdotes and tries to raise a laugh. But then, without warning, you get the odd paragraph of the most evocative description that I have ever read. For example, from Day 23:

“We’re barrelling through acres of woodlands of cranberry colours and yellow trees and the bright bark of the birches. Sudden still ponds reflect the sodden grey sky and everywhere the knitting colours of the woods are interspersed with the dark peaks of the evergreens."

And it is then that I realise I have misjudged him all these years. For underneath the skin of superficiality, the clowning, the crudity and the materialistic madness for cashing in and selling out, there lies the heart of a poet. He should let it out more.

Image - Amazon