A LIAR'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY - THE UNTUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON'S GRAHAM CHAPMAN, written and directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett, based on the book by Chapman and David Sherlock, with Chapman, Terry Jones and John Cleese. An eOne release. 85 minutes. Opens Friday (November 16). For venues and times, see Movies.
Monty Python's Flying Circus changed the course of comedy, but member Terry Jones is more modest about their achievements.
"I don't see it as a legacy really," admits the comedian, in town during TIFF to talk about A Liar's Autobiography, the animated biopic about the one late member of the troupe, Graham Chapman.
"I know people talk about it, but I have no idea what impact we actually had on comedy."
Given that the group pioneered the cross-dressing sketch comedy built on by the likes of Kids in the Hall and proved surrealism could please more than latte-chugging art students through sublime silliness, that's something of a humble brag.
Like most of the best (and some of the worst) comics, the Pythons were primarily focused on amusing themselves and were shocked when outsiders understood their private lunacy at all.
"We were always wondering if anyone was even going to laugh," chuckles Jones, the Python most likely to wear a dress. "On the first show, Michael Palin came up to me and said, ‘Do you realize that we might be doing the first comedy show in history where nobody laughs?' We had an audience of old-aged pensioners who thought they were going to see an actual circus. The first sketch was with Graham and me talking about a flying sheep, and there wasn't much of a reaction."
These days many of their early fans are pensioners themselves, and Jones will never have to worry about meeting with silence when discussing flying farm animals again.
The group's enduring popularity ensures an audience for something like A Liar's Autobiography. Jones's son Bill and two other Python-loving collaborators (Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett) made the film after discovering a rare unreleased recording of Chapman reading his popular 1980 comedic memoir, and they resuscitated the rest of the aging troupe to lend their voices to an animated reunion.
The movie embraces the surreal and sardonic Python tone while exploring the life of the group's most mysterious member, whom Jones admits he barely knew after years as a collaborator. The animated representation pleases him.
"It captures his oddness and looniness and a little bit of the mystery quite well," says Jones. "He was kind of enigmatic. He was acting all the time."
Far from a conventional biopic, the odd and unpredictable movie weaves together loosely linked animated sketches from Chapman's life.
"I think Graham would be very pleased with the movie. It captures his essence," says Jones, who jokes that a more conventional biography wouldn't be worth anyone's time. "That would be pretty quiet and very pedestrian. Who needs that?"