As "the seventh member" of Monty Python, Neil Innes helped write "The Philosopher's Song" ("Immanuel Kant was a real pissant / Who was very rarely stable"), did the whistling for "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (the crucifixion/production number in Life of Brian), and was crushed by a giant wooden rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He also played with 60s cult goofs the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and Beatles parody combo the Rutles. Innes is on tour now with a new show called A People's Guide to World Domination.
What can we expect from A People's Guide to World Domination?
This is kind of a semiretirement thank-you tour. It contains immature themes, comedy, and a lot of sing-alongs. It's actually hard to describe a stage show. When I was here in 2004, during the election with Bush and Kerry, when people asked, "What can we expect when we see you onstage?" I'd say I had a Kerry answer and a Bush answer. The Kerry answer was that if I could answer that in a well-constructed response I wouldn't need to go onstage. The Bush answer was, "It's fucking fantastic!"
You've recently started the Idiot Bastard Band, which features Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson of the early-80s BBC comedy series The Young Ones. What's that all about?
Basically the band celebrates silly songs in the pub. We hardly ever rehearse. We get our glasses and read sheet music. It's a live rehearsal, and it spans generations of comedians. We've kept our diaries open for March of next year to maybe do a tour of 500-seaters, although it works better in a pub of 80 to 100 people, where you can treat them more like human beings. I'm more Woody Guthrie than Simon Cowell.
Talk about the creative processes of Python and the Bonzos. How were they similar or different?
The Bonzos evolved on the road because we were never off the road. The bits were fairly spontaneous. If you made the others laugh, the music would stop. It was anarchy. It was glorious anarchy. The Idiot Bastard Band celebrates that, too. Comparatively, Python was quite disciplined. Graham Chapman and John Cleese wrote together, Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote together, and Eric Idle wrote alone. Then they'd have script meetings, and if it didn't get a laugh it wasn't in. No one held back on any criticism. There were rules like, "You cannot say your mother or wife liked it." With the Bonzos and Pythons, it was the chemistry that made the sum stronger than the parts.
I've always wanted to ask you this: In the song "The Intro and the Outro," the Bonzos introduce—among many, many others—Adolf Hitler, who plays vibes. Like anybody else, I've read all kinds of horrible things about Hitler. But what was it like working with him in the studio?
He was very relaxed.
How were the Bonzos received by American audiences?
It was like anything left of field. People who got it, really got it. The fans' hands across the water are tightly clasped.
What's your favorite Rutles phase?
Oh, all of it was good fun. It was one of those projects you can't plan. It just happened. It was more of a satire on a certain kind of documentary. We're all quite proud that [1978 Rutles mockumentary All You Need Is Cash] was the lowest-ever-rated network broadcast at that time. The word "rutle" appears in the dictionary as a verb meaning "to copy or emulate someone you admire, especially in the music business." [Editor's note: No, it doesn't.] Rutling is all around us, and that's why the Rutles are the biggest band in the world.
George Harrison said, "The Rutles sort of liberated me from the Beatles," and that it was the "best, funniest, and most scathing" Beatles satire, but "done with the most love." The other Beatles reacted to the Rutles in varying ways. But does Harrison's quote most match your intentions?
In my view it was meant to be admiration. As songwriters and musicians, they were fantastic and funny.
How often do you connect with the surviving Pythons?
Not every day, but at least every six months. We're still very much in contact.