Silly Walks Carry Cleese to the Business World


Naughty, subversive thoughts lurk beneath John Cleese’s businesslike appearance, and the former star of Monty Python has turned the contrast into gold.

“I’ve always had an appearance of great respectability, but then I have a slightly free-wheeling mind,” Cleese said in understatement, scratching his nose with a bottle cap.

“I sort of have naughty, subversive thoughts,” he said, narrowing his eyes in a look he refined in the 1970s during the heyday of the acclaimed six-man British comedy television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

“To undermine the reputation of an accountant, it helps to look like an accountant,” he added in a recent interview.


Cleese, 50, who is British and lives in London, is on a whirlwind U.S. tour to promote Video Arts, a hugely successful company based in a Chicago suburb that he co-founded and that now has a library of roughly 85 business training films.

The company raked in $25 million in revenue last year from more than 50,000 organizations that bought or rented its videotapes, which focus on the motivational and personal side of business operations.

The films, in which the towering Cleese plays roles ranging from a genie with magical business advice to the hopeless mismanager “Rulebound Reggie,” are about more than making money, Cleese said.

“They’re about treating people better so they live professional lives based on curiosity, enthusiasm and exploration rather than fear of an authoritarian boss,” the philosopher-salesman said.


It may be difficult to fathom Cleese’s current lack of cynicism toward the business world after viewing him dressed as a banker and embarking on a “silly walk,” or as the disgruntled pet-store customer seeking a refund for a dead parrot on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

But Cleese, who before Monty Python was a schoolteacher at St. Andrews in Britain, has a deadly serious side.

He is collaborating with British psychologist Robin Skynner and his ex-psychiatrist on a sequel to their 1983 self-help book, “Families and How to Survive Them,” which sold 125,000 copies in Britain.

“Genuinely I’m interested in improving my own mental health and happiness, and as I do that . . . I’m extremely happy to be able to earn money passing them on with my skills as a communicator.”


His days as a satirist may not be over, either.

He is considering a British television show lampooning Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government.

“Sometimes when a government is on its last legs and doing very badly as ours is, a satire can help to give it the final shove.

“I’d be slightly tempted.”