Eric Idle

Pantheon Books / 309 pages / September 1999

ISBN: 037540340X

When you see the name “Eric Idle” and pounce upon a copy of The Road To Mars, there’s something important you should keep in mind. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was more than 25 years ago. We’re all older now and some of us — Idle in particular — are wiser. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost that wiseass attitude; we just see humour in more places, situations, and in ourselves.

Muscroft and Ashby are the heirs apparent of long-gone vaudevillians and “Borscht-Belt” comedians. Their circuit, though, is far from the Berkshires and Broadway; they play the palaces and dives of the outer reaches of the solar system. The classic straight man and his never-serious partner, they are making the “road to Mars” while they keep trying for that one steady gig that will make them famous and flush.

Along for the ride is the real brains of the story — Carlton, a 4.5 Bowie AI android, their long-suffering caretaker and secret doctoral candidate in humour. It is from his notes, obsessive scrutiny, and observations that William Reynolds sees his ticket to security. Forget the fact that it is not his material; Reynolds pretty much has.

Muscroft and Ashby want to hit the big time. Carlton wants to beat the subject into the ground like a tent stake. Between the three of them, the entertainment industry will be lucky if it survives undamaged — the dwellers of a gigantic spacer cruiser, an artificial habitat, and an entire planet will be lucky just to survive.

Crossing paths with this bizarre trio is something everyone in the galaxy should avoid at all costs.

And through it all runs Carlton’s continual attempts to dissect and understand the uniquely human phenomenon of comedy. Although he cannot fully appreciate the reasons, forms, effects, and invincibility of humour, he provides an eye-opening analysis of something we all simply accept as a given. Some of it is funny, some thought-provoking, some unsettling — all of it is entertaining and original.

Of course, everyone is dying to know if Monty Python makes an appearance. Some crave any mention of their beloved institution. Others eagerly await the chance to seize on any mention as self-indulgence. Does Idle (or Carlton, if you wish) mention perhaps the most successful and enduring comedy troupes to emerge from the UK? Wouldn’t be much of a survey of the subject without it.

What The Road To Mars is not is a feeble attempt to cash-in on the past and recycle old material in order to make some easy money. This book is a statement of where Idle stands now. Want to peek into his mind? Want to see how the nudge-nudge man has grown up? Grab this book and sit back, smile, and, sometimes, chuckle. Want to believe that brave Sir Robin is out there, perfectly preserved and unchanged? Go rent a video and pretend that time does not move on.

But, don’t forget that so many things improve with age. This is one.