From Toronto to Vancouver
4-20 June, 1973
As the Pythons’ U.K. shows were progressing in Spring 1973, it was proposed that the tour be extended to Canada, where the TV series was being broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Summer in Canada seemed exotic,” Eric Idle said in “Monty Python Live!” (the book about the Python’s live shows to 1980), “and the money was very tempting.”
On With The Show
It was the group’s first trip to North America, and their first taste of the continent’s Python fans. “When we got to [Toronto] airport we went through customs, and there was this huge cheer, hundreds of fans,” Idle said in “The Python Autobiography.” “We all looked behind us because we thought a rock ‘n’ roll group was coming in and it was us, they were waiting for us!”
John Cleese remembers the Canada tour as “a little chaotic”; the others remember the tour as the occasion when Cleese announced he did not want to do a fourth Python series, preferring his industrial films and the odd movie to the grind of a weekly TV show. He also begged off traveling with the group following the tour as they continued on to TV appearances in America.
“I flew up to Toronto, where they greeted me with the news that they were never going to work together again after this tour,” recalled U.S. publicity manager Nancy Lewis in “Monty Python Speaks.” “Here I’ve been knocking myself out trying to get them on the air … oh, wonderful. That’s good news!”
The group performed to boisterous fans in cities across Canada, including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa (where, according to the Ottawa Citizen, a live duck was found to have “expired and gone to meet its maker” following the “Cocktail” sketch), Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg (where the entire front row was dressed as a caterpillar), Regina and Vancouver (where a PR stunt landed all the Pythons in a giant cage).
A slowdown by airline workers on strike caused some of the scenery to miss certain engagements, prompting last-minute changes in the rundown, and leaving the crew having to come up with a dead parrot in Calgary a few hours before the curtain went up.
Once the tour wrapped in Vancouver, the five Pythons who weren’t named Cleese traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they got their first taste of American media’s interest in the group – and disinterest. This was uncomfortably tested in their appearance before a befuddled audience on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” guest-hosted by Joey Bishop. (“There was just a deadness,” said Nancy Lewis. “I was ready to slash my wrists!”) Their performance nonetheless would enter into legend, as all non-Johnny Carson-hosted episodes of the era were later wiped – lost to the ether.