Creator: John Cleese

"John Cleese is very, very tall. He also has a very Silly Walk."
TeeVeePedia article on John Cleese

John Marwood Cleese (October 27, 1939-) is a British actor. He is most famous for his work in Monty Python, where he often played authority figures and yelled a lot. His leaving the show before the fourth season is widely seen to be the moment when it Jumped the Shark. Beyond that, he, along with his then-wife Connie Booth, created and starred in Fawlty Towers, co-wrote and starred in A Fish Called Wanda, helped write a Superman Elseworld, made cameo appearances all over the place, and gave a rather famous eulogy to friend and fellow Pythonite Graham Chapman.

He is the straightest Straight Man possible without having to resort to Asimo or attaching girders to one's back. Except when he's playing a raving lunatic. Although even then he manages to be the straightest raving lunatic you've ever encountered (see Basil Fawlty and Tim the Enchanter).

Long established career aside, millenials likely know of him simply for portraying Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter films.

Partial list of roles:

Live Action TV


Video Games


Radio Shows


Tropes associated with him include:

  • Absentee Actor: The fourth season of Monty Python's Flying Circus was done without his participation. Cleese had grown tired of the show and left to do other things. In his own opinion he felt they were repeating themselves and he was always pitted to write together with Graham Chapman who still suffered from alcoholism in those days. He tried to change the system of working with different people within the group, but the others weren't keen on that.
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: In Monty Python's Flying Circus an MPFC LP played by Cleese had this as the basis for a sketch IIRC.
    : Gentlemen, our MP saw the PM this AM and the PM wants more LSD from the PIB by tomorrow AM or PM at the latest. I told the PM's PPS that AM was NBG so tomorrow PM it is for the PM nem. con.
  • Badass Mustache: It's something of a trademark of his in the post-Python years, with the exception of some appearances like A Fish Called Wanda.
  • The Big Guy: His tall length is often used as a source for his comedy. He plays authoritarian characters or is pitched against smaller comedians. One can simply quote from the Archaeology Sketch: "Because I am six-foot-five, and I eat little twerps like you for breakfast!"
  • British Stuffiness: He has performed these kind of characters in many of his comedies, most notably Archie in A Fish Called Wanda.
  • The Comically Serious: Basil Fawlty himself was designed with this trope in mind. John Cleese has mentioned in interviews that the guiding principle he had when designing Fawlty was that someone having something embarrassing happen to them isn't funny; someone having something embarrassing happen to them and trying to press on as though everything is normal is hilarious.
  • Creator Backlash: Despite being the most famous member of Monty Python, he is the only one who grew dissatisfied with the format early, left the series after the third season because of Seasonal Rot, and to this day still thinks most of what they did could've been a whole lot better if they had more time and money to perfect some stuff. He is also the only Python who once complained to the BBC about one of their sketches he deemed too vulgar and managed to have it cut.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cleese is very well known for saying odd stuff while remaining straight-faced.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Due to his imposing length Cleese is often cast as a military officer, a teacher, a principal, a manager or any kind of person with power. It allows him to command orders and shout at people, with hilarious results. He played these kind of characters a lot in Monty Python's Flying Circus, for instance in the "Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit" sketch.
  • The Fun in Funeral: Both In-Universe as well as in reality. The "Undertaker" sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus has Cleese going to an undertaker with his mother's corpse in a bag and being convinced to eat her. In an episode of Fawlty Towers a hotel guest dies and needs to be smuggled out of the hotel in all discretion, which naturally goes completely wrong. When Graham Chapman died in 1989 Cleese livened up the funeral by saying at the eulogy: "Good riddance, the free loading bastard. I hope he fries!", explaining that Chapman loved a little controversy and would have been saddened if it didn't happen at his funeral.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Graham Chapman.
  • I Am Very British: It may be difficult to find another British comedian who embodies all the stereotypical ideas about the Quintessential British Gentleman more than Cleese. Maybe Peter Sellers could, but he's more famous as a French detective.
  • Meaningful Rename: His actual last name is "Cheese", but his father changed this to avoid other pupils laughing at him as he had experienced in his own youth. It didn't help anyway, because the others still laughed at him. Interestingly enough Cleese is very fond of his actual last name and has often referred to cheese in a lot of his comedy, including the "Cheese Shop" sketch.
  • Only in It for the Money: Cleese has a reputation for being very intent on earning money. (His divorce settlement was very expensive and pretty much forced him to do a lot more work than most actors of his age and recognition.) Eric Idle complained a lot about this, especially because Cleese only wanted to do the post-Python projects (like the movies) if they brought in a lot of cash. Many of the films and TV sitcom appearances Cleese has done in the later years of his life have been criticized as this too. Ironically, Idle himself has gone the same route the last twenty years.
    • "Begone" Bribe: Eric Idle on John Cleese in "The Pythons Autobiography":
    He once told me, and he won't deny this, "I'll do anything for money." So I offered him a pound to shut up, and he took it.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: In the USA he is best remembered for his roles in Monty Python, while in Europe probably more people recognize him as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers.
  • Precision F-Strike: Believes that profanity has its place, but it must be handled carefully or it loses its effect. He abhors works that use it simply for the sake of being vulgar.
    "I'd like to be the first person, at a British memorial service, to say 'fuck'."
  • Sad Clown: Like most comedians, he suffered from depression with his failed marriages. He also got tired of the Monty Python format quickly and left after three seasons. His conversations with psychiatrist Robin Skynner led to the popular books Families and How To Survive Them and Life And How To Survive It.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: In Monty Python's Flying Circus Cleese often portrays characters who use very out of the ordinary words in their every day speech.
    "Frankly, I'm against people who give vent to their loquacity by extraneous bombastic circumlocution."
  • Silly Walk: Not the Trope Namer, since other comedians before him have had silly walks, but he could be the Trope Codifier. A famous Monty Python sketch has him as the Minister of Silly Walks and he goosestepped another funny walk in the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans". It's one of his trademarks, though he doesn't particularly like the fact that he is pigeonholed for "such a ordinary and simple joke."
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Talks a lot between his teeth while remaining straight-faced.
  • Type Casting: He's pretty much the same in every movie. He often says "Jolly good", "Right!", "Marvelous", and "[sucks wind between teeth]...Still!". Since A Fish Called Wanda, he is also often cast in films and TV series as somewhat of a Chick Magnet.
  • Working with the Ex: In Fawlty Towers Cleese plays Basil, while his then wife Connie Booth plays Polly the maid. In the first series they were still together. In the second they were divorced. Still, they did get along fine, seeing that she also co-wrote the scripts.
  • Write What You Know: He based Basil Fawlty on a very rude hotel manager called Donald Sinclair. The other Pythons left the hotel, but John chose to stay and study Donald's behavior.