Within Monty Python Idle was the only member who worked alone.* All the others wrote in duos, but he always preferred working independent and didn't mind learning a lot of dialogue for it. He often played reporters, naïve innocents or cheeky bastards. Some of the most popular Python sketches have him in it, including "Nudge Nudge". Idle is also an accomplished singer-songwriter and wrote many of the group's songs together with Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Band). Their Signature Song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", originally from Life of Brian, was written and sung by Idle.
Idle's most succesful non-Python projects have been the comedic TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set, Splitting Heirs, Rutland Weekend Television and the spin-off The Rutles and the comedy film Nuns on the Run. Apart from that he appears a lot in Celebrity Cameo roles in American films and sitcoms, including Frasier, Suddenly Susan and Declan Desmond in The Simpsons. He also wrote a SF comedy thriller called The Road to Mars.
Idle also wrote the successful stage musical Spamalot, a cash-in on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which has sold a lot of tickets all across the world, but at the same time received criticism for "selling out", not the least among some of the other Pythons. At least Idle lampshades this image too. One of his Turn of the Millennium concert tours was called Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python, and another was The Greedy Bastard Tour.
The standard IDE for the programming language Python, IDLE, was named after him.
- Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-1969)
- Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) (1970) (1971-1972) (1974)
- Rutland Weekend Television (1978), where The Rutles span off. He plays both the reporter as well as Dirk McQuickly.
- Laverne & Shirley: Appeared in the 1981 episode "I Do, I Do" as Derek DeWoods.
- Faerie Tale Theatre: The narrator in The Frog Prince (1982) episode — which he wrote and directed — and the Pied Piper in The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1985) episode.
- One Foot in the Grave (1991-1992): Mervyn Whale.
- Splitting Heirs (1993): Tommy Butterfly Rainbow Peace Platel
- Frasier: Appeared as Chuck in the 1996 episode "High Crane Drifter".
- Pinky and the Brain: Played Pinky's parents in the 1998 episode "The Family That Poits Together, Narfs Together".
- Suddenly Susan: Played Ian Maxtone-Graham, on of the regular characters.
- The Simpsons: Played documentary maker Declan Desmond in four episodes: "Scuse Me While I Miss The Sky" (2003), "Fat Man And Little Boy" (2004), "Springfield Up" (2007) and "The Spy Who Learned Me" (2012)
- And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): Brave Sir Robin, Concorde and the man who orders everyone to "bring out yer dead". Minor peasant characters here and there.
- Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979): The cheeky man who jokes about while being crucified and eventually is brought away instead of Brian. Also Stan, who wants to be a woman, and the Jewish haggler.
- Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982)
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983): One of the French waiters. Wife of the Protestant man and wife of the American tourist. The singer of "The Meaning Of Life song" and "The Galaxy Song". Also the wife of the British couple visited by the Grim Reaper.
- National Lampoon's European Vacation (1983), in which Idle plays a British bike rider
- Transformers: The Movie (1986): Voice of Wreck-Gar.
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Desmond and Berthold
- Nuns on the Run (1990): Brian Hope
- Casper (1995): Paul "Dibbs" Plutzker
- The Wind in the Willows (1996): Rat
- An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1998): Alan Smithee
- The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue (1998): Evil!Martin
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999): Dr. Vosknocker
- Ella Enchanted (2004): The Narrator.
- Shrek the Third (2007): Voice of Merlin.
- Quest for Camelot: Voice of Devon
Books and other writings
- The Two Ronnies: In 1971, 1976 and 1978 he wrote the scripts of 10 episodes.
- Spamalot: The entire musical was an idea by him.
- The Road to Mars
- Monty Python's Flying Circus (1970)
- Another Monty Python Record (1971)
- Monty Python's Previous Record (1972)
- The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1973)
- Monty Python Live at Drury Lane (1974)
- The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
- Monty Python Live at City Centre (1976)
- The Monty Python Instant Record Collection (1977)
- Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
- Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (1980)
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
- The Final Rip Off (1988)
- Monty Python Sings (1989)
- The Monty Python Instant Record Collection, Volume 2 (1991)
- The Ultimate Monty Python Rip Off (1994)
- The Instant Monty Python CD Collection (1994)
- Spamalot (2005)
- The Hastily Cobbled Together for a Fast Buck Album (unreleased)
Eric Idle's work provides examples of...
- Affectionate Parody: His project The Rutles, with Neil Innes (The Bonzo Dog Band) is a comedic parody and homage of The Beatles. Idle loves the band and George Harrison was a huge fan of the film, even playing a reporter in one scene. Harrison also helped bankroll the Python movies.
- Anti-Christmas Song: "Fuck Christmas" combines this with Cluster F-Bomb.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor:
Hello, I bet you're wondering why we're hereSitting on our bums, without a stitch of gearFor as it happens, the budget has expiredAnd everything's gone back to the place from whence it's hired...
- Rutland Weekend Television was un-necessarily crippled by a miniscule budget granted by a parsimonious BBC. Idle, Innes, Woolf and Batley ended the first series on a bitter spoof song about the mean and miserly attitude of the BBC, where the male characters sat naked on a row of stools in a bare studio, with only minimal modesty-saving towels (Gwen Taylor was absent for this one).
- In the 1970s Idle appeared in TV commercials for the chocolate brand Breakaway. When he performed the Monty Python stage shows and did the Nudge Nudge sketch he brought the crowd to roaring laughter and applause by suddenly taking a bit from a Breakaway piece of chocolate and shouting: "Ugh, Breakaway!" It did cost him his exclusive contract with the company though....
- Borrowed Catch Phrase: It was actually Idle who first said "And Now For Something Completely Different" in Monty Python's Flying Circus, but the line was used most by John Cleese.
- Celebrity Cameo: He plays an polite English tourist in National Lampoon's European Vacation.
- The Coconut Effect: Ironically, in a major sense-of-humour failure, Monty Python founder Eric Idle threatened to sue an independent film-maker who used the "that's not a horse - you're using coconuts!" gag, claiming he had originated it for Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Saner counsel prevailed, when it was pointed out to him exactly how old the gag was, and that (for instance) a radio comedy show Idle himself had written for had used this gag way back in the 1960's - ten years before the Holy Grail movie. And the BBC radio comedy archives preserved older examples still....
- He Also Did: Idle has written a lot of songs and even sang the opening and closing theme of the British sitcom One Foot in the Grave.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Many of his pep talk songs sound perky and upbeat... unless you're listening to the lyrics.
- Motor Mouth: Idle has a lot of sketches where he just rambles about something. The most famous ones are probably the "Money Song" sketch and the "Mr. Smoketoomuch" skit.
- Pep-Talk Song: He has written a lot of cheery songs, of which "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" is the most famous.
- Punny Name: Exaggerated for humor in Monty Python's "Travel Agent" sketch, where Eric Idle plays an eccentric man named "Smoketoomuch". He's completely oblivious to the fact that his name is a pun, apparently believing it to be a perfectly normal name. Even after the travel agent makes the Obligatory Joke, "Well, you'd better cut down a little!", he claims that it's the first time he's heard anyone joke about his name.
- The Something Song: "The Galaxy Song" and "Penis Song" from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life were written by him.
- Symbol Swearing: I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio from Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album, which is all bleeps and sound effects. No two bleeps are the same, though.
- Wholesome Cross Dresser: After Terry Jones Idle may be the second best drag performer of the Pythons. The wife of the American tourist and the Protestant housewife in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life are very convincing portrayals. What makes him unique is that his imitations of women aren't as shrill as the others, just a mellowing of his natural voice.
- SHUT UP!!