The following is an excerpt from this New York Times interview with John Cleese, which was published on May 16. (Via Return of the Reluctant.)
[JENNIFER] SENIOR: Now that "Fawlty Towers" is back in our living rooms on BBC America, I'm curious: what do you think of that network's big hit, "The Office"?
[JOHN] CLEESE: I think it's very, very good.
SENIOR: Do you think an American adaptation could be successful?
CLEESE: I doubt it. I've seen an enormous number of English shows adapted for America. They've three times tried to adapt "Fawlty Towers," and each time it was very poor. They always decided they needed to change it. The second time, they wrote the character of Basil Fawlty out of the series.
SENIOR: You're joking.
CLEESE: They got rid of Basil and gave Mrs. Fawlty all of Basil and Sybil's best lines. And that is an idea so excruciatingly bad it's absolutely astonishing anyone would have spent good money on it.
SENIOR: What is it like for you generally in Hollywood? You've been there for a while now. Have they figured out what to do with you yet?
CLEESE: I'll tell you exactly what the problem is: as I got older, I realized that I didn't want to be in the position where I put aside three years of my life for a single project. And I didn't want to do something on American television, because if it was successful, they would want 100 episodes. So I decided to be a hired gun for a bit. But then you're dependent upon people finding you a role. In the last 12 months, I think I've done half a day on a feature film.
SENIOR: That's it?
CLEESE: That was it. It's not that there haven't been other scripts sent to me. But apart from one thing, there hasn't been anything that I thought was good. Whereas I've been lucky enough to work with the "Will and Grace" people. It is a deeply disreputable show. It is morally repugnant to all right-thinking citizens, but everybody thinks it's hilarious.
SENIOR: Is it also harder to age gracefully in comedy?
CLEESE: Oh, I don't think so. I think if people know who you are . . . like if Michael Caine walks on screen, everybody knows it's Michael Caine, and they don't realize that he's 130 or whatever. Because it's Michael Caine, and we've loved Michael Caine for as long as we can remember, so we just see Michael Caine. We don't think, "Who is that extraordinarily ancient man?"
SENIOR: Among your old Monty Python cohort, Terry Gilliam has had the most success navigating the shoals of Hollywood. Is it because he's American?
CLEESE: Oh, I don't think so. You just have to want to continue to do it. I think being a film director is about as awful a job as you can have.
SENIOR: Really? But they have so much control.
CLEESE: Well, exactly. You want to be responsible for every single decision that's made over a period of two and a half years. Now, there are some people who are sufficiently megalomaniacal to want that kind of responsibility. But most of us would be very happy to say, "Not today, thank you."
SENIOR: Are you saying that Terry Gilliam is a megalomaniac?
CLEESE: I'm saying all film directors are, without exception.
SENIOR: What projects are you up to now?
CLEESE: It'll make you laugh, but I'm really, really getting interested in a Web site.
CLEESE: I get lots and lots of funny ideas. And I think to myself: what am I going to do? I don't have a show. So it seems to me the best thing I can do is to buy a little camera, write funny things, and then perform them very, very simply in front of this camera, and put it on the Web site the next day. Apparently, there are people who will pay 50 cents a week to download bits of funny material.
SENIOR: What will it be called?
CLEESE: Well, it can't be John Cleese because some pest has already taken that. So let me just ask my dear assistant. [Speaks to someone in the room.] Oh. Thejohncleese.com.
SENIOR: You've already got it up and running?
CLEESE: Yes. I've got a little slew of work I'm getting through at the moment, but once that's out of the way, I'm going to sit down and start creating material. I love the idea of running a kind of — what would you call it? — a sort of nanochannel.
SENIOR: Would you also want to include a blog?
CLEESE: Yes. There are all sorts of things I'd put in. I've been thinking of a funny greetings card. I can never find very good funny greetings cards anymore.
SENIOR: Such as?
CLEESE: I'm sorry I ate your gerbil.
CLEESE: I'm extremely sorry I murdered your aunt. I really shouldn't have done it.
SENIOR: Would you collaborate with others on this project?
CLEESE: Oh yes. I mean, I did think it would be rather funny to do a film about the War of Independence and call it "1776 1/2" and shoot it all at the ranch with three people in each army.
SENIOR: Who would play General Washington?
CLEESE: My teeth are sufficiently bad. I think Washington would be a doddle to play.
SENIOR: A what?
CLEESE: Doddle. It means something extremely easy to do. As in "The Life of Brian," when the old man says, "Crucifixion's a doddle." It's one of my favorite lines in all the Python films.