Richard Curtis: John Cleese taught me to laugh
Richard Curtis describes his love for Monty Python and reveals what inspired him to start working with charities.
Richard Curtis wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, as well as Blackadder and Mr Bean. His latest film About Time was released in cinemas last year.
Monty Python’s Big Red Book
Monty Python was the most important comic influence on my generation. At least 50 per cent of our conversations at school were simply repeating Python sketches. The book was blue, which was already funny, and it was packed with jokes, comedy sketches and drawings. It was such good value; something Comic Relief has always tried to give.
And John Cleese? He taught me to laugh. We set Blackadder in history because we knew we couldn’t write a modern comedy as good as Fawlty Towers. I’d never have written a British film if A Fish Called Wanda hadn’t given us hope. And I wouldn’t have started Comic Relief if The Secret Policeman’s Ball hadn’t paved the way for comedy as a means to raise funds.
Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild
It’s the story of Thomas Clarkson, who spent his life working to abolish the slave trade. As a student at Cambridge, he’d written an essay on slavery. When it was finished, he said, “If the contents of the essay were true, it was time some person should see the calamities to their end.” Clarkson was that man. I read the book in 2004 and it inspired me to give two years to the Make Poverty History campaign. We need to believe that things can be changed if enough people fight for it.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I’d always thought of life and literature as full of formal preconceptions: if you were clever, then you couldn’t be good at sport, and books were made up of perfectly formed sentences. But Slaughterhouse-Five blew that out the water. It was radical and weird and had an informality of tone that appealed to me as an 18-year-old who’d never liked rules. It’s also profoundly moral—an anti-war novel disguised as a grumpy diary disguised as a science-fiction novel. I’ve since read every word that Vonnegut ever wrote.