It's quite an interesting dialogue when they start to talk about creativity. Cleese, being an intellectual "ahem! Cambridge" as well as a comedian, actor, writer and director, has read Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation, which has a chapter investigating humour and Henri Bergson's book about laughter
Le Rire. Essai sur la signification du comique. Cleese goes on to say that he read these fat volumes to see if they had anything to add to his own experience of inducing, or failing to induce, laughter. There is a certain hubris in that equivalence: Three Men in a Boat (?!):
- As a journalist and writer Koestler may have done more than any single person to expose the hypocrisies and sullen violence of totalitarianism - read Darkness at Noon: you'll worry less about having enough credit for your iPhone.
- Henri Bergson was the giant of early 20thC French philosophy who, in his spare time, won the 1927 Nobel Prize for Literature. The long list of smart people who have taken the trouble to disagree with Bergson indicates how disturbing his ideas are. I'm not going to bother reading Le Rire, even in English translation: I know I shall get strangled by the long words.
- John Cleese.
The Hodgman interview led me, via the youtube sidebar to a very similar situation at College Tours with Twan Huys and an introduction and subtitles in Dutch. Now I know that stage-fright is plankenkoorts. One of the many points made by Cleese is that, for him [and by extension any creative person], you need calm and quiet to hear the discord in your mind whose resolution leads to an Aha! moment. As he sees it, there is very little space in the modern world to hear the still small voice of calm through the earthquake wind and fire of social media immediacy and dingling smart-phones. I would add
[4. Bob the Scientist]
that you have to have something in your head to set up the incompatible frames of reference. In science, that requires embedding yourself in the literature, experimental results, half-articulated ideas and rival theories of your field. Only then do you have a chance of making a really creative contribution.
The final question in the College Tours encounter asks Cleese if he has any advice for the youth of today. His answer is that, after 75 years on the planet he has come to believe that a lot of his progress [and by extension the progress of other creative people] has been due to luck. That's a rather bleak assessment, although it handily exposes the illusion that the world ticks according to a meritocracy. But he the adds that the correct response to a random world is to be persistent. The chances of you landing the dream contract or the optimum life-partner on the first go-round are vanishingly small but they can be substantively increased if you keep plugging away. That's helpful advice. I'll add that you should also cultivate a degree of self-belief lest you be undermined by a succession of rejections from people who are far less talented than you are.