"We are tubes--hollow cylinders of flesh
. What is our expectation from life? Regular fulfillment of primitive functions at both ends, coupled with the thought that we must leave at least something behind us, very much in the same way that a dog pisses against a tree."
-- Graham Chapman
in A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI
A Liar's Autobiography
is the late Graham Chapman's autobiography. Its actual full name is A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI
but almost no one calls it that. The volume part is a bit of an obscure joke that almost no one who reads it notices. The dust jacket refers to it as Volume VI but the inside cover refers to it as Volume VII. See, it's all a lie. It was first published in 1981 and seems to drift in and out of print. As of this writing it is currently back in print, reissued in 1999 to mark ten years without Chapman (he died in 1989). Curiously, Chapman's died on the 20th anniversary of Monty Python
. So forever more Python will be sharing an anniversary with Chapman's death. Eric Idle
called Chapman's death "brilliant timing."
Okay, so at this point., let me make this clear: If you love Python and Chapman, run and gets this book now before it goes back out of print, yah cock-knocker!
A Liar's Autobiography
is a multifaceted book. At times it's a serious history of the birth of Python, the making of the show, and the show's prehistory. At other times, Chapman writes little stories about a character named Biggles
or claims he invented elementary physics particles things like the gluon
It deals with Chapman's struggle to come to terms with his crippling alcoholism
(which he finally mastered and went on to perform the role of his life time in Life of Brian
) and his homosexuality
. Although Chapman generally identified himself as a homosexual, he sometimes had naughty sex with female groupies. At some point he was visited by a thug
sent by a gangster
who thought Chapman was poking his wife. The thug's job was to discourage Chapman from seeing the woman again by clarifying for Chapman what a life without legs would be like. Chapman explained to the thug that he was in fact a notoriously out homosexual and therefore it was utterly impossible that he could be sleeping with a man's wife. The thug tapped his nose and said "I'm a homosexual too and we both know that's not entirely true."
Before Chapman actually came out, many fans of Python
had heard one of the cast members was actually a gay homosexual
! Gasp! An irate viewer wrote a letter to the cast telling them she heard one of them was a fully gay homosexual and the notion sickened her. Eric Idle wrote her a reply saying they got the cast
together, figured out which one was a homosexual, and took him outside and killed him.
Although Chapman's sexuality was well known, his autobiography reveals many of the things in his life that were overshadow by the homosexuality, things that made Chapman a far more interesting and complex person. For example, the book chronicles Chapman's medical education. Few realize that Chapman was a medical doctor
who never really practiced medicine, having achieved a lot of early success with John Cleese
during their Cambridge days as comedy actors in a troop called the Cambridge Footlights
The chapters and passages devoted to his medical training are some of the most hilarious. When he started studying medicine, the first anatomy
class he took where they had to work with cadaver
s they were given a very long lecture about how they were to show these human bodies the utmost respect. However, after a couple classes people were treating the body parts like sports equipment and trading card
s ("I need a leg. I'll give you two arms for your leg.") Chapman himself tended to use a corpse's open mouth for an ashtray for his pipe
He occasionally used his medical training during the filming of Python and the movies. Occasionally when they were on location and someone got sick and there was no easy access to a doctor, Chapman would step in. His autobiography relates one hilarious occasion when a stage hand got sick and Chapman went to the "Chemist
? oh those Brits and their charming little words for pharmacy
!). He needed to get some prescription meds. Not a problem for a licensed physician
. However, Chapman didn't have time to change out of his costume. He was still dressed as an old lady. It took some convincing that he was indeed a licensed physician and not some nut in drag
Chapman's autobiography also has an interesting passage where the Python cast actually tried to brain storm a name for the show. Although they eventually settled on Monty Python's Flying Circus
, Chapman was partial to "Owl Stretching Time
The book ends in 1980. The book was first published when Chapman was among us and long before Chapman was diagnosed with cancer
(diagnosed with throat cancer
in 1988 after he went to see a doctor about some growths on his tonsils
). The re-released version includes an epilogue written by Eric Idle.