Peter Cook and Dudley Moore discusses comedy and their show "Good Evening"
BROADCAST: Jun. 5, 1975 | DURATION: 00:55:59
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore talk about acting, comedy and their show "Good Evening," a two man sketch comedy show. .
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Studs Terkel Two of the funniest men around and about anywhere, anywhere could be England, the United States, any city, are in Chicago right now. And you've heard them quite often WFMT, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and they're there at the, I'm laughing now, I think of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who are just authentically certified mad comics, and they are at the Blackstone Theater. "Good Evening" is the name of their two-man--I was about to say 'duo,' two-man show. It's theatre in the very funniest sense of the word, 'theater,' and it's burlesque, it's comedy, and it's commentary, too. "Good Evening" is what it's called, and they're at the Blackstone Theater to be seen and to be delighted in through the 28th of June. And in a moment a conversation, I trust a very serious in-depth interviews with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore after this message. Now, one thing is clear about my two guests this morning, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. One is rather tall and one is my height, which should be considered somewhat short. But what's important about them is they both are obsessed, which is quite clear from seeing them this evening, one with a drive to dominate the world. In Cook's case it's equivalent to that of, not equally as tall as he's like de Gaulle, and in the case of Dudley Moore, someone equally his height, is Napoleon or Hitler.
Peter Cook This desire to dominate the world, I suppose it's my mother's fault. She brought me up on the idea that I be dictator and so far it hasn't happened, and I really blame her for that. I mean, she's a naughty lady telling me at the age of three I'd be dictator of the world, and now I'm not, and you know I feel disappointed, and I beat her up a bit.
Dudley Moore I don't think either of them, Peter, if I may juxtapose, have really admitted to themselves, you know, your failure at the moment to dominate the world. I think it's a hope they still have burning in their hearts.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Studs Terkel I think of what you do on stage, too, incidentally, on the subject of the power of dividing an audience, that's power. By the way, do you have a sense of power? I never ask this of performers on the stage. Do you have a sense of power
Dudley Moore We do. I mean, if you get a good laugh it's like hitting a ball in the center of a tennis racket, you know, and it's just a marvelous feeling of--well, I mean, in fact the whole business about comedy is really a manipulation of an audience and I think that's why I scorn politics and politicians so much, because of, possibly because it's rather the same sort of principle, although I pretend that my values are higher or something. But there is a great feeling of power on the stage, there's no doubt about
Peter Cook The way I perform is pretty weak, yes, but no, I don't feel any particular power, or it--I think most performers say that they get something of an audience which sort of charges them and keeps them up. And there's this sort of--performers say there's the equivalent of an orgasm by having that amount of laughter or warmth--
Dudley Moore I wouldn't say that, except when the orchestra is very, very near the stage. But no, I think the way you perform anyway, I--you know, I didn't think you--in a funny sort of way, you don't--you're not aware of--so aware of your [innocence? audience?] as I am, and I don't mean to say that you don't know they're there, but you don't play with them as I do, or you--or I know that you, when you say a line you won't necessarily wait for the laugh to die down and you'll cut through or else you'll say that I [might not be heard?].
Peter Cook [unintelligible]
Peter Cook Yes.
Studs Terkel On the subject of the various one-act dramas some of them are called, some of the humor might be described as black humor. You know, it's funny. It deals with very sad things but it becomes very comical. Let's say the doddering father, and that's a variation on an even more biting one you have called "Father and Son" on one of your albums that we play often. But the doddering father, you know, and the son on location who didn't come home for his mother's death.
Dudley Moore My father, when he died I was on holiday in Hong Kong. On my birthday, my secretary rang up and said "Your father is very ill," and I had to come home, and he died within a month. And the whole process was so bizarre, you know, and very sad. I really wanted to write a whole, you know, thing about it, but it ended up as a sketch and I twisted it round, you know. So instead of being my father dying I made it the mother dying. I mean, just those little twists sort of deflect the real feeling from it in a sense. But a lot of that sketch has to do with, it's a conglomeration of my parents, really, in the old man, you know, and the anxieties they have, the guilts they have and they promote and you know, all the sort of terrible things that parents inevitably do to their offspring, and that we will do to ours, you know. And it's very tempting to play--sorry.
Dudley Moore Oh yes, well, it was hilarious and yet it was terribly sad. My father was, you know, getting more and more out of it and my niece was sitting on the other side of the bed. And my father thought it was my wife. She was, I was still married to her at the time. She's now my ex-wife. But he thought it was my wife, and he joined our hands together and he said, you know.
Studs Terkel We're laughing, this is, can we talk about this, this is interesting. Here's a tragic, a genuinely you know, a genuine tragedy, flesh and blood, involving Dudley, and yet it becomes comical. You find the crazy absurdity of life, itself isn't it? Isn't that what you guys see?
Dudley Moore Yeah, I mean it's, I think there's a, you know, I mean, I think people often mistake the fact that you laugh at grotesquely tragical things, they mistake that as a sort of callousness. But I mean, the grief is there. I mean, I went through an enormous amount of extraordinary feelings with the whole thing, and the first moment of actually knowing that my father was going to die, somebody who was near to me, or actually wasn't near to me, but that's another matter. I mean, you know somebody I didn't really know that well, but somebody I knew very well in another, in an unconscious sense. I mean, the fact that he was going to die and disappear really, you know, put the fear of hell in me and a great amount of grief. But there were so many bizarre things around him. When he died, for the last couple of weeks he had his teeth out. And then when we came to see him he was sort of fading very fast. The hospital phoned up, they said--we didn't, I didn't want to go and see him die. I didn't want to sort of wait there and find that exact moment when his breath wasn't going to come anymore. And both my mother and I dawdled at the house, you know, when we got there and he was dead, and they put his teeth back in. I mean, it was just grotesque. I mean, and that was, that gave rise to the thing in the sketch about the teeth flying out when mother died, you know, they hit the ceiling and then the whole hospital collapses. In a way that's a reflection of how I felt. You know, it was a sort of a--I mean, to get sort of vaguely coy about it, but I mean the whole catastrophe of death had to be expressed in some way and I wanted to do it in a mad way.
Peter Cook There's a bit of a sketch which applies to me because my father had a very, turned out to be a very mild stroke, and my mother rang me and I said, "Well, what are you doing about it?" She says, "Well, Dr. [Pilbrough?] is"--
Peter Cook "Has always been very good to us and so we're going along." I said, "What does Dr. Pilbrough recommend?" And he says, he recommends that Alex remains in bed for several weeks and then we see how it goes. And I said, "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have some tests of some kind?" She said, "Well, he doesn't think so, and I really wouldn't like to discuss it with him because he's our doctor, and he's always been very nice to us."
Peter Cook It was in the sketch and I just went--I've used whatever clout, as it's called over here, that I had to find out who's the best at it, who's the best person in the area that dealt with heart attacks or strokes, and finally persuaded both my father and my mother he should go to a hospital and have numerous tests, which he did. And he went to the Exeter Hospital under the best heart person there. But I think if I hadn't sort of reacted in that way, it'd have been, well, just take a good lie down, we'll see how things go, and have an aspirin and all that.
Dudley Moore Terrible allegiance to the family doctor, you know. So when Peters is the son, he says to me in the sketch, you know, "Did you consult that specialist?" I said, "No, I didn't want to offend Dr. [Groat?]. I mean, he saw you through your German measles."
Studs Terkel What comes out here, is, it's fascinating to me. It's fantastic. You see, here is something blackly humorous yet wildly funny, based upon your own experiences and observations of your own life and family and would you say is nothing--that's what makes the audience howl, isn't the shock of recognition, the old phrase.
Dudley Moore Yes. There's also a lot of anger, I think. I mean, funny enough, in all of our sketches somebody seems to die. There's a mention of a death somewhere. I think we do it more than most comedians. And it's, you know, a prosaic fact that comedians have a lot of hostility in them and anger, well, hostility and anger. It's not enough of a mixture, it's much of the same, isn't it, water
Studs Terkel You know this is, this matter of anger and the great comics of course, all of them, you know, anxiety as well as anger, too, but the anger, the great burlesque comics, I'm sure great music hall comics had this, this is key to some extent, isn't it? It's attacking all the, you know, the rituals of society, the accepted, you know, and now they're making very unsacred the sacred cow, you know.
Dudley Moore Well, I'm not sure about that, because well, we both have different, entirely different views of life. I like, I mean I, my whole process is to try and get to grips with who I am, and Peter will tell you that he's discovered who I am years ago, but--
Dudley Moore Well, you see, that's an entirely different view of life, which in a sense helps us when we're working. But also it divides us as well. I mean, it's something that can either make us mix or make us divide.
Studs Terkel That's interesting, see, he's trying to find out who he is, yet he has all these masks there again when he does. Peter sometimes does his own comic, often he's straight man, too, and yet comic. In your case, you're very often the clown throughout.
Dudley Moore Yeah.
Dudley Moore Well, I got to a stage maybe four years ago, I think, where I didn't want to perform anymore because having discovered the reason why I performed, I despised how much I'd sacrificed in a sense. You know, I mean, performers often come to performing because they want to protect themselves, you know, especially comedians. They do it because they don't want to get beaten up by kids of their own age at school and they often--I mean, it's a fairly common story. And I think when you discover that or rediscover it, you suddenly think , "Well, do I really want to do this anymore?" I can't see myself doing anything else, and yet I can see my attack or my areas of interest varying, you know.
Dudley Moore I was, I think I was--yeah, I was probably pompous to protect myself then. I had to spend a lot of time in hospital when I was a kid and I hadn't got used to children of my own age and well, of any age. And when I finally went to school I was very frightened by kids, and I used to be very serious. And then that used to get me into trouble, you know, people used to despise my seriousness, and I realized that the only way I could get past that hostility was to become a clown. I didn't think of that consciously, I just knew that I had to be like a lot of the other boys and fool around, you know, and I remember the exact precise moment when I decided that, and I said something mildly funny, but it seemed wildly funny at the time. And from that moment on I changed completely and despised myself for it, because I was leaving behind all the work I wanted to do. I didn't have time to do that work now, I had to be the school clown, you
Peter Cook But on the other hand, any other profession you think what, if you go back to your childhood or whatever, what motivated you to become an accountant or whatever, I think you have the same anxieties and think, "Well, I became an accountant because of this and therefore I despise being an accountant," I don't think it's that much of a different job.
Studs Terkel When did you, [unintelligible] because we know of Peter Cook also as a writer, as the guy who established The Establishment, that club, and also the "Private Eye". Which, we talk about that later too, when did you--the idea that you're funny, that you're a funny guy.
Peter Cook I think around about the age of 12, and I don't think I was physically scared of the other kids at my school, but it did seem like a useful way of being popular, being funny. And my early attempts at humor were mainly sarcasm and remains that way. Oh, I--don't want to say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, or puns the lowest form of wit. I've been with the lowest form of wit ever since I can remember. I started writing professionally when I was about 13 for the English humorous magazine, humorous in quotes, "Punch", and I used to send in little items and I got paid three guineas a time, and I thought, "Well, if I can get in two items a week, I got a living." I was very rich at school, and then when I was about 15, my comic invention for "Punch" dried up, in that none of my bits were accepted, which I later regarded as a compliment, because it's such a boring magazine. But I was writing from that time on, and I was doing shows at school, marionette shows, writing musicals, and there are still people who come up to me, I wrote a terrible musical called "The Black and White Blues" about a missionary band that went to Africa to convert the African people through this wonderful music and all it was was doggerel and very smutty. And there are a few records in existence. I'd like to destroy them all. But occasionally people come up to me and say, "You know that Black and white blues thing you did at Radley absolutely fantastic, best thing you ever did in your life." This is terrible memorial to my puberty hanging around, is about 150 copies left.
Peter Cook Laid, was in a field with a young lady with very bad breath, but I was very desperate because other people at school had 'done it,' and so I thought I'd better go ahead with this awful ritual and because she had this very bad breath I had to turn around the other way so that the wind would be not blowing in my face, it'd be blowing away from
Studs Terkel Coming back to this matter of tragedy in what you do, you says this girl threw herself off a cliff, you also have this wildly comic nutty survival thing. Here's the genial, the ebullient, one-legged actor auditioning for Tarzan. So you have a double comic here, you the showbiz guy with the cliches, and the guy who's never going to be downhearted. He's never going to lose.
Dudley Moore Yes, and just gradually grasping the reason why I might not be suitable for Tarzan unless we get no two-legged character actors in here within the next 16 months. But I think that's the whole thing about the old man, as well. I think that, you know, some people superficially say, "Well, you know it's an attack of old--it's an attack against old people." It's not, because that--I mean, it's a story, really, about an indomitable totally indestructible, lecherous, mean, hypocritical son of a gun. I mean, he's a terrible man really. He's got a lot of affection in him, but he's got a lot of hate. It's really about all sorts of things. It's not just about a man who walks, who finds it difficult to walk. I mean, he's got this sort of very vigorous walk that carries him very slowly.
Studs Terkel It's just parenthetically to the audience who are listening, those who haven't seen it should, because visually, of course, you've heard Cook and Moore on the radio and through the recordings and the Midnight Special very often, but seeing them and the sketch that Dudley is now describing is hilarious, this is of course the walk. Everything we see. I'm sorry.
Dudley Moore Yeah. No, I was just saying that you know, I feel that this, it's that same sort of indestructible quality about the character which I think takes away from anything that would be just callously about old people, and in fact old people, to use a rather peculiar phrase. I'd prefer that to senior citizens.
Dudley Moore I think they divide up amongst themselves. Some of them are offended by it, some of them aren't. I mean, most of them aren't, I don't think. I mean, I think if an old person is anxious or fearful, then perhaps any reference to their age group will be offensive, you know, reminding themselves--
Peter Cook There are things which you can only work out later and you realize that the one-legged man auditioning for the part of Tarzan is not offensive, but it could be, it would be offensive if instead of hopping on on one leg, if you came on on crutches. That would be offensive. When I say offensive, it just wouldn't be funny.
Dudley Moore No.
Studs Terkel See, through, I think it's the geniality, isn't this one of the secrets, if there is any one secret to humor. It touches, you know, touches on very strong matters, illness, death, old age, homosexuality, everything, but it's done with a wild kind of geniality, underneath it survivability is always there. Isn't this what does it?
Dudley Moore Yeah, I mean, in a sense I'm always, always in my mind I'm going round and round with the sort of material we do and the sort of approach I have to life I guess because I--to get back. Let's [move?] briefly, too, I mean my feelings about life. I really feel that life isn't just, I mean I--for me I feel there's more than I have to discover about myself, and so I'm continually questioning the sort of material I do. I guess because I've been in analysis over the years within the last 10 years I've been on and off for about seven years and last year for a very sort of intense time for about six months. And so I'm in a sort of a quandary sometimes as to, not what my motives are exactly, but whether I'm always expressing exactly what I want to express, you know.
Peter Cook I feel like a dinosaur roaming the country because I think we're sort of strange relics. I mean, doing a two-man show, a two-man revue. "Beyond the Fringe" was hailed as a revival of the revue form. In fact, what it did was kill it off. And, I mean, there hasn't been a revue in London which has worked successfully since then, because the comparison's always made, and "Beyond the Fringe" started out as a, just for a two-week engagement at the Edinburgh Festival, and all it was designed to do is provide fun. I mean, it was to make people laugh. And then it got a whole lot of things put on it, it was the first satirical breakthrough and so on, and we got labelled as something which we really weren't in particular. I daresay Alan Bennett was, he was given the correct label. I think he's a genuine satirist.
Peter Cook And this is a show which is entirely designed to make people laugh. I mean, the fact that we choose things which seem to reek of death and destruction is just a reflection of our personalities, but I think it isn't just a simple laugh show. I just feel sometimes I feel rather like a relic, because I mean, I can't think of other people who are doing it.
Studs Terkel Is this, In a way the two-man show is old, there was a tradition of it way, way, way back I think, I'm not sure there was a full evening of theater, there were the comics, there were combinations.
Studs Terkel Want to come back to what we're talking about here, yourselves, what you are on the stage. And the drives that you have. We started, we were kidding at the beginning you know, but you know, the horsing around, but then seriously you are talking about the psyche of a performer in a sense, or the psyche of an entertainer. Should we--is it time for a slight break now? I think we'll return in a moment and perhaps the question of you and music, and that the aspect the conflict possibly or the fusion of the two gifts. In your case, your writing and the magazine and yourself, too, after this message. Resuming the conversation with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore who you know are appearing at the Blackstone Theater. It's a evening of accelerated exhilaration, crazy wild humor of two very witty men and gifted performers through the 28th at the Blackstone Theater and there are matinees Wednesday and Saturday. We're talking about--well, Dudley I first heard of his name before "Beyond the Fringe" when Denis Mitchell was doing a film on Chicago, the documentary filmmaker, and he said Dudley Moore is great doing the music.
Dudley Moore Yeah. I met him through a girl I knew here in Chicago. And I remember doing the music for that film and I gather we were talking last night about it, in fact, weren't we, and saying that the film was banned here.
Dudley Moore In those days I couldn't finish a score. You know, I mean, I always used to come to a session with something unwritten. You know, it was--I think I had enormous anxiety, much more than I have now, in those days and that used to prevent me from finishing anything off. At the moment I'm very relaxed about the musical side of myself because I--as I, as my mind sorts itself out I realize that I'm in for a long time thinking, well, I've got to write in the modern style, because you know that's what is current and I had a feeling of needing to conform, I guess, you know, either writing in a sort of 12-tone style or sort of a pointillist style or whatever, you know, some--I felt in a way I had to align myself with some style. Now I'm really realizing more and more as I realize myself more and more, that I can be myself in my music and I'm quite prepared to ferment up in my head.
Studs Terkel Is there an interesting conflict here, or do you work the two, you're a serious musician and a funny man. It's an interesting combination, isn't it? A clown as a serious musician. Because you are a serious musician.
Dudley Moore Yeah. Well, I mean I also, I mean, professionally on television play jazz a lot, or used to anyway when I was in England from, certainly from about '64 to '71. I haven't played very much recently, but that's mainly because of
Peter Cook The best time for me for Dudley playing jazz was when he played in the basement of The Establishment in London. And that was jazz that people came and danced to, which I think that's how it began, and it's, in a way, how it should continue. That was a really great place, had a tremendous atmosphere, it's a marvelous treasure. Everybody had such fun down
Dudley Moore Yeah.
Studs Terkel Of course, musicians--but it's not that cerebral thing, very heavy, as you know, as in contemporary jazz to some extent has been the case, but actually people, the spectators becoming participants as well.
Dudley Moore Yeah. I think--I hardly ever listen to jazz now. I think probably that's doing it a disservice but a lot of jazz has been very, very boring in the past because it's felt it had to keep pace with, shall we say, serious music. And I don't think that's it's real function, although it's now spilling over into much, into serious music and into pop in a much more creative way, but there was a--
Peter Cook I'd say Ramsey Lewis at the moment is shedding that sort of cathedral-type atmosphere which he used to have, a certain jazz groups and is now, it is a mixture of--I don't know why you bother to distinguish between jazz, pop and
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of humor now, Peter has been so directly connected with what we call British humor through the past several years as much as anybody, Cook, "Private Eye" and as well as The Establishment. You notice there's a breakdown, there's no longer a conflict, is there, as far as British humor being understood or dug by American or other audiences.
Peter Cook I don't think so. For example, what might be called a fairly obscure show and very, very English is attracting an enormous audience on public television, that's "Monty Python's Flying Circus", bits of which I think are hilarious and other bits I don't like. I don't like the graphics, but that's my own taste, but that is a very English show with no concessions to an American audience or doing that sort of saying "we can't use this word," and that that's caught on, and I rather regret that the television shows that we did in England, we did about six series, were never shown over here because at that time the BBC didn't export comedy because they thought it wouldn't be understood. Now they've suddenly discovered it is understood, at least via, probably in terms of ratings a small audience, but in terms of people an enormous one.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of you, for example a perfect--what might be a case of British humor not being dug is being dug, the miner. Down in the mines. The monologue, the long monologue by Peter and this of course absolutely--here's a case of what? Deadpan, you know, straight-faced deadpan humor.
Peter Cook About somebody in a very dull job. Talking about his aspirations, do something different, there's no chance of doing it whatsoever. Rather have been a judge than a miner. And I suppose it's not a philosophy of mine, 'cause I have a very--usually accused of being a nihilist, I'm not sure if I am or not, but I write a lot of stuff about boredom.
Dudley Moore Oh, I think it's a very big achievement. I think that particular monologue is one of the best monologues I've ever heard. I mean, what is funny though about Peter is and also different from me and also, I think, very positive for Peter is that he doesn't--in a sense it's positive and he doesn't analyze what he's doing or what he's saying or how he's living in a sense, but then the boredom crops up all the time. And if that happened to me I think I would be very inclined to want to know why I was getting bored all the time, and I certainly don't get bored, I used to get depressed, you know, and maybe people who get depressed want to know why they're depressed. People who get bored, I have a feeling maybe they--it just breeds more boredom and therefore they don't get so introspective. I don't know.
Peter Cook No, I think it'll probably hit me later, you know. I don't think I should always remain the same, but at the moment, no, I go through life on a--I sort of, I floated through life really. Floating sounds nice, but it's not really the--I've never had any difficulty or any adversity. I'm talking about professionally. I drifted into "Beyond the Fringe" purely by chance and that was a hit, and then I drifted into doing a television series with Dudley and that worked very well in England, and we've actually got round to doing, we did, I drifted into a few movies, some with Dudley, some alone. It's just sort of--I do get, I think it's age, the occasional thing, I can't continually rely on fate providing me
Dudley Moore I, you see, I have such a burning passion about getting to the point where I really feel as if what I say and do and express is totally me that it becomes a preoccupation all the time. Some people get to it immediately, and they all, they find this sort of comment very puzzling, but if you are talking neurotic, I think you sort of can sympathize. Seems to me that, you know, life is so peculiar, so miraculous, so exciting, so odd, that I'm constantly preoccupied with that which in fact leads me totally away from the area of politics. I mean, for instance since it seems to be I'm saying that because you know, that's in contrast to Peter, I think, who is very fascinated by
Studs Terkel This is interesting because Peter a moment ago said he, boredom, boredom. He has a view of life sort of it's not too exciting. At the same time, Peter is the guy who founded a paper called "Private Eye" that is very biting and does make political commentary.
Peter Cook "Private Eyes" is one of the things which I think one day, this is a sort of you always have something you think you might do, I might be more full-time occupied with "Private Eye", because that I find real fun.
Peter Cook "Private Eye" is a magazine which is half humor of a vulgar nature and half investigative reporting of a kind which gets us into court once a week, because the libel laws in England are very, very strong and our policy used to be "Publish and be damned," it's now "Publish and apologize." It is, we always lose in court, no matter how true the story is, no matter how much it is in the public interest. I mean, Jack Anderson could not write in England, his column would be so wishy-washy. That he can print in the "Washington Post" things which are not printed in English newspapers. We print the kind of stuff that Jack Anderson prints and is accepted over here as a sort of daily ration of information about government and treachery and bribery and everything the country is founded on, and we do it in a minor way. We sell about 200,000 copies in England. And it is just a small group of people and it's a magazine which exists to keep going. It's not a moneymaking thing. It's what is--in America, I suppose if we started in America rather like "Rolling Stone", say, you suddenly become a corporation and there'll be big ad deals and so on, but this little magazine stays the same. It looks tacky, but it provides information and it outsells "Punch" two to one, which is one of my major ambitions because the editorial staff of "Punch" once said, "Look, you're quite a funny person. Why don't you leave this tacky little magazine and come and join us and, you know, we'll pay you better than," I never got a penny out of "Private Eye", I'll get six bottles of champagne a year as a dividend because I own 81 percent of it. It's just there to keep going. That's all it's about.
Peter Cook I don't think he's been an influence. I mean, I was brought up on "The Goon Show". I used to go sick every Friday to go to the sanatorium at school so I could listen to "The Goon Show". They wondered what this Friday disease was. I called it asthma since I've been told I've had asthma. So I used to go sick to listen to Spike. And I think if I was Spike Milligan I'd be so bitter. And I think he is, Spike Milligan, he is bitter.
Dudley Moore It's really a shame that he, I mean, his television shows as well. It's a shame that they didn't come over here. It seems, it's inconceivable to me why they don't. You know, he is the--I was going to say the granddad, but he's not a grand--
Peter Cook Yes.
Studs Terkel Something--
Dudley Moore I don't know what I was going to say 'but' to. But you know, I feel the same way as Peter. I think although we've been, we've listened, both listened to that show that he wrote, I don't think either of us has been exactly influenced by it, although it might be, you know, subliminally somehow, you know, that sort of madness may have filtered through. I don't know.
Studs Terkel That's interesting, though, see, you two have--that here's something literary has influenced you rather than something theatrical. So there's an "Alice in Wonderland" quality of the Lear, the wild Lear imagination then. This is part of it then, too, and then Alice plays a role here. "Alice in Wonderland".
Dudley Moore Yeah.
Dudley Moore My view, Peter's humor often comes out of an area which I don't think he can identify very easily. Mine on the whole comes from life itself that I've experienced I think, although madness gets laid on top, but nothing quite the same way. I mean, the idea of the "One-legged Tarzan" which is something Peter wrote when he was what, 19?
Peter Cook Yeah.
Dudley Moore Yeah. I mean, that's, that comes out of somewhere that you know, I would find inconceivable. I would start with much more prosaic characters, you know. If I was writing a sketch I wouldn't think of that sort of situation, this is a sort of difference there.
Peter Cook Totally nothing to do with that, but Dudley and I have a vision of ourselves knighted at the age of 84 playing the Catskills with a production with Dame Edith and Dame Sybil and whatever and doing a rotation of classical plays, Shakespeare and whatever, and this is still sort of discussing everything in a very professional method, I think, you know, in, and perhaps it doesn't matter here, perhaps it's [of no notice?], but I really think that Sybil, in the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, I think, I really think she should put her teeth in.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Peter Cook No, it's just my simple greed was so blatant I was determined to be a millionaire by the time I was 30, and I did the reverse procedure which is just about as good. I was $250,000 bankrupt at the age of 24. Which is exactly the same as being a millionaire.
Dudley Moore Really.
Studs Terkel Now, we, see, "Alice in Wonderland", Samuel Beckett in his case, his own probings and clowning, we come to, in a way, there is a quality, all the adverse things happen, but you're still there. There's still, it's not the end of the endgame.
Dudley Moore I see at the back of it all a furious, determined, I mean, it I immediately come up with a dream image that I often have that I, where I've seen a dog perched on a--I had this dream once where I was seeing my own bedroom and there was my bed and there was the wardrobe at the other end of the bed and there was a dog on the bed. I was in the bed and there was this mad, raging dog on the top of the wardrobe preparing to leap on the bed, but never doing it, it was just whirling there, the teeth were whirling round, like a grinder. The eyes were like that, and I often feel that I'm like that, I'm poised to jump, you know, with such fury in myself. But I never do it. This is the complaint of the neurotic.
Peter Cook At a banquet somewhere, but in a sort of a terrible tacky room and certain dignitaries invited from some obscure country in which she really didn't bother about and she got up and made a speech and said, "Well, I have to tell you, whatever anybody tells you, that the whole country is gone down the drain and I'm going to smoke a cigarette in public for the first time," and she lit up this cigarette and giggled for about what seemed like half an hour, and the whole room is breaking out with laughter, and the Queen was fun and saying, "I don't give a shit," and that's my sort of prosaic dream, I dream about things that are going on as opposed to--
Studs Terkel Talking to this one day Sir Peter and Sir Dudley after they're knighted, Sir Peter Cook and Sir Dudley Moore, and I was thinking of that fantasy you have, or that dream, that vision you have of playing with Sybil Thorndike and Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft.
Dudley Moore I don't know. It's, when I, I mean it's something we joke about, and I think there's a--it could, it would be very easy to dawdle along performing, I mean, that's why I'm always gnawing the bone as you say, which is a good way of putting it. I'm always saying, "Well, no, should I be doing this, should I be doing that, should I be performing?" I really feel that work is, well, it has to be a total free expression of, what one is, I think with Peter's case maybe it is, maybe it comes up, I don't think he has these, quite these conflicts although I think he does have conflicts. But, you know--
Peter Cook But what we do in England is we knight them when they're just at that--they have to be incapable of kneeling. It has to be comedies at the last. So Charles Chaplin has to fall out of his wheelchair.
Peter Cook And P.G. Wodehouse has to make a terminal, as it turned out, a terminal trip to get his knighthood, he dies immediately. We knighted P.G. Wodehouse, who must be one of the funniest writers who ever lived at the age of something like 94 just because he made some dumb broadcasts from Germany.
Peter Cook For which somebody never forgave him. The whole English people forgave him. He was just a nice guy and he didn't know what he was doing, and he made a broadcast, which may have been stupid but it certainly wasn't a crime. It didn't hurt anybody, yet they waited 'til he was 94 to give him the knighthood.
Dudley Moore Who
Studs Terkel This is you guys then, this is the way you guys are onstage then. You take something that seems to be very tragic, people recognize real-life situation tragedies. You see the death of a mother or father, but you make it very comic because there's a comic aspect to life that Beckett sees, too.
Studs Terkel You know what we're thinking of? I'm thinking of the crazy humor, wild and brilliant of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. So the approach, the idea of "The Frog and the Peach". This is played on WFMT and this is in "Good Evening", by the way. "The Frog and the"--the idea of this guy having this restaurant in the bog and having these two great dishes. Yeah,
Peter Cook Yeah, I like indomitable losers. They're always very cheerful about what they're doing. And he's the guy who years ago made a living by teaching ravens to fly under water "with very little success. The things kept toppling off your wrist. I mean, the North Sea was awash with feathers."
Dudley Moore You know, it's funny I get a very funny feeling about witty humor or inspired humor. I have a great friend who happened to have gone through Reichian analysis which I did a bit of last year, which is very strenuous and very demonic and very horrific, you know. He's got a sense of humor that is terrible. I mean, he--it's so naive. He cannot make, as it were, a witty remark. I feel that, I don't know if I'm going to be totally humorless as I grow older, but wit and humor has often seemed to me a sort of a cover for so many fears. And I want to get rid of those fears even at the risk of losing the humor. You know what I'm talking about? I almost rest my case there. But it just suddenly occurred to me that's something that I struggle with a lot in myself and which, in a sense, conflicts with the musical side of me. That's the area, you know, because with music I can really get to the depths of what I feel. With humor I'm skating on the top, on the diplomatic top of myself, you know. I mean, that's what humor is about, it's being diplomatic about being very hostile. And to some extent I despise that, you know, because I think it's not actually necessarily grappling with the real fear or the real problems.
Dudley Moore Well,
Peter Cook You have a view which of yourself and your life, and you think "Well, if I can eliminate this and get to the root of this, then I'll be all right, then I'll be able to do this, that and the other." But most people, in fact, I don't know anybody who doesn't have this problem. Most people have to go out and make a living and do dull things like support their families or support themselves. And there isn't an answer. There's no island, there's no peaceful way of life. It is all going to be as bad as it was forever until the end. And I kid myself by saying, "Well, I have a financial cushion in which I can then enjoy myself by playing golf, tennis, and all that stuff, I'll probably never do if I got that rich, I'd probably--rich, being rich never satisfies anybody. It hasn't satisfied Getty, and he's rich enough for me, you know, certainly not. If what Getty's got is enough for me, then I'll settle for that and I'll do all these things." But I think I'll just go on like everybody else, doing some kind of a job forever until I'm too old to be wanted.
Dudley Moore Aaaaaahhhhhhh.
Dudley Moore No.
Peter Cook You
Dudley Moore Yeah. Well, I find that ultimately very worrying. I mean, to be hooked in on that monorail of thought in a way. I'm not despising what I'm doing now. I enjoy the work I do now. But I have a lot of feelings about--I mean, you know, it's I get the feeling you want to bumble through life sort of it'd be preferable to be half-pissed all the time and just sort of, hey everything's great and slapping on the back and isn't life hilarious. I mean, I have that feeling in me as well. But I also get the feeling that it's--I don't mean, I don't think you have to be po-faced about it, but there seems to be so much more (I sound like a bloody evangelist) so much more to it.
Dudley Moore I don't, that's, well, where I disagree. I think that you've been so screwed up in your life that you are absolutely hidebound in your track. And I fear for you, I really do. I'll come and visit
Studs Terkel Well, on that very affirmative note, is I'm thinking about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this has been to me a very fascinating hour of two different men, two artists, two gifted performers at work and plumbing their psyches this much. But anyway, in any event, it's quite an experience, quite a theatrical experience, exhilarating one, very funny one. "Indomitable losers," by the way, is that phrase that Peter Cook used, that describes what they do, what they are, and what in a sense all of us are, on the stage at the Blackstone Theater through the 28th of June and matinées on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and we'll continue this discussion off-mic as we go to lunch I trust. Gentlemen, I thank you.