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Michael Palin All Over the Map - Geographically, and Artistically

May 3, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Michael Palin has been all over the map - geographically, and now artistically.

As a follow-up to his well-received travel series (″Around the World in 80 Days″ and ″Pole to Pole″), Palin has made a movie with sojourns of silliness and seriousness.

″I like to keep changing direction, because in a way it keeps you on your toes,″ said Palin, who wrote and starred in ″American Friends,″ about his great-grandfather falling in love. ″I think generally there’s a danger in doing easy work that then becomes bad work.″

The impish, slender Palin, who turns 50 on May 5, also joked that he told fellow Monty Python alumnus John Cleese that he wanted to do a love story before he got too old.

Palin based his screenplay on a travel diary kept by his forebear, an Oxford University academic in the mid-19th century, when scholars there remained bachelors. One of his father’s cousins found it as she was cleaning out her house, but Palin didn’t look at the journal until about 10-12 years ago.

Some entries were about his ancestor meeting an American woman and her 18- year-old ward during a walking tour of Switzerland.

The sweet love story has its comic elements, but the film, as director Tristram Powell put it, ″is meant to be straight-faced.″

Palin conceded that could present a problem to longtime fans of the old comedy troupe Monty Python, whose movies and TV shows from the last 20 years still have an ardent following.

″I think you get one go at a thing like Python,″ he said during a conversation in which he sounded more thoughtful than funny. ″It was so successful and, in a sense, unique. That’s why it’s particularly remembered. I mean it’s almost like ‘ex-Beatle.’ ‘McCartney, ex-Beatle.’ He’s been out of the Beatles for 23, 24 years.

″But I think it’s a way of saying remember this, that this was really special. And you can’t deny that it had that impact. So I don’t complain. ... And I’m deeply grateful about the fact that it’s still going, that it’s jumped a generation, and we still make these royalties. And it’s very nice, thank you,″ he added, chuckling.

Palin said he wasn’t sure whether future projects would be as serious as his film, but he noted that he and other Python alumni have gotten away from exclusively doing comedy.

″I don’t think any of us is quite so angry as we were 20 years ago. So you begin to think about writing all sorts of other things, and the things that concern you as you get older, which may be things like relationships, and history, and all sorts of stuff like that,″ he said. ″One doesn’t need to hide behind comedy all the time.″

He thinks anger is necessary to feed good comedy, and believes that comedy can amount to hiding because you don’t have to make a statement of your own - you can just lampoon the stances and attitudes of others, whether it’s the police or church or whoever.

Palin said he’s glad to see that comedy seems more accepted than ever before.

″I think there’s always a need for someone to remind you we live in a less than perfect world,″ he said.

″What I’ve not seen is someone approach it in a particularly unusual and interesting way. One or two try to do that. But I’ve not really seen a fresh approach. I’ve seen good lines, good material, the usual targets.″

He would still like to put together some sort of contemporary comedy. He just doesn’t know what shape it would take, because each form - film, television, novel - has its own set of restrictions.

He is also glad to see that taboos are being tested on various levels, particularly in comedy clubs. While recalling that he and his Python buddies avoided anything ″personally cruel,″ Palin harked back to those days:

″Well, we drew a line, which is a way of trying to find out what to write next. And say: ’Let’s draw the line and see how we can cross it.‴

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