By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Eric Idle has always failed to live up to his last name.
The comedian, actor, author, singer and songwriter has never stopped working since the iconic British comedy troupe Monty Python disbanded in 1982, even though he could have retired years ago, thanks to his hugely successful stage musical "Spamalot."
Still eager to push the envelope, Idle, 69, releases his new film "What About Dick?" for digital download on Tuesday.
Starring Idle along with such top British comedic talent as Russell Brand (as main character Dick), Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Tim Curry and Tracey Ullman, the film is both an homage to old-time radio plays and a poke in the eye to stuffy Edwardian costume dramas.
Idle spoke to Reuters about the film, why he is not part of "A Liar's Autobiography," - the new animated film about late Monty Python member Graham Chapman - and the perennial reunion rumors about the troupe.
Q: This not your usual comedy film. How would you describe it?
A: "I'd say it's about the decline and fall of the British Empire, as seen through the eyes of a piano. It's a play for comedians and not so serious that they can't mess with it. We shot it live with an audience of 2,000, so there's also a concert element to it, and it's pretending to be a radio play, with six or seven songs - some of which are filthy. It's full of innuendo but it's also very innocent."
Q: How did you get such a great cast?
A: "It was originally going to be a film, and Billy and Tim were cast, but then it all collapsed as films do. Time went by, and I decided to do it as a radio play instead, but everyone was so funny in it at a read-through that I couldn't imagine anyone else in the roles. And I rewrote it a bit, as there wasn't enough Dick in it - the main character, that is - and then Russell came along to play Dick. So that's when I decided to do it live and just film it."
Q: Were you always a big radio fan?
A: "Completely. We didn't have TV 'til we were 12, and all the Pythons grew up with radio, which is very surreal. It's about language, and it paints pictures much more intensely than film or TV - especially radio comedy."
Q: Are you concerned a lot of people may not get all the very British jokes? It is very silly.
A: "No. I think it's easier to make American audiences laugh than British ones. They're more open, and this is much harder to describe than to watch. But you're right about the silliness. Brits excel at that and laughing at themselves. Americans don't really like to laugh at themselves that much."
Q: Have you seen the film adaptation of Chapman's "A Liar's Autobiography" yet?
A: "No, and although they try and sell it as Python, it's not. It's Graham reading his autobiography, and then they animated it. He was completely mad and an alcoholic, but a lovely man."
Q: But you're the only Python not in it.
A: "Because they try and get you in it, but I'm too clever for that (laughs). Otherwise they sell it as a Python film and we won't own it or control it, so it's just a rip-off. I felt it was dangerous, and they shouldn't do it."
Q: Despite that, are the Pythons still friendly?
A: "Yes, we're like siblings. There are certain rivalries, but ultimately you're part of the same family."
Q: What about the possibility of another Python reunion?
A: "Apart from the fact that Graham's gone, it's 30 years since we worked together. We were together from '69 to '82, and that's a pretty good innings. A rock band wouldn't have lasted that long."
(Reporting by Iain Blair, editing by Jill Serjeant and Marguerita Choy)