For me, it started at the World West Theater at Kamms Corners on the West Side of Cleveland.
Cleveland is and was a divided city. Chief among the many ways to slice and dice the city is culturally. The Art Gallery, the museums, the performance venue for the Orchestra, all the principal cultural institutions - and these institutions are far more majestic than most non-Clevelanders would imagine - are on the East Side. I lived on the West Side, a predominately middle- and working-class area.
The cultural division included movie theaters. You could see foreign and non-mainstream movies at several places on the East Side - the Cedar-Lee, the New Mayfield, Case-Western, Shaker Square. If you wanted to see Kurasawa or Bergmann or Fellini, or non-Rocky Horror cult movies like The King of Hearts, you pretty much had to shlep to the East Side. There was only one place on the West Side you could see a movie like this, and that was the World West. It was a few blocks from my house.
I always loved comedy and devoured it wherever I could find it. I loved Woody Allen's and Mel Brooks' movies - I saw Young Frankenstein something like 15 times. A brief ragtime nostalgia craze brought about by the movie The Sting occasionally brought Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields into local TV programming. I found a couple old Bob Newhart albums in the back of my mom's cabinet, and played them over and over. After that, my mother would always pick up any comedy album she could find at garage sales for me - Smothers Brothers, Allan Sherman, Nichols and May, Shelley Berman. These albums are still on my shelf
On the occasional weekend, between the runs of Lina Wertmuller and Hal Ashby movies, the World West showed Marx Brothers double-features. This for me was the apex of comedy. I would go to the first showing at the bargain matinee price on Saturday, and stay until the last showing that night, and then do it again on Sunday. At one time, I had the entire script of A Night at the Opera committed to memory. The Marx Brothers were the ultimate in movie comedy for me, and I made myself an expert on them.
At one point, between these screenings, they ran a trailer for a British comedy called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I knew they had a TV show running on PBS, but I hadn't seen it yet. The trailer was made for Brits who already loved Monty Python. If you had never heard of them, it just seemed kind of silly. Of course, silliness is Monty Python's main stock-in-trade, but the trailer didn't have any of the intellect that breathed such life into their madness. I had no plans to see the movie.
After it opened, my brother Nick, more recently the learned compere of the erstwhile Cleveland Classic Cinema, told me I HAD to go see it. He had never steered me wrong, and really it was on his recommendation I went to see it.
I was immediately addicted. Still loved the Marx Brothers, but there was a new King of the Mountain. This was the ultimate in movie comedy.
Monty Python fused the anarchic madness of Spike Milligan with the intellectual ferocity of Peter Cook, in a completely new direction, with inspired inversions of logic and explosions of what were possible. I had no idea who Milligan and Cook were then. I only knew that a completely new door had opened up to me, and it wasn't from 30 years ago either, it was happening NOW! This was the cutting edge of comedy, and I immersed myself in it immediately. I watched the TV shows obsessively, got the records and the books.
Now, almost 40 years later, I cannot recite the script of A Night at the Opera, but I CAN recite almost every Monty Python sketch from memory.
The last Monty Python reunion show at the O2 in London was simulcast into theaters all over the world, including the Cinemark 16 in Allen, Texas, where I watched it today. It was largely what I expected it to be - sketches everyone knew by heart in a space far too big performed my men too old to perform them.
It doesn't matter. It wasn't about a show, it was about an event. Today was about paying my respects. Those men changed my life.