Last June, John Cleese ended his role as an A.D. White Professor with a performance of Peter and the Wolf at the Ithaca State Theatre. But a partnership between Cleese and Cornell will continue as he makes his comeback as Provost’s Visiting Professor for the next three years.
Cleese’s popularity in Ithaca is particularly notable; while the A.D. White Professor-at-Large program generally lasts for six years, Cleese’s term was specially extended by two.
Cleese is well-known for his roles in films such as A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and more recently, in the James Bond and Harry Potter series.
But besides his acting experience, Cleese also brings with him a diverse academic repertoire. Cleese studied law at Cambridge, has written several books and speaks on a wide variety of subjects such as science, politics, religion and society.
Cleese was originally brought to Cornell at the suggestion of Prof. Porus Olpadwala, city and regional planning. Before he even began his position in 1998, Cleese met with members of the Selection Committee, faculty and student groups to discuss ways he could contribute to the community.
Bringing to Cornell his humor and intelligence, Cleese has given many performances including a master class on comedy in 1999, a Sunday sermon in Sage chapel in 2001 and a presentation for 5,000 people called “What is Religion? Musing on the Life of Brian,” in 2004.
Cleese has also had personal interaction with students, eating in the dining halls among them, responding to impromptu invitations for discussions, spontaneously stopping in on various classes and remaining after talks for several hours to sign autographs and answer questions.
In the interim, Cleese has traveled to Germany, Australia and parts of Asia to give talks on creativity. He is also in the process of writing his third book.
So just what is it about Cornell that keeps him coming back? Cleese says he hates traveling to Ithaca, but once he arrives, he never wants to leave.