Life of John Cleese, by a London feature writer, gossip columnist, and show-business reporter. While not a winner, Margolis's account will greatly interest comedy fans. Is Cleese ""the funniest man in the world,"" as Margolis claims? A strong case--drawn from Cleese's 12 scripts and performances for the British supersitcom Fawlty Towers and his script for and performance in A Fish Called Wanda (Britain's most successful film comedy ever), to say nothing of his handcrafted Schweppervescence ads--can be made for this idea. The sad part is that Margolis's opening hundred pages, before Cleese arrives at his leadership of the Monty Python team of writer-actors, are so footslogging--despite the reader's inherent curiosity about Cleese's childhood quirks and the foibles of his young manhood. Cleese was born in dreary Weston-super-Mare, at age 13 reached his adult height of six feet four, and has gone through life as an eccentrically serious man. He set out to be a lawyer but at Cambridge fell into stage comedies that eventually took him on the road with his university troupe, members of which became the nucleus of the Monty Python team. The team's groundbreaking inventiveness rose above satire into a madcap frolicking that broke nearly all barriers to what could be said or shown on British TV. Cleese, however, was not fulfilled by Monty Python, most of whose skits he thinks are dreadfully witless, and set out to craft the absolutely most satisfying TV comedy possible. With his separated wife, Connie Booth, he wrote Fawlty Towers--or rewrote, since most episodes went through ten drafts until every rift was packed with comic ore. Meanwhile, Cleese started up Video Arts, an amazingly successful company that produced seriocomic how-to-run-a-business films. The story of a generally stone-faced, slow-reading polymath whose comic genius takes fans, ballistically, through the roof.