Comedy legend John Cleese visits the Duke Lemur Center


“John Cleese is a tall person who loves lemurs, coffee and wine.” –And lemurs love John Cleese!

On November 7, legendary British comedian John Cleese dropped by the Duke Lemur Center to visit Aemilia the sifaka, Medusa and Agatha the aye-ayes, and members of several other species – including mouse lemurs, the first he’d ever seen.

“Spent a lovely afternoon at the Duke University Lemur Centre and saw my very first Mouse Lemur,” Cleese tweeted that evening. “Two of their Blue-Eyed Lemurs were born there in 1984! They’re beginning to move around at my speed…”

Cleese has a long history of lemur love.

In 1998, he filmed “In the Wild” – a documentary film about the black and white lemur reintroduction project – with DLC staff members Charlie Welch and Andrea Katz in Madagascar. Before being reintroduced into Betampona Reserve in northeastern Madagascar, the American-born lemurs had attended “lemur boot camp” in the DLC’s forested enclosures to prepare them for life in the wild.

In an interview in 2014, Cleese described the film as his favorite thing he’d ever done: “I made a little documentary about lemurs in Madagascar once, and there was something about that I thought was very warm and mellow, and I liked that, I liked that a lot. And it enabled me to make a few sort of jokes that I hadn’t made before, and it was something really fresh.”

Funds from the U.K. premiere of “Fierce Creatures,” a follow-up film to Cleese’s “A Fish Called Wanda,” provided critical support for the reintroduction project. “Without that core project funding, which was directed by John Cleese and colleagues in the U.K., the reintroduction would never have happened,” recalls Welch. “In addition to being a brilliant and funny man, he is a genuinely caring person and passionate about lemurs and conservation. We owe him so much.”

He also has a species of lemur named after him: Avahi cleesei, also known as Cleese’s woolly lemur.

Cleese first visited the Duke Lemur Center in 2015. Staff and lemurs alike look forward to his next trip to Duke, when perhaps we can all dance with the sifaka like “Edwardian waiters on benzodrene”!

By Sara Clark. Photos by David Haring. 

John Cleese with Romulus, a Coquerel’s sifaka, in 2015.

Read more

Now that’s an encore. Monty Python legend John Cleese revisits Duke Lemur Center.
September 7, 2017.
Durham Herald-Sun.