Published in The New York Times: July 27, 2008
John Cleese may be best known for his goose step in Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch and as the zany hotel owner in “Fawlty Towers,” ’70s-era British television comedies that played up the weirdness lurking beneath petit-bourgeois conventions. These days, Cleese has a new gig: teaching businesses how humor can “unleash creativity” and how creativity can lead to “better and more enjoyable customer service.”
Yes, it has come to this.
But Cleese, who wrote the self-help books “Life and How to Survive It” (1993) and “Families and How to Survive Them” (1984) with the psychiatrist Robin Skynner, isn’t the only author to step behind the lectern. In recent years, a growing number of writers, from the best-selling to the less so, have hit the rubber-chicken circuit, speaking at colleges and businesses, chambers of commerce, trade fairs and medical conventions. While a midlist novelist might ask, though not necessarily get, $2,500 per appearance, a superstar presidential historian might command $40,000. And some best-selling authors charge double that.