John O'Hurley and Jeff Dumas in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
John O'Hurley and Jeff Dumas in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
John O'Hurley is chatting on the phone from a beautiful apartment overlooking the bay and the top of Nob Hill just days before he leaves San Francisco to come to L.A. to continue as King Arthur in the national tour of Monty Python's Spamalot. As we talk about commitment, his careers, and life on the road, his smooth, calm voice and easygoing attitude belie the fact that this is one of the busiest men in showbiz. In addition to writing books and music, O'Hurley hosts game shows, does voiceover and spokesperson work, and owns and operating three different companies.

Yet, this is the second time O'Hurley has made time to play the royally funny role. Prior to embarking on the tour in mid-April, he spent two years singing and dancing in the 90-minute "light" version of the show at the Grail Theatre at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel. That's a lot of performances to keep things fresh, but according to O'Hurley it's not a tough job.

"The show has so many moving parts that on any given night something else is going on," he says. "And then I always make one promise to myself before going onstage, and that is that I'm going to surprise myself sometime during the evening. I don't know when it is, I don't know where it is, but if I go on stage with that type of openness and that attitude then something new will always happen."

O'Hurley first saw the show on Broadway while he was working nearby playing slippery slick lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. "I would take the time and go see all the other shows that I really liked on Broadway, and one of them was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I was all set, under contract, to go back and do that, but the show closed," he recalls. "The other one was Spamalot. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen on stage. I mean, not since Noises Off did I remember a show where I really had to look away from the stage because I was laughing so hard."

Taking on the role famously originated by Tim Curry held no worries for him either. He knew he was bringing a different interpretation to King Arthur. "I play him a lot more energetically, I think, and also with the idea that he's a little bit more of a lunatic. I love the sense of lunacy and I really commit to the lunacy of it. You have to; you can't step aside in this role. You really have to play him for what he is and play the stakes for what they are. The more seriously you play the show, the funnier it is."

The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
O'Hurley didn't have a lot of time to get serious again about Spamalot. He was reprising his role as Billy Flynn on the national tour of Chicago and had just two days to shake off Billy's razzle-dazzle rhetoric and return to the search for the Holy Grail in the land of killer rabbits, French Knights, and gorgeous showgirls. "It was a little surreal because Billy Flynn and King Arthur are two completely different characters," laughs O'Hurley. "I mean, Billy Flynn is just a self-enamored monolith; he's a one-man parade! And it certainly is a different style of character. I think of King Arthur as a very gentle character. I really do. And I don't think of Billy as a gentle character. So it was taking the mask off of one and being a little more vulnerable with the other."

Such a hectic schedule and change of character could make most men cry "Ni!" but not O'Hurley. "I know the show so well," he explains, "and I always believe that if you leap the net will appear. When the curtain goes up you just say, Okay, here goes. I used to be blinded by stage fright in my early years in the profession," he continues, relating an incident from 1984 when he starred in Mass Appeal.

"And I stopped one night and I said, 'This is ridiculous!' I decided that particular night that I was going to go out on stage and I was going to surprise myself. And I was also going to have fun. I said, 'If I can't have fun, then I don't belong in this business. I'm not going to take it that seriously.' And that's when, all of a sudden, everything great started happening. I don't think of any of the negatives any more. I just have so much confidence in what I do and I know that if I go out there to have fun then nothing will get in the way. My job is just to do my preparation, and once I'm prepared, then I'm all set."