Before 1988, ex-Monty Python troupe member Michael Palin
thought he'd be remembered as little more than a very silly person. Then he set out on a journey that would become the travel series Around the World in 80 Days
. Seventeen years later, the man who gained fame doing skits about dead parrots and twisted lumberjacks proudly identifies himself as a world explorer, having visited more than 80 countries for his travel documentaries. Here, TVGuide.com talks with the Brit about his new Travel Channel series, Himalaya
, debuting tonight at 10 pm/ET.TVGuide.com: Why did you decide to go to the Himalayas?
Well, I made a series called Sahara
in 2001 that found a good audience share. I decided I wanted somewhere that would have lots of adventure, quite remote places to get to and difficult territory to work in, which obviously is what people liked about Sahara
. So probably in some comfortable restaurant after a nice meal, I agreed and said, "Yes, let's go," only to reap the whirlwind later.
TVG: Speaking of "reaping the whirlwind," your filming was interrupted by Maoist insurgents in Nepal and rampaging bulls in Pakistan. Out of all of your series, has Himalaya been the most treacherous?
Yes, I think it was really. I think certainly it was the most physically demanding. Also, there was the added tension of being in places like Kashmir, the Northwest frontier and Tibet. These are not the most stable countries. On the other hand, I felt far less frightened by Pakistan when I was there than when I was reading about it in London. I was lead to believe that everyone was a terrorist out to kill me. In fact, most of them were extremely charming, friendly, hospitable and welcoming.
TVG: For your next trip, would you consider taking it easy? Perhaps you could travel somewhere less exotic, like New Jersey.
New Jersey? That's still pretty treacherous, isn't it? That's somewhere I'll have to keep in mind. [Laughs
] Honestly, if I went out on the normal tourist trail, it just wouldn't be the same. The further out you go, the more intriguing it is to people. Audiences clearly like a bit of rough travel. And to be honest, I quite like that myself.
TVG: With all this globe-trotting, have you had a chance to see the Python-inspired, Tony-winning musical Spamalot?
Of course. I was at the opening night with the rest of the Pythons. We all were asked up on the stage at the end; the original Pythons joined the American stage Pythons. It was quite an evening.
TVG: So what did you think of the show?
I thought it was terrific. I thought it was really a very happy show — not terribly complex, not particularly Monty Python. It was very Broadway. A lot of Eric Idle
's new songs and new material are sort of send-ups of Broadway and the typical Andrew Lloyd Webber
stuff. But it's just done with a great deal of enormous, infectious enthusiasm. I can't imagine anyone going to it and feeling less happy when they come out.
TVG: Any idea where your next TV travel series will take you?
Like I told the BBC, "Give me a year's breather." It's a very intense time when we're filming, and I like having a bit of slack in my life at the moment. I do have some ideas in the back of my mind. There are parts of South America and Central Asia that I haven't been to.
TVG: We're sure those places would be great, Michael. Just don't write off the Garden State altogether!