When British comedian John Cleese suggested that the New Zealand town of Palmerston North was a good place to kill yourself, retribution wasn’t exactly swift. The reckoning came 18 months later, however, when local authorities decided to name a city rubbish dump after the actor. And so was born Mt. Cleese.
In November 2005, Cleese, best known as a co-founder of Monty Python, went on tour in New Zealand. His time in the country was mostly positive: He called Invercargill “delightful,” described Christchurch as “a very nice town,” and Wellington as “sophisticated, fun and lively.”
Palmerston North, however, did not impress. A few months after visiting this city in the North Island of New Zealand, Cleese, during a podcast, called it “the suicide capital of New Zealand.” He went on: “We stayed in a little motel. The weather was grotty, the theatre was a nasty shape and the audience was very strange to play to.” He concluded by saying that he had a “thoroughly bloody miserable time” in the city, and suggested that “if you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.”
Initial reaction was fairly good humored. The mayor of Palmerston North, Heather Tanguay, suggested the Monty Python star “may need some more medication,” referring to the name of his tour, “My Life, Time and Current Medical Problems.” But it was a suggestion by New Zealand comedian John Clarke, who was born in Palmerston North, which proved to have more legs.
At the time, Clarke suggested renaming the local Awapuni Landfill as the John Cleese Memorial Tip, with the catchy tag-line “All manner of crap happily recycled.” And 18 months later, the rubbish dump was indeed named in honor of the British comedian, albeit with the shorter title of Mt. Cleese.
The tip has since become fairly bare and is now used primarily as a waste minimization center and for large deposits of compost. But Mt. Cleese still exists, reaching up to a magnificent 45.2 meters above sea level, an altitude that presumably shifts occasionally depending on how much crap they dump on Cleese.
One person who certainly got a kick out of Mt. Cleese was Cleese’s fellow Python and long-term friend Eric Idle. He visited Mt. Cleese in March 2016 and posted a photo of himself with the Mt. Cleese sign on Twitter. “I summited without oxygen,” he wrote, clearly approving of the tribute to his friend.