NEVIS ISLAND, THE CARIBBEAN — When John Cleese was attending the elite Clifton College in Bristol, England, he was studying under a math scholarship. Something much less orthodox, however, was turning his crank.

On Saturday nights in his residence, Cleese was discovering he could be funny. Really funny.

He’d perform sketch comedy, mime to records, and listen to a BBC radio show for lessons on how to be quirky, subversive, and very, very silly. “The Goon Show” was unlike anything else in mid-1950s Britain.