Monty Python Star John Cleese Says Woke Cancel Culture Is Killing Comedy

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 30: John Cleese attends a press conference ahead of their upcoming tour at the O2 Arena ‘Monty Python Live’ at the London Palladium on June 30, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

British actor and comedian John Cleese said that the woke mob are destroying comedy through political correctness, saying that many people who try to enforce the newfangled speech codes have “no sense of humour”.

The star of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers lashed out at the modern iteration of cancel culture, claiming that proponents of the movement — which has sought to ban political and media figures for expressing supposedly uncouth political beliefs or making off-colour jokes — don’t understand the nature of comedy.

Speaking on the Daily Beast’s The Last Laugh Podcast, the elder statesmen of British comedy said that “there’s plenty of people who are PC [politically correct] now who have absolutely zero sense of humour. I would love to debate, in a friendly way, a couple of ‘woke’ people in front of an audience. And I think the first thing I would say is, please tell me a good ‘woke’ joke.”

“What they don’t understand is that there’s two types of teasing,” Cleese added, explaining: “There’s really nasty teasing, which is horrible, and we shouldn’t do it, full stop. But the other type of teasing is affectionate. You can tease people hugely affectionately and it’s a bonding mechanism.”

Going on to examine the nature of comedy, Mr Cleese said: “All humour is critical. You cannot get laughs out of perfect human beings. If you’ve got someone up on the screen who is perfect, intelligent and kind and flexible and a good person, there’s nothing funny about that. So we only laugh at people’s frailties, but that’s not cruel. You can laugh at people’s frailties in very funny and generous ways.”

The Brexit-supporting but liberal comedian — a frequent critic of President Donald Trump — has himself run afoul of the online woke brigade after opining that “London is not really an English city any more” after massive waves of immigration.

The Life of Brian star said that the comedy scene has “changed so completely” since the heyday of Monty Python, saying that, for example, “we were never allowed to say ‘fuck.’ I mean, that was absolutely unacceptable. Now nobody turns a head. That’s a huge difference. But you could make jokes.”

Mr Cleese said that in recent years he has come to understand just how important comedy is, saying that three years ago he met Serbian people affected by the Bosnian war, who told him that they would watch Monty Python in order to escape their plight.

“They said, ‘We felt better afterwards. It lifted us somehow.’ Nothing had changed in the real world. And I began to think about that when I meet people after my stage shows and men of 70 say to me, literally with a tear in their eyes, ‘Thank you for making me laugh for the last 40 years’,” Cleese said.

“It’s very touching. Women say something different. They say, ‘Thank you for helping to form my sense of humour.’ These are enormously touching compliments. If I’ve touched people in some way like that, that’s all I want,” he remarked.

“I don’t think they’re going to give me a Nobel Prize,” Cleese joked.

Follow Kurt on twitter at @KurtZindulka

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