John Cleese Defends Slavery Jokes After Getting Mic Taken Away At Film Festival
John Cleese, an English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer speaks at Pendulum Summit, World's Leading Business & Self Empowerment Summit, in Dublin Convention Center.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

John Cleese defended his slavery jokes Tuesday after he got his microphone taken away at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival over the weekend and said the reporter covering the comedy event needed to have a “sense of humor.”

“Next time the Editor of the Hollywood Reporter sends someone to review a Comedy Festival he would do well to send a reporter with a sense of humour,” the 82-year-old legendary British actor/comedian tweeted to his millions of followers. “Otherwise it’s like sending someone deaf to review a concert.”

During his appearance at the festival, the “Fawlty Towers” star made several jokes, one about how the British are due “reparations by Italy, a joking reference to the Roman conquest of Britain nearly 2,000 years ago,” reported Newsweek. Cleese also responded to comedian Dulcé Sloan, who is black, after she made a joke about “colonization,” that she was given “free passage” to the U.S., reported the Hollywood Reporter.

Cleese continued in his defense in a follow-up tweet in response to one person who wrote to him that “mockingly comparing getting reparations for things that happened 1000 years ago, to things that happened less than a generation ago is a flawed comparison.”

“Quite right, Sajid,” the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” star tweeted back. “But that was the joke. The ridiculousness of the comparison was the joke. But if you lack a sense of irony, you might not realize that. But that’s not a good reason to deprive people who do understand irony of a good laugh.”

During the panel Sloan joked about colonization and Cleese responded people “forget the British Empire was the basic political unit of organization for 6,000 years — the British didn’t start [colonizing],” reported the Hollywood Reporter. The entirety of the panel can be seen here.

“We know, but ya’ll did it so well!” Sloan replied. “It’s the reason I’m here! I’m not supposed to be here!”

“We gave you free passage, too,” Cleese joked back. “History is a history of crime. It’s a history of people who were stronger beating up people who were weaker, and it’s always been that. It’s deeply, deeply distasteful. But to pretend that one lot were worse than another — you do know the British have been slaves twice, right?”

“The Dutch are the problem,” Sloan quipped, and then proceeded to pivot away to another topic, but the legendary comedian brought it back, sharing how the English were oppressed “by the Romans for 400 [years], from about 0 to 400.”

“You’re really going back,” the panel’s moderator Dan Pasterneck interjected.

“I want reparations from Italy,” Cleese said. “… and then the Normans came over in 1066 … they were horrible people from France, and they came and colonized us for 30 years — we need reparations there too, I’m afraid.”

The moderator then told the audience that “this is why” their “phones are locked up” and cracked a joke about “playing the Jew card.” Cleese then responded with a joke about a “stereotypical physical trait” of Jews, reported the outlet.

It was then that Sloan stood up and took Cleese’s microphone (temporarily). The panel moderator told Sloan she had now “saved the colonizer” and Sloan said that she had “saved a comic whose career” she respects.

Cleese was later given back his microphone, at which point he made a joke about global warming and dying soon. The outlet noted that at the end of the panel both Sloan and Cleese hugged.

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