Former “Monty Python” star John Cleese has been an outspoken opponent of political correctness and its harmful effects on free expression. Now that Scotland has proposed legislation that seeks to prosecute people guilty of “stirring up hatred,” Cleese believes that creative expression may be seriously at risk.
Speaking during an online debate hosted by Dr. Simon Knight of the Academy of Ideas, Cleese said that the spontaneity of the creative process could be threatened by such hate speech legislation.
“Well, it’s disastrous to the creative process because the creative process above anything else is a matter of spontaneity,” said Cleese. “I mean, if you’re gonna come [up] with something really interesting artistically, it’s gonna come out of your unconscious, and if you’re having to, what’s the word, edit everything you say before you say it, then nothing is gonna happen creatively—and also things that are rather lovely and funny in ordinary conversation, they’re not gonna happen either, because everybody’s thinking ‘Ooh, somebody might offend.’”
Cleese recalled being attacked recently because he referred to someone as “jolly,” which critics took to mean “fat.”
“I got attacked recently ‘cause I called somebody, what was the word, jolly,” he said. “I called them jolly because they had what I call a jolly personality. And I was told, ‘No, no, you can’t say jolly now because that means fat.’ So I looked it up in the dictionary, [of course], it doesn’t mean fat at all—but to a small number of people it means fat, and therefore they’re trying to control the way I speak because they have a little private rule [amongst] themselves that it has a completely different meaning from one I’ve grown up with.”
“This is a form of oversensitivity—and I think some of it is because people who are trying to feel that they are very good people almost sit around waiting to be offended so that they can say, ‘Oh, I’ve been offended! Sorry everyone, but that’s it, I’ve been offended, and this person who offended me is a very bad person.’ I mean, it’s actually very silly,” he continued.
Speaking with Reuters this past July, Cleese said that cancel culture, often fueled by political correctness, “misunderstands the main purposes of life, which is to have fun.”
“Everything humorous is critical. If you have someone who is perfectly kind and intelligent and flexible and who always behaves appropriately, they’re not funny. Funniness is about people who don’t do that, like Trump,” he said.
Cleese added that political correctness creates a problem for comedians because they “have to set the bar according to what we are told by the most touchy, most emotionally unstable and fragile, and least stoic people in the country.”
John Cleese has come under the gun of political correctness on more than one occasion. In 2018, for instance, BBC’s Head of Comedy Shane Allen criticized the classic comedy troupe “Monty Python” for being too white, male, and middle class.
“If you’re going to assemble a team now, it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes,” Allen said. “It’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world.”
“And I think we’ve heard the metropolitan, educated experience,” he continued. “I think it’s about how original a voice you have over what school you went to.”
John Cleese immediately defended the franchise on Twitter when he said, “BBC’s Head of Comedy puts Monty Python’s lack of originality down to a surfeit of education and racist bias. Unfair! We were remarkably diverse FOR OUR TIME. We had three grammar-school boys, one a poof, and Gilliam, though not actually black, was a Yank. And NO slave-owners.”