John Cleese, the perpetually irreverent comedian of the Monty Python comedy troupe and the classic British sit-com Fawlty Towers, says wokeness is destroying comedy and creativity. Cleese was a keynote speaker at last week’s FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas where he spoke about how to cultivate creativity. In his view, political correctness has become a major obstacle, particularly for young comedians.
When asked if comedians have the freedom to be funny in the year 2022, Cleese firmly responded, “No.”
“There’s always been limitations on what they’re allowed to say,” Cleese admitted. “But I think it’s particularly worrying at the moment because you can only create in an atmosphere of freedom, where you’re not checking everything you say critically before you move on. What you have to be able to do is to build without knowing where you’re going because you’ve never been there before. That’s what creativity is—you have to be allowed to build. And a lot of comedians now are sitting there and when they think of something, they say something like, ‘Can I get away with it? I don’t think so. So and so got into trouble, and he said that, oh, she said that.’ …And that’s the death of creativity,” Cleese continued.
Cleese went on to explain that these limitations are particularly hard on young comedians, they don’t affect him and his generation as much: “My audience is much older, and they’re simply not interested in most of the woke attitudes. I mean, they just think that you should try and be kind to people and that’s no need to complicate it, you know?”
The “Monty Python” star explained that wokeness allows the “critical mind” to take over the creative, saying they’re “definitely in opposition to each other.”
“You can do the creation and then criticize it, but you can’t do them at the same time. So if you’re worried about offending people and constantly thinking of that, you are not going to be very creative. So I think it has a disastrous effect.”
Cleese lamented that “everything is more politicized now,” including late-night comedy in America. He pointed to “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, whom he says, he “adores,” but acknowledged that his audience is “more obviously politically aligned than it used to be,” adding, “it wasn’t like that.”
“When I first got to America in the 60s… I very much admired the cross-the-aisle friendships and thought: we don’t have that in England.”
The 82-year-old British funnyman stood firmly against the notion that any comedian should be “canceled” over a joke, and instead, we should allow audiences to decide what’s funny—but he adds that you also need to know your audience. “If you go to a Republican convention and tell anti-Democrat jokes, you’ll get a very good response. If you tell anti-Republican jokes, you won’t. So you’ve got to fit your material to some extent to your audience. And that’s part of it…” A better example would be: “If you go to see your granny and to have tea with her, you don’t start telling her sex jokes. Now that’s not because it’s illegal, it’s just bad manners,” Cleese said.
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