John Cleese, Political Correctness, And 1984

John Cleese is once again taking a stand against political correctness.

The 76-year-old Cleese, best known as a co-founder of the legendary British sketch comedy troupe, Monty Python, appeared in a video for Big Think, lamenting the “super-sensitive” people on college campuses.

“… when you’re around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what’s going to upset them next. And that’s why I’ve been warned recently don’t to go to most university campuses…”

The comic went on to explain that political correctness threatened criticism, which is at the heart of all humor.

“Even if you make a very inclusive joke—like, ‘How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans’—that’s about the human condition, it’s not excluding anyone, it’s saying we all have all these plans that probably won’t come and isn’t it funny that we still believe they’re going to happen. So that’s a very inclusive joke, but it’s still critical. All humor is critical.”

Palin, Cleese, and Idle. Cleese claims humor is always critical.
John Cleese (center) with fellow Python comics, Michael Palin (left) and Eric Idle (right). Cleese claims political correctness threatens humor, which is always critical.

Cleese made it clear that he is not entirely against political correctness, though. According to him, “not being mean particularly to people who are not able to look after themselves well” is “a good idea.”

Furthermore, he explained he is not against people speaking out against what offends them. Cleese admitted he is offended by the “laziness” and “nastiness” of British newspapers, but was quick to point out that he would simply speak out about them rather than stop them from publishing their ideas.

This is not the first time the ex-Python comic has locked horns with the political correctness movement. Back in 2014, Cleese went on Real Time With Bill Maher and opined that protecting certain groups against ridicule implied they were too “feeble” to take care of themselves.

“Make jokes about Swedes and Germans and French and English and Canadians and Americans, why can’t we make jokes about Mexicans?” he asked Bill Maher. “Is it because they are so feeble that they can’t look after themselves?”

Maher himself has courted plenty of controversy on college campuses. In 2014, students at the University of California, Berkeley, created a petition to stop him from speaking at the university.

The petition cited numerous examples of Maher’s “hate speech,” and claimed that allowing him to speak would go against Berkeley’s “historically marginalized communities.”

Much to the chagrin of the petition’s makers and signers, Maher spoke at Berkeley that same year.

UC Berkeley students tried to prevent Bill Maher from speaking at their campus.
UC Berkeley students tried to prevent comic, Bill Maher from speaking at their campus. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

By challenging what he sees as hypersensitivity on campus, Cleese is echoing the thoughts of many other comics who are uneasy about performing at colleges.

One of these comics is Chris Rock.

When asked about Berkeley’s attempt to ban Bill Maher from speaking, Rock told the Vulture that he “loved Bill” and college campuses were “too conservative.”

By “conservative,” Rock did not mean they were right-wing. He meant they were unwilling to offend anyone. For him, college students were “raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ “

Comedian Chuck Nice would probably agree. After telling a joke on a college campus about his daughter swinging on a pole in a manner that reminded him of a stripper, Nice received a letter from the college informing him that he was not welcome back.

Actions like these from colleges around the world may have been the reason Cleese ended his video on such an ominous note.

According to the British comic, whenever you tell people they must not criticize or offend some group, humor is gone. After humor goes, so does “a sense of proportion.”

“And then as far as I’m concerned,” John Cleese says at end, “you’re living in 1984.”

[Photo by Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images]