If you’ve seen some of the greatest comedy movies to be made, movies like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers, Life of Brian, and A Fish Called Wanda, then you’ll realize two things 1) John Cleese, who stars in all of those, is absolutely hilarious, and 2) those movies could never be made today because of how non-politically correct and funny there are.
And now he’s talking with Reason Magazine about the threat as he sees it to both creative thinking and humor: wokeness. Here’s what Reason said about its interview with him and Cleese’s thoughts on wokeness:
Now 83, Cleese—who studied law at the University of Cambridge—has set his sights on political correctness, which he says is the enemy not only of humor but of creative thinking in all areas of human activity. “There are people sitting there who are deliberately waiting for the thrill of being offended,” he says, emphasizing the importance of paying attention to context, without which irony and sarcasm can’t be properly understood.
Reason’s Nick Gillespie caught up with Cleese at FreedomFest, an annual July gathering in Las Vegas. Cleese was the keynote speaker, there to discuss creativity, which was the subject of his 2020 book of the same name. It’s a myth “that creativity is something you have to be born with,” he argues, contending that “you can teach people how to create circumstances in which they will become creative.”
Cleese made a number of interesting points in the interview, not all of which were about wokeness. Speaking about the role of creativity in society and how our education system doesn’t encourage it, for example, Cleese said “I think the most natural impulse that people have other than curiosity is to figure out: Can we do this better? Whatever it is. I think that’s a pretty natural kind of response, but I’m afraid the educational system doesn’t encourage it. I mean, it’s not as bad as Japan was, for example. I had a friend who studied there and said that the Japanese educational system was specifically designed to stop people thinking for themselves.”
Later, he tied that in with wokeness and why it stifles creativity, Cleese said “Because it’s the internal interruption that I was talking about. You think of an idea and you immediately think: “Oooh, is that going to get me into trouble? Well, that person last Thursday got away with it.” But all that stuff immediately stops you being creative.”
Then, discussing what words have become verboten, Cleese said “Well, there’s the N-word. Now, just consider this situation: If I actually pronounce the N-word today, which I’m not going to—relax! But if I did, it would be in the papers tomorrow. Now, how useful is that? The woke people, I think, miss something quite badly. The meaning of a word depends on its context. If I use sarcasm, then what I’m meaning is the opposite of the words I’m actually saying. If you don’t get irony, then if you take it seriously, you completely misunderstand the intention of the writer or speaker.”
Giving an example of how harmful and ridiculous that can be, Cleese also said:
My daughter was talking about this when we did a show at the [South by] Southwest festival. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun on stage. We had a fellow who was Puerto Rican, we had someone who was African American, we had someone who was Jewish, we had a Scot, and an old white Englishman.
We were teasing each other and saying the most terrible things, and there was an atmosphere, not—I mean this seriously—not just of laughter, but of joy at the freedom of it. And then The Hollywood Reporter went back and quoted a couple of lines without giving any context at all, and then there was about two weeks of criticism. I mean, why? What are they getting out of it? There are people sitting there who are deliberately waiting for the thrill of being offended.
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