Monty Python icon John Cleese has criticised the ‘stifling’ nature of political correctness, wondering whether such a thing as a ‘woke joke’ exists.
The 80-year-old star mused that ‘affectionate teasing’ is a bonding mechanism, and dismissed the notion that societies should be driven by the ‘most easily upset’.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, he said: ‘PC stuff started out as a good idea, which is, “Let’s not be mean to people”, and I’m in favour of that, believe it or not, despite my age. I think Jesus Christ would have agreed.
‘The main thing is to try to be kind.’
Supporting Nick Cave’s comments on cancel culture, he went on: ‘But that then becomes a sort of indulgence of the most over-sensitive people in your culture, the people who are most easily upset.
‘I don’t think we should organise a society around the sensibilities of the most easily upset people because then you have a very neurotic society.’
The Fawlty Towers star added: ‘From the point of creativity, if you have to keep thinking which words you can use and which you can’t, then that will stifle creativity. I entirely agree with those thoughts.’
On the notion of times ‘changing what might have been acceptable’ when it comes to comedy, Cleese said: ‘The main thing is to realise that words depend on their context. Very literal-minded people think a word is a word but it isn’t.’
While suggesting ‘affectionate teasing’ was a ‘bonding mechanism’, he did believe the ‘nasty, mean, unkind’ type of comedy designed to ‘put people down, and to hurt them’, is ‘completely wrong.’
Cleese continued: ‘There’s also affectionate teasing which is the sort of teasing we do in families and work groups that know each other, just making fun of each other in gentle ways.
‘That’s a great source of fun and enjoyment, a verbal dual – who can make the best rude remarks all in an atmosphere of affection. It’s a bonding mechanism. It’s positive.
‘PC people simply don’t understand this business about context because they tend to be very literal-minded.
‘I would love to debate this, with a woke… The first question I would say is, “Can you tell me a woke joke?”
‘I don’t know what a woke joke would be like, about very nice people being kind to eachother. It might be heart-warming but it’s not going to be very funny.’
His comments come after reports said new BBC boss Tim Davie wants to tackle perceived left-wing bias in comedy shows.
Last month, singer and musician Nick Cave said political correctness had an ‘asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society’, describing ‘cancel culture’ as ‘bad religion run amuck’.
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