John Cleese weighs in on row over left-wing comedy: A woke joke wouldn’t be very funny
The Monty Python star has suggested political correctness “stifles creativity”
John Cleese has criticised the “stifling” effect of political correctness on creativity – saying there is no such thing as a “woke joke”.
The ex-Monty Python star, 80, said “affectionate teasing” is a bonding mechanism.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “PC stuff started out as a good idea which is, ‘Let’s not be mean to people’. and I’m in favour of that… despite my age. I think Jesus Christ would have agreed.
“The main thing is to try to be kind. 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 former 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.
“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.”
Teasing can be a “bonding mechanism” as well as the “nasty, mean, unkind” type designed to “put people down”, which is “completely wrong”, the comic said.
“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… 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… 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.
The new director-general believes the corporation’s comedy output is seen as too one-sided, The Telegraph reported earlier this week.
Senior sources told the newspaper that Davie believes comedy shows need a “radical overhaul” in the coming months.
Parts of the plans could see a number of shows axed, but sources said no decisions have yet been made.
Additional reporting by Press Association