John Cleese, of “Monty Python” and “Fawlty Towers” fame, has been stirring up a bit of controversy. Last month, he went on record saying that he no longer views London as an English city as a result of immigration and cultural change in the English capital. Cleese, who left England last year to take up permanent residence in the Caribbean, is not backing down from the comment. In fact, he’s lighting up Twitter, to the dismay of the woke.
In a series of tweets over the last few days and in his typical dry and wry fashion, Cleese has taken aim at the idea that race, and other things such as sex, are simply social constructs. The undercurrent is the idea that we simply can’t say things that are demonstrably true anymore lest someone, somewhere, take offense.
True. Many folk believe there’s only one sex too
I’ve also hear there’s a lot to be said for the idea that the North pole and the South pole are virtually indistinguishable
Everything’s on a spectrum now. And quite right, too
So that should settle our differences https://t.co/CanzzabaUQ
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 3, 2019
We are the same height
The difference between us is merely a social construct https://t.co/SHO5zjJRiu
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 10, 2019
I have been assured by some geneticists that the idea of ‘race’ is purely a ‘social construct’ that has no basis in reality
Good news !
But I think they should inform the Institute of Race Relations, as this may
make it harder for them to pursue cases of racial discrimination
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 11, 2019
In looking back over his storied career, it is easy to see why Cleese would be nervous about the politically correct bent of our current media and society. Much of his own comedic work from the late 1960s and early 1970s would appear terribly offensive if viewed through the lens of today’s identity politics.
In “Fawlty Towers,” the lovable bellhop Manuel was played by German-born British actor Andrew Sachs with a stereotypical Spanish accent and a distinct lack of intellect. Such a broad-brush ethnic character played by a white actor would certainly be out of bounds in today’s media environment.
Likewise, in in the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian,” while playing a revolutionary Cleese mocks Eric Idle’s character, Stan, for wanting to become a woman called Loretta. Stan, or is it Loretta, says he (or she), wants to have babies, prompting Cleese to inform him (or her) that he or she doesn’t have a womb, then asking if the fetus will gestate in a box. This again clearly runs afoul of today’s progressive positions on gender and would likely never make it on stage in a movie today.
Cleese is not the only British comedian clashing with the censorious nature of today’s progressives. Stephen Fry of “Fry and Laurie,” and the best Jeeves to ever appear on screen, teamed up recently with Jordan Peterson to debate political correctness against Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg.
Fry quite correctly knew he would catch a lot of grief for appearing with Peterson, whom some on the left believe to be a dangerous bigot, but just before the debate Fry said, “I wanted to appear with someone from a different side of the political spectrum, if you can put it that way, in order to express, as much as anything, just a sense of worry.”
Fry is right to be worried, and so is Cleese. Fry is not without his own fraught comic history, as one episode of his “Jeeves and Wooster” series contains multiple scenes featuring blackface. What both comedians have realized and are worried about is that we cannot have a productive society in which anything that offends people cannot be spoken.
It will be interesting to see if Cleese continues to pursue this line of inquiry on Twitter. The platform itself lies at the center of much of the debate about free expression, and Cleese and Fry both use it with much aplomb. Free speech can’t have too many champions, and in Cleese and Fry it has two who are as beloved as they are hilarious.
David Marcus is the Federalist’s New York Correspondent and the Artistic Director of Blue Box World, a Brooklyn based theater project. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.
Photo British comedian and film star John Cleese pauses during his keynote address to a conference in Sydney, Friday, Oct 13, 2006. Cleese has cancelled his one-man show in Australia after deciding he did not like to work alone. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)