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John Cleese On Political Correctness and Being Offended

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  • Dee March 21, 2017, 9:31 am

    I really like John Cleese, at about the same intensity as I abhor Bill Maher and his prejudices, but the examples Cleese presents as “comedy” are not funny. Poking fun at specific behaviours and events can be quite comical; making fun of a whole group of people in general, such as he did with the French and Australians, is cringe-worthy. It’s lazy comedy, really, because you don’t have to do any homework.

    John Cleese has been openly mean about his fellow Monty Python cohort, Michael Palin. Cleese’s comedy is such gold when he turns it inward, such as with his Basil Fawlty character and movie roles, and so ugly when he turns it outward onto others. It’s sad that he can’t see the vast comic difference between self-deprecation and bullying.

    Richard Lewis, Steven Wright, Jeff Foxworthy – they may (or may not) be past their prime but even their old work still elicits belly laughs, whereas the likes of Roseanne and Andrew Dice Clay inspire mostly head-shaking and sighs. People recognize when something is more mean than funny, even if they initially laugh at the “joke”, and that “comedy” doesn’t stand the test of time.

    The PC police tend to be caucasian, which is not what Cleese and Maher are suggesting. They are only focussing on the extreme Islamists when they say we cannot criticize Islamic beliefs without peril; most Muslims in western society are open to criticism and debate on their religion. Cleese and Maher conveniently forget that, here in North America, hatred stirred up by fundamentalist Christians results in more violent actions perpetuated against others than any Muslim edicts do. It’s unfortunate that both Cleese and Maher seek to perpetuate the myths, although not surprising on Maher’s part, since he is so openly hateful toward anything that differs from his beliefs.

    Criticism is good for society. Comedy is wonderful for the soul. Both can work well together as long as the focus is on the action, not the person. Otherwise, it’s just juvenile bullying.

    • Questioner March 21, 2017, 1:23 pm

      Excuse me? What violence have these terrible Christians incited?
      Please do not make such statements about “fundamentalists” without the facts to back it up. Please do not talk about “fundamentalists” as if they are out running riot in the streets. Please do not assume from this comment that I think all Muslims are out running riot in the streets, either. I absolutely do not equate all Muslims with extremist Muslims. All fundamentalist Christians are not the Westboro “church” either, nor are they all extremists and “stirring up hate”.
      And in case anyone wonders, I myself am an Anglican and don’t describe myself as a fundamentalist.

    • iwadasn March 22, 2017, 10:17 pm

      You do realize you’re criticizing John Cleese for generalizing whole groups of people while doing that exact thing to Christians, right? A small minority of extremists calling themselves “Christians” are stirring up hatred, just like a small minority of extremists calling themselves “Muslims” are committing violent acts. Neither minority represents the whole.

  • A Scott March 21, 2017, 10:02 am

    Admin, let me preface my comment here by saying that I have learned sooo much from you and your website. Over the years, these stories and tips have helped give me empathy and a perspective on how people should be treated.

    When it comes to “political correctness”, I find that often the complaint comes from a plain old desire to not be criticized. In Bill Maher’s case, he genuinely believed that Islam is a religion of violence. Not some people who claim to be Muslim. But all of Islam. This is a damaging message for someone with a large audience. He is right to be criticized for it. But instead of examining his message, he complains that he’s unfairly attacked. He’s offended at others offense.

    Again, I’d like to thank you for all of the time you’ve volunteered in developing and producing an educational and wildly entertaining website.

    • admin March 21, 2017, 11:08 am

      It’s an interesting article that I hope sparks some good discussion. I do think that political correctness can be over done with people beingexcessively unable to laugh at themselves but there has to be a balance, too. I’m reminded that Pollack jokes were a propaganda tool of the Nazis to desensitize other nations to the plight of the invaded Polish people by characterizing Poles as being profoundly stupid.

  • Kelly Taylor March 21, 2017, 10:43 am

    The problem is the “punching down, not up” issue. It’s not about “I’m offended” or “everyone is so easily offended” (and that is a tired-ass cop-out). The problem is centered on who is socially, economically, and/or racially disenfranchised, who is considered “Other” or “not white.” Australians, generally speaking, are not considered “minorities/Others/people of color” (although aboriginal Australians are). Neither are Swedish or French citizens. Furthermore the jokes mentioned here about are the “oh, they’re such buffoons” variety. But Muslims and Mexicans have been under attack on both a national and global level. They are perceived as not only enemies, but as a difference race, “dark,” “brown,” “not white,” and the hatred directed towards them are grounded in that racism. Their lives are at risk because of this. Their communities, their homes, their families are at risk because of this. So it is disingenuous to bat your eyes and go “But I make fun of Canadians! Why can’t I make fun of South Africans?!”

    Humor can be used to effectively combat these issues, to uncover truths, to make people think. Trevor Noah and Azziz Ansari, for example, do some brilliant stand-up making fun of racial issues. But they are members of those disenfranchised races, and yes, that DOES make a difference. If you, a rich, privileged, safe white dude start mocking Mexicans, you aren’t displaying insights toward human nature. You’re just being an asshole. If you mock how white people mock Mexicans, then you might be on to something.

    Sorry, Cleese and Mahar. You just did a charming job of displaying white male privilege.

    • Kirsten March 21, 2017, 12:32 pm

      Exactly. As far as I can see, people who complain about political correctness are just grumpy because they’ve been called out for their racism/sexism/other bigotry.

    • AMC March 21, 2017, 1:01 pm

      Well said! Thank you!

    • rindlrad March 21, 2017, 11:51 pm

      And this is where the social justice argument runs off the cliff. Your world, Kelly Taylor, is a strange place of contradiction and double-standards where what a person is allowed to think and say is based on the color of his or her skin. You clearly feel very comfortable judging people by the color of their skin. Brown, black, etc., people are all fragile beings whose delicate ears must be protected. All white people are socially and economically privileged and therefore fair game.

      Of course you completely missed Mr. Cleese’s point. You were too busy sorting him into the “appropriate” victim or oppressor box to actually hear what he had to say. I would rather live in a world where free people FEEL free to say what’s on their mind without reference to your shallow and, yes, racist way of thinking. If it is deemed appropriate for Trevor Noah to tell jokes about white people, it should be ok for John Cleese to tell jokes about non-white people.

      • hbc March 24, 2017, 8:41 am

        “I would rather live in a world where free people FEEL free to say what’s on their mind….” You mean a world where people can say that they think that a couple of rich old white men are being unfunny? A world where someone can say that they’re not really impressed with the logic when white Christian countries occupy and carve up North Africa and the Middle East for centuries, back out for a couple of minutes, and then go, “Hey, hey, guys, what’s with all of the violence? Must be all about Allah.”

        White people *are* free to tell jokes about non-white people, but other people (white or non-) are free to find them distasteful and unfunny given the context. What you’re actually advocating for is *less* freedom–the freedom from being told that other people don’t like what you have to say.

  • Rebecca March 21, 2017, 11:02 pm

    Yep, along the same lines as some men who wax nostalgic about the days they “didn’t have to be so politically correct” in the workplace, and how “it was OK back then” to make sexual “jokes” with their female coworkers. Translation: nobody ever called them on their behaviour back then.

    Except that this kind of behaviour always made women uncomfortable, and it was never OK. It was only “OK” if you were not the one on the receiving end of that kind of behaviour.

    I do also think that sometimes the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, where (for example) university students must be protected from being exposed to ideas that may upset them, in literature, in history, etc.

  • livvy17 March 23, 2017, 10:00 am

    A friend of mine in college once had a class where the professor offered an automatic “A” for any student who could come up with an example of humor that didn’t come at the expense of someone/thing else….in effect that all humor is based on ridicule. The professor claimed that in 10 years, he hadn’t given an A.

    I think there’s a lot of truth in this. I find that most of the people who complain about the political correctness are complaining that they are being asked to answer for the ridicule they are handing out.
    If they really believe in their right to say whatever, go ahead. If people find it funny, they’ll laugh. If they find it unfunny, they won’t. Don’t apologize. Joan Rivers’ was an excellent example in this regard. She was often called out for her viciously mocking humor, but she she refused to apologize, and stood by her work. People are free to tune in or not. Do what you want, but don’t cry about it when some of the victims say you’re not funny. If you feel that you have the right to insult whoever you want, by all means do so. Then stand by what you’ve said, and face whatever consequences, whether it be bombing at the comedy club, or losing an endorsement. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. If you want to keep telling a joke that you know 95% of the world doesn’t think is funny, go ahead, but don’t complain when no one laughs!

    It’s like Tim Allen complaining about being conservative in Hollywood. No one is denying him the right to be conservative, no one is taking his vote, or his freedom to say conservative things. His complaint seems to be that no one wants to praise him, or raise him up to share his opinions with others. Poor baby. I’m sure they are probably not giving lots of opportunities to the guy who believes fervently in nudism, or that eyebrows are evil, or whatever. It’s a commercial world, don’t complain because the audience doesn’t want your product.