John Cleese Complains That Monty Python Was Early Target of Cancel Culture
Comedy curmudgeon John Cleese is at it again, telling The Sunday Times that Monty Python and its members were “early targets of cancel culture.” How early? Cleese says the persecution started back in the 1970s, making the Pythons one of the first comedy groups to be silenced. (Announcer voice: Monty Python was never silenced.)
According to Cleese, Monty Python’s 1979 film Life of Brian set off a firestorm in some corners of the Christian community. “People don’t like to have their cherished ideas punctured or questioned,” Cleese told the Sunday Times. “We all love to live in our own closed systems of thought, to be surrounded by people who think a bit like us. This is what happens on the internet too, where you get these blasted echo chambers. It’s why comedy is even more important today as a way of pricking those bubbles, opening them up, letting in fresh air. It is good for all of us. The problem is that cutting-edge comedy becomes difficult if a joke that transgresses someone’s idea of good taste means that the comedian is banned for life. It subverts the creative impulse.”
Translation: Some 1970s Christians believed that Life of Brian was blasphemous, which by many definitions and Monty Python’s own intent (the group was trying to prick bubbles, after all), it was. Those church-goers didn’t like it, by God! But by Cleese’s own logic, Monty Python wasn’t much of a victim here. Cutting-edge comedy does get tough when comedians are “banned for life,” but in what world did that come close to happening to Monty Python?
Following Life of Brian, the group was paid goodly sums of cash to deliver 1982’s Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl and 1983’s The Meaning of Life. It’s just the latest example of Cleese confusing criticism for cancellation.
And he’s a guy who clearly hates criticism. That’s why Cleese was so thrilled to get an offer from GB News to produce The Dinosaur Hour, a talk show where the comic can chat up whomever he likes. “Normally, you have these executives who think they know more about comedy than you do, who tell you what they think is funny. It is like an accountant telling a novelist how to write a plot,” Cleese groused. “But (GB News) said, ‘Make 10 programs and you can do exactly what you want,’ which is remarkable. I have had carte blanche to say what I want and to be as silly or as serious as I want.”
Ironically, U.K. media regulators may do to GB News what Cleese says cancel culture tried to do to Monty Python — in other words, shut them up. Variety reports that the outlet was recently found to be in breach of U.K. impartiality rules. It’s not clear what the penalties will be, but regulators have already recorded three violations of the rules since the right-wing outlet launched in 2021, with six more cases pending. “I know that a lot of people have it in for GB News,” Cleese admitted. “And, to be fair, I don’t agree with the opinions of some of its presenters.”
So it’s possible to agree to disagree after all.