John Cleese Cries That He Had to Cut All His Favorite Racial Slurs From ‘Fawlty Towers: The Play’

A funny guy just can’t spew racial slurs anymore
John Cleese Cries That He Had to Cut All His Favorite Racial Slurs From ‘Fawlty Towers: The Play’

Fawlty Towers: The Play is finally arriving on the British stage but not entirely as John Cleese intended it. The stage production, which adapts three episodes of his 50-year-old television series, had to trim a few racial slurs, much to the Monty Python veteran’s dismay. The blame, of course, falls firmly on us, the snowflake comedy fans. 

“I think there was a scene where the Major used a couple of words you can’t use now — racial slurs they would come under — so we took them out,” Cleese complained to The Independent. “You see, there’s always a problem in comedy where you’re dealing with the literal minded.”

The main problem is that dopes like us can barely spell “irony,” much less comprehend Fawlty Towers’ sophisticated version. “Whenever you’re doing comedy, you’re up against the literal minded and the literal minded don’t understand irony,” he scolded. “And that means if you take them seriously you get rid of a lot of comedy because literal minded people don’t understand metaphors, they don’t understand comic exaggeration. They don’t understand it’s a joke (and that) I don’t think that.”

If we could simply dump our literal minds, says Cleese, we could “see there’s various different interpretations depending on different contexts.” The various contexts in which racial slurs would be deemed hilarious? The comedian didn’t explain, likely because our feeble brains couldn’t comprehend the complexities involved.

Why can’t things be like they were in the good old days? In the 1970s, Cleese says, Alf Garnett on the sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part could get away with all sorts of racially themed gags under the “It’s a joke!” umbrella. “People were roaring with laughter at him, not with him,” Cleese says, “but there were also people saying: ‘Thank God these things are being said at last.’”

What’s wrong with today’s comedies? It must be hard for Cleese to have an opinion since he’s “watching very little comedy now.”

Strike that — of course Cleese has an opinion, despite his admitted lack of first-hand knowledge. “I was reading something about a month ago, somebody was pointing out the extraordinary number of really funny comedy shows that was on our screen in 1991. There was something like 30 really funny comedies,” he says. “And now, I don’t know that people can name more than one or two comedies – and why is that? I don’t know.”

Not knowing doesn’t stop Cleese from explaining why comedy is on the decline. “Everything’s changing so fast now. I think everyone is getting very anxious and when people get anxious, they behave in a more ratty sort of way and are more likely to become more and more literal minded, and I don’t know what you do about it.”

Once again, Cleese doesn’t know but provides a solution anyway. “Uninvent the Internet, I suppose.”


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