Bristol comedy legend John Cleese has been signed up to present a new documentary series for Channel 4 exploring the impact of what he describes as ‘cancel culture’ is having on comedy.
The former Clifton College student from Weston-super-Mare will explore the issue of how ‘so-called political correctness’ is affecting comedy.
In the series, the Monty Python star will ask a range of people, including some comedians who say they have ‘been cancelled’, if it is possible to create comedy without causing offence.
The 81-year-old star, whose latest film appearance is in the pandemic-delayed Clifford the Big Red Dog, has often been an outspoken critic of political correctness, and objected to UKTV removing a line from re-runs of Fawlty Towers where the Major used the N-word.
The series will see Mr Cleese “explore why a new ‘woke generation’ is trying to rewrite the rules on what can and can’t be said”.
“I’m delighted to have a chance to find out, on camera, about all the aspects of so-called Political Correctness,” he said. “There’s so much I really don’t understand, like: how the impeccable idea of ‘Let’s all be kind to people’ has been developed in some cases ad absurdum. I want to bring the various reasonings right out in the open so that people can be clearer in their minds what they agree with, what they don’t agree with, and what they still can’t make their mind up about.”
The series, which will be broadcast later this year, will be called John Cleese: Cancel Me, and see Mr Cleese visiting people to ask them about their experiences of so-called ‘cancel culture’.
At the time, he criticised the decision by UKTV to remove a line from Fawlty Towers that included the N-word – spoken by the old Major, a resident at the hotel, when talking about the West Indies cricket team. “They completely missed the point,” he told 60 Minutes Australia. “It was a stupid decision in the first place. It was as though they thought that if you put certain words in people’s mouths, that meant it had to be true. Comedy’s not about perfect people. It’s about all of our imperfections and it’s not about things going right. It’s all about things going wrong.
“It’s this pathetic idea that people can’t stand up for themselves and can’t hear different opinions. It seems to me extraordinarily condescending,” he added.
Mr Cleese has often spoken out about the way comedy is changing in the face of political correctness, on social media, and said he worries it will affect creativity.
“This 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,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in September 2020.
“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.
“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,” he added.