John Cleese claims people offended by comedy are too 'sensitive' in resurfaced footage

John Cleese claims people offended by comedy are too 'sensitive' in resurfaced footage
Fawlty Towers/ BBC

John Cleese, who created and starred in Fawlty Towers, has found himself in the midst of a debate about removing offensive content, after an episode was removed from UKTV's streaming site.

Now, a resurfaced clip shows him addressing these issues in 2016.

In the video for Big Think, Cleese begins by saying that

If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.

He then refers to “super sensitive people” who make it so that other people can’t relax because they have “no idea what’s going to upset them next.”

Though it would seem that it's pretty easy to guess what things might upset or offend, like that rather obvious one: racism.

UKTV recently removed an episode of Fawlty Towers from their streaming service, due to the racial slurs used by the character Major Gowen, played by Ballard Blascheck.

The episode called, "The Germans" first aired in 1975 and sees John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty goose-stepping around while shouting "don't mention the war" in front of a group of visiting Germans.

Cleese has defended the character of The Major by saying that the show was not endorsing his views, rather it was ridiculing them, as reported by The Age.

The Major was an old fossil left over from decades before. We were not supporting his views, we were making fun of them.

If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?

However, it seems like segments of The Major spewing racist slurs has been edited out of the episode for quite a while, and people have forgotten just how offensive the character was.

You can view the the deeply offensive clip here. (Trigger Warning: highly racist language.)

But back to that 2016 clip, in which Cleese goes on to claim that he now avoids going to university campuses because “any kind of criticism of any individual or group can be labelled cruel.”

Cleese finishes by explaining “the point” of comedy, saying “all comedy is critical.” He concludes that without criticism we cannot have humour.

In doing so, he gives an example of a joke; “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans” which he claims "doesn't offend anyone".

People pointed out parallels with the prime minister's highly offensive language about Muslim women, gay men and black people.

Cleese concludes that as soon as you start start saying “we musn’t offend them!” then, “humour is gone.”

Nigel Farage was in agreement.

Many people online have been angered that debate around the Fawlty Towers episode has distracted people from the wider issues of police brutality, structural racism and the fact that coronavirus disproportionately impacts on BAME communities.

Which reminds us of this performance by comedian Dave Chappell, who asks:

“Why would anyone care what their favourite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds?”

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