Monty Python’s John Cleese is speaking out about today’s cancel culture and if the famed comedy troupe were victims of it back when they started to make it big. In a recent interview with The Sunday Times about his GB News show, The Dinosaur Hour, the comedian revealed that not only was the group a target of cancel culture, but that this frame of mind has had a great impact on comedy as we know it.
For those who are unaware, Monty Python were a British comedy troupe comprised of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle. The group rose to prominence in the early 1970s with their BBC sketch comedy series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which aired between 1969-74.
Their success on television led the group to delve into cinema, with their first film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, released in 1975. This was followed by the controversial Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), along with numerous comedy albums and theater shows.
Life of Brian centers around a Jewish-Roman man by the name of Brian Cohen, who is born on the same day as Jesus Christ and accidentially mistaken as the Messiah. Upon its release, the film was blasted by those within the Christian community as being blasphemous, with some groups going so far as to stage protests. It was even banned from showing in theaters in some countries.
While promoting the release, the members of Monty Python were confronted by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop of Southwark Mervyn Stockwood on the chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning (1979-82), with the latter saying Life of Brian offended “millions of practising Christians.”
Despite the backlash, Life of Brian was a box office success, bringing in $20.7 million on just a $4 million budget. It currently has a 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been named the greatest comedy film of all time by a number of publications.
The controversy surrounding the film and other works by Monty Python led The Sunday Times to ask John Cleese about cancel culture and whether the comedy troupe may have been among its targets.
“You could say that were were early targets of cancel culture,” the comedian responded. “People don’t like to have their cherished ideas punctured or questioned. 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,” he continued. “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.”
The Sunday Times also asked if John Cleese believes his former comedy with Monty Python would be acceptable by the standards of the modern era of cinema and comedy.
“The trick with creativity is to understand that it is not a talent, it’s a frame of mind,” he answered, bringing about a discussion on comedians today. “You have to get away from fear and doubt. You have to get into a place of playfulness and curiosity so that you can find connections and push boundaries. Cancel culture tends to make people less broad in their thinking, more literal-minded. It is tougher to make funny – or intellectually interesting – associations.”
The comedian ended this part of the interview by saying the following about cancel culture, “In cultural terms, it is dangerous. I’m so old I am not bothered about getting cancelled. But as a young man, starting out, it might be different.”