English entertainment legend John Cleese said that wokeness has had a "disastrous" impact on comedy, stating that comedians no longer have the freedom to be funny.
Cleese, 82, was a keynote speaker at last week's FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, where he spoke on the importance of individuals cultivating creativity, but also raised awareness about the growing negative impact of political correctness on comedy.
When Fox News Digital asked the comedy icon if today's newer comedians have the freedom to be funny, Cleese firmly responded with, "No," and then examined the history of censorship.
"There's always been limitations on what they're allowed to say," the Monty Python star said. "Why, you go to Molière and Louis XIV. I mean, Molière had to be a bit careful. And there will always be limitations. I mean in England, until some ridiculous late date like 1965, all plays had to be submitted to what used to be a part of the palace called the Lord Chamberlain, and he would read it and there were hilarious letters used to go back was saying 'you may only say f--- once,' this sort of- ‘and you cannot say bugger. But you can say-' these sort of ridiculous negotiating letters."
"But I think it's particularly worrying at the moment because you can only create in an atmosphere of freedom where you're not checking everything you say critically before you move on," Cleese continued. "What you have to be able to do is to build without knowing where you're going because you've never been there before. That's what creativity is—you have to be allowed to build. And a lot of comedians now are sitting there and when they think of something, they say something like, 'Can I get away with it? I don't think so. So and so got into trouble, and he said that, oh, she said that.' You see what I mean? And that's the death of creativity."
Cleese's concerns on the present and future state of comedy seem to be founded in reality, with American comedian Dave Chappelle's most recent Netflix special, The Closer, being put on the "cancel culture" chopping block last year for supposedly "ridiculing trans people." Other comedians even joined in on dogpiling Chappelle for his politically incorrect jokes, with Australian comic Hannah Gadsby calling The Closer "hate speech."
Cleese continued on. "So I would say at the moment, this is a difficult time, particularly for young comedians, but you see, my audience is much older, and they're simply not interested in most of the woke attitudes. I mean, they just think that you should try and be kind to people and that's no need to complicate it, you know?"
The writer and star of the hit 1970's sitcom Fawlty Towers explained that wokeness allows the "critical mind" to take over the creative, stating that they are "definitely in opposition to each other."
"You can do the creation and then criticize it, but you can't do them at the same time. So if you're worried about offending people and constantly thinking of that, you are not going to be very creative. So I think it has a disastrous effect."
Cleese also complained that "everything is more politicized now," including American late-night comedy shows. He pointed to The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, who he "adores," but acknowledged that his audience is "more obviously politically aligned than it used to be…it wasn't like that."
"It wasn't like this when I first got to America," Cleese lamented. "When I first got to America in the 60s… two things happened. First of all, I very much admired the cross-the-aisle friendships and thought we don't have that in England. We have real battles between the Tories and the Labour, but in America there seems to be these – and this was destroyed by Newt Gingrich, quite deliberately, for purposes of power. I think that's a tragedy."
When asked if late-night comedians could ever reunite both sides of the political aisle, Cleese replied, "No," adding that comedians can "sometimes summarize in a moment what's happening very well," but they don't "ever change anything."
The 82-year-old comedy veteran stood firmly against the concept of being "canceled" over a joke, and asserted that audiences should decide what's funny.
"If you go to a Republican convention and tell anti-Democrat jokes, you'll get a very good response," Cleese said. "If you tell anti-Republican jokes, you won't. So you've got to fit your material to some extent to your audience. And that's part of it… If you go to see your granny and to have tea with her, you don't start telling her sex jokes. Now that's not because it's illegal, it's just bad manners."
Cleese offered a grim forecast on the future of comedy, saying he feels a "great sadness" about how there are "very, very few really good comedy scripts."
Last year, the comedian announced his plan for an upcoming documentary entitled John Cleese: Cancel Me, where he plans to meet and engage with those who have been "canceled," as well as those who have partaken in the "canceling" of public figures.
In a statement, Cleese said: "I'm delighted to have a chance to find out, on camera, about all the aspects of so-called political correctness. 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."
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