John Cleese at 82: Comedy Icon, Free Speech Warrior

And now for something completely welcome.

Monty Python alum John Cleese may be in his 80s, but he fights for a comedian’s right to be funny like a man just starting his comedy career.

Cleese is relentless on the topic, long before it was “cool” to defend free expression in the Cancel Culture age. In 2017 he warned us, via Vulture, about the threat politically-correct thinking posed to humorists.

“But the thing about political correctness is that it starts as a good idea and then gets taken ad absurdum. And one of the reasons it gets taken ad absurdum is that a lot of the politically correct people have no sense of humor.”

John Cleese

He’s even working on a documentary series dubbed “John Cleese: Cancel Me” detailing the fallout from woke culture.

John Cleese during a book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly to promote his book “Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide” in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

His latest comments, though, show a grasp of where the political battle lines are now drawn.

It’s important to recall Cleese is no conservative. He loathed President Donald Trump, taking frequent jabs at the world leader from his social media perch and elsewhere. He took ghoulish pleasure in Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, a condition the 70-something leader shook up in mere days.

It wasn’t his only anti-Trump broadside. Far from it. Cleese even blames Newt Gingrich for the current Left-Right divide in America, a position that ignores the relentless attacks on Red State USA on most late night programs, for starters.

Still, conservatives have rallied behind him both for his iconic body of work (“Fawlty Towers,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” Python’s decades of whimsy) and his willingness to defend free speech. It’s why he ended up as a keynote speaker at the recently wrapped FreedomFest in Las Vegas.

Cleese told the crowd why the woke mindset is a sizable obstacle for any comedian to overcome in today’s climate.

“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. 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.”

John Cleese
John Cleese speaks onstage at ‘Comedy with the Cleeses’ during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Creek and the Cave on March 12, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW)

It’s what he shared with The Babylon Bee that may be the most surprising.

Cleese sat down with the faux news site’s talent for a brief but revealing chat. The two sides discussed faith, family and much less important topics. Cleese offered an interesting tell early in the exchange, though.

Bee podcast co-host Kyle Mann opened the chat by describing FreedomFest as a bunch of gun-totin’ rednecks, leaning into the stereotype of the modern conservative.

Cleese, not missing a beat, said, “I haven’t seen one but I’m told they’re around.”

Mann and co-host Jarret Lemaster kept the tone light, but they did ask one direct question for the comedy legend.

“How do you find yourself allied with people like this?” Mann asked of the FreedomFest gathering.

“I’ve never heard of the organization. When I saw ‘freedom’ I thought it’ll be more Right than Left,” Cleese said.

It’s now clear to even rock-ribbed liberals like Cleese that freedom, and freedom of speech by extension, is now firmly in the conservative column.

Written by Christian Toto

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