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John Cleese: Can you tell me a woke joke?

John Cleese (Conor McCabe/PA)
John Cleese (Conor McCabe/PA)

John Cleese has criticised the “stifling” effect of political correctness on creativity – saying there is no such thing as a “woke joke”.

The ex-Monty Python star, 80, said “affectionate teasing” is a bonding mechanism.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “PC 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. I think Jesus Christ would have agreed.

“The main thing is to try to be kind.

Cleese said he agreed with comments made by Nick Nave about 'cancel culture'
Cleese said he agreed with comments by Nick Cave about ‘cancel culture’ (Matt Crossick/PA)

“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.”

The former Fawlty Towers star added: “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.”

Teasing can be a “bonding mechanism” as well as the “nasty, mean, unkind” type designed to “put people down”, which is “completely wrong”, the comic said.

“There’s also affectionate teasing which is the sort of teasing we do in families and work groups that know each other, just making fun of each other in gentle ways.

Tim Davie, new BBC Director General, is reported to want to look at perceived Left-wing bias in comedy shows
Tim Davie, new BBC director general, is reported to want to look at perceived left-wing bias in comedy shows (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“That’s a great source of fun and enjoyment, a verbal dual – who can make the best rude remarks all in an atmosphere of affection. It’s a bonding mechanism. It’s positive.

“PC people simply don’t understand this business about context because they tend to be very literal-minded.

“I would love to debate this… The first question I would say is, ‘Can you tell me a woke joke?’

“I don’t know what a woke joke would be like… It might be heart-warming but it’s not going to be very funny.”

His comments come after reports said new BBC boss Tim Davie wants to tackle perceived left-wing bias in comedy shows.

Last month, singer and musician Nick Cave said political correctness had an “asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society”.

The Bad Seeds musician described “cancel culture” as “bad religion run amuck”.

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