Tell me he’s doing a bit. It’s a bit, right?

John Cleese wishes to register a complaint (see? It must be an old Monty Python routine). He is complaining to the BBC that, in a recent interview, he came off sounding “old-fashioned, uncaring and basically harmful”.

In other words, the BBC was dead-on accurate. Given the BBC’s recent record on these matters, that is surprising.

Cleese’s comedic routine is rather rusty, though, since he stomped out in a huff at being asked questions on subjects he’s been shouting about lately, like cancel culture and trans rights. He only wants to talk about those things when he’s the only voice, and the interviewer is only a stenographer.

Cleese then removed his headphones, as it was “not the interview I had agreed to,” he noted.

“Karishma had no interest in a discussion with me. She wanted only the role of prosecutor. The BBC needs to train her again.”

He had only “agreed to” a fluff piece, I guess. Oh, for the days when media interviews were challenging and interesting and put people on the spot…


  1. naturalistguy says

    Did she ask if, in fact, he has two sheds? And if he wrote a symphony in one of them? The people demand it!

  2. kome says

    I wonder how he wants journalists to treat the people he disagrees with when they’re interviewed?

  3. Artor says

    I’m disappointed in Cleese. I know he’s a smart guy, and I used to think he was considerate and forward-thinking, but something seems to have changed, and now he’s just a reactionary regressive. How did that happen?

  4. hillaryrettig1 says

    I wonder if he would have said “The BBC needs to train…again.” about a white male interviewer.

  5. Grace says

    I watched that video yesterday. That was downright embarrassing for Cleese. And, because he has complained, his poor behavior is getting a spotlight; the Streisand effect is evident.

    I’ve admired his comedy, and can quote some Monty Python sketches verbatim. That said, he is a professional communicator, a seasoned performer, accustomed to being in the public eye. For him to assert that an interviewer who was asking quite mild questions needs “re-training”, and then to simply walk out of the interview, bespeaks very, very thin skin indeed. If his ideas won’t withstand such a mild level of inquiry, even without looking into the merits of his arguments, I’m not inclined to think much of what he has to say.


  6. tacitus says

    I’m disappointed in Cleese. I know he’s a smart guy, and I used to think he was considerate and forward-thinking, but something seems to have changed, and now he’s just a reactionary regressive. How did that happen?

    Could be age related. He’s 82 after all. As the child of two elderly parents (90 and 91) I have definitely seen personality changes over the last decade or more. My dad has mild to moderate dementia, so that’s not unexpected, but my mum is still pretty sharp and it’s happened with her too.

    Specifically, it seems that certain personality traits they’ve had throughout their adult lives become more pronounced and rigid as they’ve gone through their 80s. Dad’s somewhat snarky humor became less well-calibrated than it was, becoming more prone to upsetting people, and Mum’s talkativeness has turned into long monologues on the phone that I have learned not to interrupt.

    These, and other changes are not that pronounced, but as the brain becomes less able to process the outside world as well, people seem to fill the gaps in their comprehension with old and not necessarily their best habits and tendencies, which become exaggerated.

    No idea if this is happening to Cleese, but it could explain some part of the transformation, especially if his former “considerateness and forward-thinking” was something he had to constantly work on when he was younger (i.e. suppressing worse tendencies).

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    “I want you to ask me about my new routine.”
    ‘…OK, tell me about your routine.’
    “I haven’t written it yet. Still got three weeks.”

  8. PaulBC says

    tacitus@8 I think that’s a reasonable explanation. There are old people who come across as kind and thoughtful (I’ve been leaning heavily on Kurt Vonnegut recently, but him). Maybe that’s just who they were all along so they don’t need the filters.

    I sometimes think of the reaction Ray Bradbury got from fans of Fahrenheit 451 in his dotage. I don’t think his views ever changed. He was always a libertarian of the Golden Age of Science Fiction mold. So what happened? Maybe absent the elegant imagery of his writing, he sounds like a cranky old man telling you to get off your lawn. I heard a local radio interviewer in Baltimore get totally caught off guard this way.

  9. says

    “Cancel Culture” is not a thing It’s called “Culture”. Trans people are trans PEOPLE. I love John Cleese and Stephen Fry, but they need to STFU about the things they don’t understand and can’t relate to. Just because you think it’s “icky” doesn’t mean it’s not valid.

  10. hillaryrettig1 says

    PaulBC – J.M. Straczynski – creator of Babylon 5 aka the best show ever – recently published a book on writing in which he specifically discusses how Bradbury got stale by refusing to keep up with the times, Limited him as a writer and a human.

  11. says

    The interviewer should have responded, “I watched your video on how to irritate people and I’m trying to put some of those principles in effect.”

    Cleese’s comedy was, after all, about dishing it out and not taking it.

  12. Susan Montgomery says

    Look back on his work and you’ll find he hasn’t changed one bit.

    Also consider the possibility that you should look for more than sadistic jokes and tits before you consider someone “forward thinking”.

  13. Walter Solomon says

    Why is this has-been a news item so often? He hasn’t been relevant in decades. At least Terry Gilliam, whose views are scarcely better, is still creating something.

    Personally, I’d rather get updates about Michael Palin if we’re focusing on former Python men. He seems decent enough.

  14. tacitus says

    John Cleese, as a member of Python and creator of Fawlty Towers, is still regarded as one of the all-time comedy greats in the UK. He was also very popular on radio back in the 60s with I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again. (If you like bad puns, you’re in for a treat if you seek that out on the Interwebs.)

    So regardless of his relevance today, he’s always going to make headlines when he makes news.

    I agree that Michael Palin is far more agreeable, but being agreeable and an all-round decent human being isn’t that newsworthy, unfortunately…

  15. Alverant says

    @5 “But then time moved on and he didn’t.”
    That’s how it is. You’re ahead of your time, then you’re at your time, then you’re behind the times. It seems to happen to many people/things that were ones “ahead of their time”. They stay the same and the rest of society catches up then passes them.

  16. chrislawson says


    It’s possible Cleese has become more rigid over time, but I don’t think his basic progressive/regressive profile has changed at all. If you look at the targets of his progressive humour: religious and social bigotry, the abusive English public school system, social conformity…they were all things that directly affected the Pythons personally. And in some ways he is the victim of his own success. The Pythons not only won the battle waged by religious conservatives in England to ban Life of Brian, they did so comprehensively.

    But the regressivism has also always been there. Even in the otherwise magnificent Life of Brian there is a terrible transphobic comedy routine and a very poorly advised rape joke (note, I am of the opinion that no topic should be off limits for comedy, and that even rape jokes can be defended if the target of the joke is rape culture, see for instance …but the rape joke in Life of Brian does not even remotely count as punching up).

    All of the battles for progressive causes Cleese and his many contemporaries fought in the 60s and 70s are long over. By and large, they won. Huzzah! But this has left Cleese and Gilliam with a bunch of old regressive attitudes that they are unwilling to reflect on and change, largely because they are not the ones being hurt by them. And I think I can say that last bit confidently, at least in the case of Cleese, because he has become much more vocally anti-feminist in his old age and he makes no bones about the fact that it is largely driven by the size of his divorce settlements. He brings it up in interview after interview, even on softball talk shows like the Graham Norton Show where he wasn’t even asked about it.

    OTOH, for people who seem to maintain their progressivism into old age, e.g. the aforementioned Vonnegut, their core beliefs were always driven by universal humanistic values rather than objecting to specific regressive policies that limited them personally.

  17. expatlurker says

    “But John, some would say that what you’re suggesting …”
    “Why did you say ‘but’?”
    I never saw anyone triggered by the word “but” before.

  18. Susan Montgomery says

    @19. I’m not sure how you missed the People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) bit and it’s rather unflattering portrayal of progressive activists.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    Susan Montgomery @ # 21: … the People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) bit and it’s rather unflattering portrayal of progressive activists.

    Or “what did Rome do for us?” Or the mocking of social justice in the MP & the Holy Grail “see the violence inherent in the system!” sketch.

    Howsomeverwise, those bits hit fair targets of schism, hypocrisy, and hype right at the center of their respective bullseyes. The transbashing etc makes no such legitimate points.

  20. Susan Montgomery says

    @23 well, yeah. I mean, that’s what I do here all too often. But, how confident are you that your interpretation isn’t just your own wishful thinking?

  21. PaulBC says


    I never saw anyone triggered by the word “but” before.

    Heh heh. He said “butt.”

    I agree that’s not really “triggered” though.

  22. Susan Montgomery says

    @25. I would suggest, in light of the increasing evidence before us, that he and the rest of the Pythons really saw liberals and progressives that way. After all, he had a lot more to lose even then if things were upended.

  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    Susan Montgomery @ # 27: I would suggest, in light of the increasing evidence before us, that he and the rest of the Pythons really saw liberals and progressives that way.

    Hmm, maybe – but mostly they skewered the same targets as did progressives, and did much less leftist-bashing than we would have expected of any other “conservatives” then.

  24. Susan Montgomery says

    @28 at the height of the hippie zeitgeist, it was good business to bash the same targets. The left bashing they did was s wink to the people who signed their checks and approved their country club memberships that, no, they really didn’t mean the rest.

  25. Susan Montgomery says

    @28. Besides, do you really think the BBC would air anything that would seriously threaten the Status Quo?

  26. chrislawson says

    @21– I took the JPF/PFJ rift to be a satire of a propensity of groups to splinter into different factions rather than work together against a common enemy. At no point in that routine are the values of those groups mocked, just the infighting.

    @23– Fair enough with the “what have the Romans ever done for us?” routine.

    I don’t however think the “violence inherent in the system” sketch is making fun of progressive views. The peasant being oppressed is correct in everything he says, even within the terms of the movie. And it’s not like the movie doesn’t present these legendary knights, by narrative tradition the most fair and idealistic people in the land, actually being cowards (Sir Robin), idiots (almost everyone but especially Arthur), or single-mindedly violent thugs (Lancelot). At worst one could say that the progressive peasant might be intended as a satire of leftists who think talking about a problem is as good as solving it. But it doesn’t track that way to me.

  27. PaulBC says

    I don’t feel any need to trash Monty Python retroactively. It’s funny and usually well-targeted, but it was also primarily intended as comedy. A lot of it is pure absurdism or wordplay. In fact, that’s often the best part. I also enjoyed Fawlty Towers a lot. My favorite episode is probably The Germans, which flirts with poor taste but has no serious social message (at least that I can ascertain). The portrayal of ethnic stereotypes such as Manuel and in one episode a lazy Irish construction contractor are well-executed comedically, but it’s hard to endorse them. In fact, I think the world would actually be better off without that kind of comedy, but I still laughed.

    Cleese is a product of elite institutions like Cambridge (though looking at Wikipedia, his family background is modest; he was a smart kid). I agree with chrislawson@19 that his targets are inequities that affect him personally. I also think that in general some people suffer from the notion that their childhood heroes are going to agree with them in every way. It’s extremely unlikely (e.g. Ray Bradbury) so just appreciate the part of their work they did well.

  28. PaulBC says

    No point except to reminisce (and I guess brag if you want to take it that way) but I saw Graham Chapman speak at my university in the 1980s. I don’t remember too much after all these years. There were some fundies in the audience who used the Q&A to accuse him of mocking Jesus in Life of Brian but he fended them off courteously and moved on. He struck me as both an interesting speaker and a class act overall.

    I remember thinking at the time I would have rather seen John Cleese, who I always found a lot funnier. That’s wrong on two counts. First, Chapman would only be around for a few more years (I can be forgiven for not knowing this). Second, fuck John Cleese. Everything since A Fish Called Wanda is just beyond saturation level, and that was a long time ago. I lucked out with Chapman and didn’t even know it.

  29. Susan Montgomery says

    @31 I always took the “Inherent” guy as a parody of overly-earnest liberal arts majors who make grand schemes with no clue as to how things really work.

    At best, there’s a heavy nihilistic bent to the Python oeuvre but I don’t think that makes things much better. Stagnation and disengagement only benefits the status quo.

    Maybe we all should have a word with him and ask for an apology…

  30. PaulBC says

    Susan Montgomery@35 It’s possible to make both an accurate criticism of medieval power structures* and also poke fun at an ineffectual response to it. The fact that the peasant is aware of the oppression is itself an improvement on reality, since most likely it would have just been part of their life and accepted as the natural order of things.

    The comedy comes from shifting the frame of reference in a familiar scene. It doesn’t have to be interpreted as taking anyone’s side. E.g., do I read The Far Side as a problematic attempt at environmental activism, or do I conclude that Gary Larson is a guy with a quirky sense of humor who likes animals?

    *Which shouldn’t be controversial and yet ironically the Knights of the Round Table are supposed to be the good guys in most fictional accounts.

  31. naturalistguy says

    PaulBC @ 33

    How is Cleese as Ape in George of the Jungle “beyond saturation level”. George want to know if Ape all wet…

  32. Alt-X says

    He got very emotional didn’t he? If only his parents didn’t overprotect him so much. SMH.

    And no, cbt therapy has for nothing to do with “woke”, it’s a form of therapy to over come anxiety due to, say, bullying due to your race or sexuality…

  33. Susan Montgomery says

    @36. Points to consider. Let’s see how he’s behaving the next time he makes the news.