John Cleese has now officially joined the Jerry Seinfeld club of comedians who won’t perform on college campuses because they feel there’s too much political correctness. Yes, these men are being oppressed by the rest of us and our insistence that older straight white male comedians recognize that their audiences are not 100% older straight white males. Clearly, we should be ashamed of our narrow-mindedness in refusing to accept John Cleese’s professional narrow-mindedness.
In this video, Cleese bemoans the overgrowth of this politically correct culture. He does acknowledge that this way of thinking started off as something positive. However, in his spectacularly limited view, those positive seeds of political correctness started with the intent of not being “mean” to “people who can’t particularly look after themselves.” But now it’s just spread to kowtowing to “super sensitive people.” And according to Cleese, if you get too wrapped up in what those sensitive people want, you’re pretty much just on the path to living inside 1984.
First of all, that “people who can’t look after themselves” thing is just insanely misguided and insulting. Also, what the hell does that even mean? Clearly John Cleese has never been a woman in the audience at a comedy show where the nearly-or-entirely all-dude lineup is a nonstop parade of jokes equating women’s mouths to shrill blow job holes. He’s never been a black or Latino or Asian man in the audience of a show where the white comedians base their jokes around slurs and stereotypes. He’s never been a trans audience member watching a show where comedians still think his existence is enough of a joke to make it the premise of their acts. I’ve only had one of experiences firsthand, but I have had it frequently, and I have been in lots of rooms where I’ve seen the other two.
So which am I, John Cleese? And which are the other people in those scenarios? If I don’t want to go to comedy shows because it is clear that many, MANY comedians see my gender as a punchline, am I a person who can’t look after herself? Or am I too sensitive?
I understand that John Cleese thinks he knows what comedy is for people. But he does not seem to understand that all people are not him. Last week, when Michael Caine equated the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations with his own struggles in having to wait “years and years” to get his own award, he missed the fundamental difference. His is a personal struggle, while for other actors with different circumstances, it is a systemic struggle. They have their own personal battles of being talented enough and lucky enough to make it in their field, and then on top of that, they live and work inside a system that does not provide them with nearly as many opportunities. John Cleese (and Michael Caine and all the rest like them) know their game is hard, but they don’t realize the playing fields are far from even.
There is a danger with anyone, but especially with older wealthy white men believing their experiences are universal. John Cleese not liking what a newspaper says is not even close to the same thing as living in a world where you have spent your life, and people like you have spent decades or centuries, having your feelings dismissed out of hand. Political correctness is such a gross term. Because it is not— for the majority of rational people in the world— just a matter of sensitivity. What people like John Cleese call “political correctness” is them suddenly finding themselves in a world and in a career where they have never had to tell the difference between a joke that “challenges” and a joke that belittles. And the fact that they now have to tell the difference is hard. So it’s easier to lump all the jokes together, call us sensitive, and swear off doing university shows.
But that’s fine, John Cleese. My desire to see you perform live just plummeted down about a million percent anyway.