John Cleese is irrelevant, just like all my old comedy heroes

I’m a 30-something comedy nerd, so the last few years haven’t been kind to me. You can’t put on an episode of Father Ted or NewsRadio without feeling somehow an accomplice to a terrible crime (that doesn’t stop me from watching them; I just make sure I donate £10 to Mermaids every time I let out a shamefaced chuckle). Let this be a lesson for you guys: all your heroes will betray you sooner or later.

John Cleese is a particularly sad case because if you go back and look old Fawlty Towers or Monty Python’s flying circusyou have no idea that the man who takes silly walks and tries to pay back dead birds will one day be famous for complaining about “cancel culture” in the midst of a global pandemic.

Cleese is always in the news now for getting upset about one thing or another, and more recently made headlines for tweeting “Can anyone (including BBC employees) tell me why the BBC didn’t show Monty Python for a couple of decades? It’s entirely possible that Shrek’s father-in-law was just having a senior moment and didn’t realize that a) Netflix owns the rights to the show now and b) the BBC showed Monty Python several times over the last few decades, but colleague let Graham Linehan down weighed with an answer which I think probably sums up what Cleese was going for: “They should apologize for every other sketch.”

(Rob Schneider he had a similar response, saying: “They haven’t finished editing the parts that don’t fit into their ideology. What is the whole series! [sic]”, but I never had any expectation that the kid making a living was the worst part of any Adam Sandler film.)

There’s this weird myth among John Cleese fans (and I’m talking about modern John Cleese fans, who are mostly hooked for the bad takes) that Monty Python he was kind of a politically incorrect, anti-wake, deliberately offensive entity that your modern lefty snowflake just wouldn’t be able to handle. I think it’s because they feel”Monty Python it was so subversive”, and instead of realizing that “subversive” in this context means “they pushed the limits of what comedy could achieve and were way ahead of their time”, they just hear “racist”.

Sure, there are some borderline things, but it was made in the 1970s. Even the most die-hard Stewart Lee fan will be able to make peace with a couple of sketches where the premise boils down to “the man in the suit is funny” if that sketch was made half a century ago. Hell, that’s basically the whole foundation of British comedy.

It really seems that at this point Cleese is looking for reasons to be angry all the time, or reasons to pretend he’s angry all the time so he can cash those sweet, sweet GB News checks. If it’s the latter, honestly, good for him. A man must eat.

But if it’s the former, and Cleese really thinks that between rising poverty, a plummeting economy and the global march towards fascism, the biggest threat to the UK is that 20-somethings don’t like a show that made 50 years ago, it’s just kinda sad.

We have had a Conservative government for what feels like the last thousand years; why are you so mad at the left? Why did we say you can’t just put on a dress, call yourself something like “Mrs Winterbottom” and present it as a complete joke? We don’t make the rules, John; the march of time and social progress yes. If I could find your weird and inappropriate joke about slavery funny, I promise I would, but I have this unfortunate condition called “knowing what slavery is” that makes it really hard for me.

If John Cleese is just an old man yelling at a cloud, I guess that makes me an old man yelling at an old man yelling at a cloud, so I’m not sure which of us is worse. It’s just hard to see someone you respected seem to be trying their hardest to become exactly the thing you were taught to rebel against. I will not use the dark Knight mentions because I’m not a hacker, but it’s true what they say: all your heroes will let you down if they stick around long enough.

Oh well, at least we’ll always have Eric Idle.

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