John Cleese Is Hosting a Series About Cancel Culture

Are we set for a longform airing of grievances?

John Cleese, 2019
John Cleese, an English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer speaks at Pendulum Summit, World's Leading Business & Self Empowerment Summit, in Dublin Convention Center.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There’s probably a fascinating documentary to be made about how comedians perceive the idea of “cancel culture” and how it has — or has not — affected their material and their careers. Viewers in the United Kingdom are about to get a series on that very topic, but whether or not it will offer any insight into comedy and the present moment is up for debate. Why? Its host will be one John Cleese, who seems like far from an objective source on the matter.

Yahoo! News reports that the Monty Python alumnus will host John Cleese: Cancel Me, a series set to air on Channel 4.

“I want to bring the various reasonings right out in the open so that people can be clearer in their minds what they agree with, what they don’t agree with, and what they still can’t make their mind up about,” Cleese said when asked about the series.

That sounds innocuous enough. But his use of the phrase “so-called Political Correctness” in the same interview is a little more alarming. And Cleese’s frustration with cancel culture has reached a point where he’s seen fit to address controversies he has nothing to do with — such as mocking Hank Azaria’s apology for his time voicing Apu on The Simpsons.

In 2018, Vulture ran a feature in which comedians revisited old material of theirs that they had come to regret telling. It offered a lot of insight into the work of the participants — a lineup that included Demi Adejuyigbe, Patton Oswalt and Cameron Esposito — while also serving as a reminder of something vitally important: namely, that comedy constantly evolves. Some jokes can endure for millennia; others turn stale — or worse — after a week.

All of which is to say that the furor raised in some corners of the comedy world about cancel culture is often less about something specific to the current cultural moment and more about something that’s been true since long before that phrase was ubiquitous. People change — both comedians and audiences — and so does what they find funny. Whether or not Cleese’s show acknowledges this will likely demonstrate whether it’s serious about its subject — or if its conclusions about its subject will be set in stone before the cameras start rolling.

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