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John Cleese defends right to offend after slavery joke goes viral

Cleese offended journalists at the SXSW festival when he responded to fellow comedian Dulce Sloan, who is black, when she made a joke about colonization.

John Cleese defends right to offend after slavery joke goes viral
AP Photo/Amel Emric
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British comedian John Cleese, best known for his work in Fawlty Towers and Monty Python is doubling down on his right to tell jokes.

Amid efforts to cancel him over a joke about slavery at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas over the weekend, Cleese defended his jokes and told mainstream news publications to grow “a sense of humour.”

“Next time the editor of the Hollywood Reporter sends someone to review a Comedy Festival he would do well to send a reporter with a sense of humour,” said the veteran comedian in a tweet.

“Otherwise it’s like sending someone deaf to review a concert,” said Cleese, doubling down on his right to make light of sensitive subjects. Some might even call him “ableist” for daring to suggest that deaf people aren’t able to hear.

During his appearance at “John Cleese in Conversation” at SXSW, the comedian made several jokes now considered cancellable offences by the woke brigade, including one about how the British are due reparations by Italy, in reference to the Roman conquest of Britain.

Cleese offended attending journalists when he responded to fellow comedian Dulce Sloan, who is black, when she made a joke about colonization. He suggested that she was given “free passage.”

The comedian suggested that people tend to “forget the British Empire was the basic political unit of organization for 6,000 years — the British didn’t start [colonizing].”

“We know, but ya’ll did it so well!” Sloan replied. “It’s the reason I’m here! I’m not supposed to be here!”

“We gave you free passage, too,” Cleese quipped.

While the crowd was briefly taken aback by the joke, no one really minded apart from the entertainment reporter, who complained that Cleese was now “apparently getting quite sincere” when he elaborated on his political views.

“History is a history of crime,” Cleese reportedly said. “It’s a history of people who were stronger beating up people who were weaker, and it’s always been that. It’s deeply, deeply distasteful. But to pretend that one lot were worse than another — you do know the British have been slaves twice, right?”

“The Dutch are the problem,” replied Sloan.

“[People] get competitive about this business of being oppressed,” Cleese continued. “We were oppressed, the English, by the Romans for 400 [years], from about 0 to 400.”

Cleese’s remarks met uncomfortable replies from the other attending comedians, who attempted to change the subject. Their discomfort seemed to feed into Cleese’s desire to keep going.

“I want reparations from Italy,” Cleese said, adding “and then the Normans came over in 1066… they were horrible people from France, and they came and colonized us for 30 years — we need reparations there too, I’m afraid.”

Cleese’s remarks prompted Sloan to jokingly confiscate Cleese’s microphone while the audience laughed.

While the audience and the rest of the panel clearly enjoyed Cleese’s jokes, publications like the Hollywood Reporter went off on the comedian to condemn him for his spicy remarks, which entertainment reporter James Hibberd described as “cringey awkwardness.”

On Twitter, Cleese defended his jokes to the woke mob, explaining the joke to one person who appeared to miss the point.

“The ridiculousness of the comparison was the joke,” Cleese said. “But if you lack a sense of irony, you might not realise that. But that's not a good reason to deprive people who do understand irony of a good laugh.”

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