‘A masterclass in comedy’: John Cleese talks about the Woke Generation, the logic of killer rabbits and his favorite Monty Python moment at the Calgary Expo


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It was roughly half an hour into John Cleese’s event at the Calgary Expo when the 82-year-old started telling a long list of slightly offbeat, old-school jokes. mocking stereotypes.

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There were punchlines about French wartime cowardice, Scottish cheapness and hairy Italian women.

“I make these jokes and the audience is perfectly laughing and then I say ‘They were those two Mexicans’ . . . absolute silence,” Cleese said.

“And I say ‘Do we think (with) the Germans and the French and the Australians, we can make jokes about them because they can take it, but the Mexicans can’t take a joke because that they are such weak, pathetic, helpless creatures and we have to protect them from themselves?Which is deeply, deeply condescending.

The discussion arose from an audience question as to whether there is a line that comedy should not cross. It’s a hot and hot topic for anyone trying to make people laugh for a living these days. While emphasizing that mean humor designed only to make people feel bad should be avoided, Cleese echoed what a number of comedians have suggested recently.

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“One of the problems we have is we have the woke generation,” Cleese says. “And I think they started with a good idea, which is ‘Let’s not be mean to people.’ Then they kinda take it the wrong way assuming people are kinda more sensitive than I think.

Cleese spoke for nearly an hour on Saturday, which was apparently longer than expected by Expo organizers. The comedy icon amusingly refused to leave the stage, encouraging fans to ask long and rambling questions – never a problem at the Calgary Expo – so he could postpone his outing to sign “autographs (expletives)”.

It was a wide-ranging conversation that found Cleese pursuing his favorite targets in delightfully curious ways: his American ex-wives, soulless studio executives, special effects supervisors, former newspaper publisher Conrad Black and, apparently, autograph seekers.

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The subject of Baron Black came up when he was asked to refuse various honors that had been offered to him over the years.

“They wanted me to be in the House of Lords,” he said. “I thought if I became a Lord, an English Lord, and got into the House of Lords, I might find myself sitting next to Conrad Black. So I said ‘No, I’ll give up.

Cleese specialized in playing uptight, exasperated Englishmen during his days in the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe and the TV series Fawlty Towers, so imagining him in the House of Lords is actually quite fun. But his refusal shows he still sees himself as the outsider who has helped stay ahead of Python’s surreal, absurd humor over the years.

In fact, Cleese often offered what moderator Doug Dirks, former host of The Homestretch on CBC Radio in Calgary, called a “masterclass in comedy.”

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There was insight into the importance of plot and how comedy is a very different beast from drama and needs to be filmed differently (“No Close-Ups”). He also did a play-by-play of the logic behind a rabbit’s transformation into a killer in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, referring to the scene in which a fluffy white rabbit beheads a knight.

“What’s funny? What’s funny is that it doesn’t look dangerous,” he says. take care of itself? You can start with a mouse, it’s kinda small. There’s a cat. Yeah, but a cat is kind of smart and quick. What’s completely stupid, so stupid that he kind of asks to be eaten?”

Asked about his favorite moment in Monty Python, Cleese pointed to an early writing session with Graham Chapman that would eventually turn into the famous cheese shop sketch. Cleese played an increasingly hostile customer trying to buy cheese only to end up with excuses that the store is out of every type he attempts to order. Cleese said he had major doubts about the scene despite Chapman constantly reassuring him that it was funny.

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“So I started reading it at the Python reading, which we had every week, and there was a bit of silence at the beginning and my stomach tightened and I thought ‘Oh my God, this isn’t ‘isn’t funny after all,'” Cleese said. “Then (Michael Palin), bless him, started laughing. The further we went, the more he laughed. Then he lost control. never seen laughter like that in my life. He started to howl with laughter and then, which is wonderful, he slipped from his chair and rolled on the floor, holding his sides. It was the best moment that I ever had in Monty Python.

Calgary Expo runs through Sunday at Stampede Park.

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