British actor and comedic genius John Cleese shares his thoughts with Big Think about political correctness, criticism, and humor:
I'm offended every day. For example, the British newspapers every day offend me with their laziness, their nastiness, and their inaccuracy, but I'm not going to expect someone to stop that happening; I just simply speak out about it.
Sometimes when people are offended they want — you can just come in and say, "right, stop that" to whoever it is offending them. And, of course, as a former chairman of the BBC one said, "There are some people who I would wish to offend."
And I think there's truth in that too. So the idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is what I absolutely do not subscribe to.
And a fellow who I helped write two books about psychology and psychiatry was a renowned psychiatrist in London called Robin Skynner said something very interesting to me. He said, "If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior." And when you're around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what's going to upset them next.
And that's why I’ve been warned recently, don’t go to most university campuses because the political correctness has been taken from being a good idea — which is, let’s not be mean particularly to people who are not able to look after themselves very well, that’s a good idea — to the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group can be labelled cruel.
And the whole point about humor, the whole point about comedy — and believe you me, I’ve thought about it — is that all comedy is critical. Even if you make a very inclusive joke — like, "How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans" — that’s about the human condition, it’s not excluding anyone, it’s saying we all have all these plans that probably won’t come and isn’t it funny that we still believe they’re going to happen. So that’s a very inclusive joke, but it’s still critical.
All humor is critical. If we start saying, "oh, we mustn’t criticize or offend them," then humor is gone, and with humor goes a sense of proportion, and then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984.