Friday, August 12, 2022

Comedian John Cleese’s Mic Taken Away at SXSW During Slavery Rant

John Cleese
John Cleese speaks onstage at ‘Comedy with the Cleeses’ during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Creek and the Cave on March 12, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW)

*Comedian John Cleese has clapped back at the backlash over comments he made about slavery during a panel discussion at SXSW.

The 82-year-old Monty Python star participated in the John Cleese in Conversation at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, on March 11 – alongside fellow comedians Dulcé Sloan, Jim Gaffigan, and Ricky Velez. According to the Hollywood Reporter, at one point during the conversation, the panel discussed colonization and slavery. 

After Sloan, who is Black, made a joke about colonization, Cleese noted that people “forget the British Empire was the basic political unit of organization for 6,000 years — the British didn’t start [colonizing].”

“We know, but y’all did it so well!” Sloan responded, as reported by MSN. “It’s the reason I’m here! I’m not supposed to be here!”

“We gave you free passage, too,” Cleese replied, and the comment drew “shocked groans from the crowd,” according to THR. 

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“History is a history of crime,” Cleese continued. “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?”

“[People] get competitive about this business of being oppressed,” he said. “We were oppressed, the English, by the Romans for 400 [years], from about 0 to 400… I want reparations from Italy. 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.”

Pasternack then joked about ‘playing the Jew card,’ which prompted Cleese to start a stereotypical joke about Jewish people. At that point, Sloan relieved Cleese of his microphone.

“And now you saved the colonizer,” Pasternack told her. “I saved a comic whose career I respect,” Sloan replied.

According to the UK Metro, Cleese has since tweeted: “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. Otherwise it’s like sending someone deaf to review a concert.”

One follower commented: “John, I love ur humor man, but mockingly comparing getting reperations for things that happened 1000 years ago, to things that happened less than a generation ago is a flawed comparison. But u do u.”

Cleese responded: “Quite right, Sajid. But that was the joke. The ridiculousness of the comparison was the joke. 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.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.

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