Graham Norton is absolutely right when it comes to John Cleese, comedians, and accountability for one’s actions in this era.
Norton made his appearance while sitting down in conversation with Mariella Frostrup during the Cheltenham Literature Festival. It’s not surprising to see Graham Norton talking about the Monty Python comedian. In recent years, Cleese has signed a letter in support of transphobic author J.K. Rowling. Most recently, he just signed on for the right-wing GB News station across the pond. If you ask me, John Cleese comes across as the typical right-winger opposed to being accountable for his actions. The fact that Cleese has appeared on Fox News to complain about the modern standards in comedy and how it impacts his ability to be creative says everything that I night to know.
Graham Norton on John Cleese:
“John Cleese has been very public recently about complaining about what you can’t say, and I just think it must be very hard to be a man of a certain age who’s been able to say whatever he liked for years, and now, suddenly, there’s some accountability. It’s free speech but not consequence-free.” […]
“You read a lot of articles in papers by people complaining about ‘cancel culture,’ and you think: In what world are you cancelled? I’m reading your article in a newspaper, or you’re doing interviews about how terrible it is to be cancelled.”
Norton is exactly right when he says we need to change how we discuss the concept. On the idea of “cancel culture,” Norton says the following:
“I think the word is the wrong word. I think the word should be ‘accountability.'”
When it comes to Monty Python, G-d only knows how many of those sketches do not hold up today. This doesn’t even take into account how his colleague, Terry Gilliam, jokingly referred to himself as a Black transgender lesbian during an interview. As soon as I heard about that one a few years ago, I was done with Monty Python. You don’t make those sort of jokes and get off with a free pass. And again, neither Gilliam nor Cleese want to be held accountable for their actions.
The part I love about the conversation is where Graham Norton knows he’s not the right person to be commenting on J.K. Rowling’s transphobia. Frostrup had asked about Rowling’s bigotry and Cleese being upset with what he can’t say anymore.
Norton’s response shows that he is an ally to the transgender community:
“I feel weird about this, when I’m asked about, then I become part of this discussion. And all I’m painfully aware of is that my voice adds nothing to that discussion, and I’m sort of embarrassed that I’m somehow drawn into it. If people want to shine a light on those issues, and I hope people do, then talk to trans people. Talk to the parents of trans kids. Talk to doctors. Talk to psychiatrists. Talk to someone who can illuminate this in some way.”
When it comes to comedians or anyone else getting in trouble for their words, I refuse to call it “cancel culture.” Instead, I call it what it actually is: holding people accountable for their actions. While there is a freedom of speech, people have to deal with the consequences of their speech. If you’re using speech to harm a marginalized community or to be racist, people are going to call them out for it. Take Kanye West, for instance. He recently used his platform, both online and in interviews, to be a raging antisemitic bigot. People are calling him out for it and rightfully so. The part that surprises me, however, is how some people are dismissing his antisemitism by placing the blame on his mental illness. I’m sorry but mental illness should never be the scapegoat for actual hate. We’ve seen this time and time again and it’s disturbing.
The full video of Norton’s conversation is below:
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