In Defense Of Being Offensive: Thank You, Cleese And Idle
This weekend I had the once-in-a-life-time opportunity (at least for me) of getting to attend the current tour of Monty Python alumni John Cleese and Eric Idle, two of my comedy heroes since I was a kid. This wonderful evening of “sit-down” comedy was like a writer’s workshop on hallucinogens: one part biographical history, one part reader’s theatre, and several parts utter silliness.
This wasn’t a show suitable for every “sensibility,” and in hindsight I’m very glad I didn’t opt to bring my 14-year-old along. These two amazing and brilliant septuagenarians are still very young-at-heart, and still very, very naughty.
Yes, the F-Bomb was dropped frequently, yet strategically. Yes, their signature Python nudity popped up in a few images and film clips, and yes, they made jokes with the hopes of getting as many gasps as laughs.
In short, they were delightfully, and unapologetically offensive.
I found this last bit profoundly important, as I feel we are living among generations of “safe-space” dwelling sensitive ears, which go sickly weak at the knees upon hearing an opposing viewpoint or off-color joke they deem as “racist,” “sexist,” or “(insert-your-special-interest-here) phobic.” This sadly seems to include pretty much everything.
One of the best commentaries about this politically correct “speak no evil...or anything else” was given by Cleese himself in January of this year. In it, he talked about the "Orwellian" concept of labeling every type of criticism, including humor, as a type of politically incorrect hate speech.
“The idea you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to,” Cleese said.
Cleese, like the rest of his Python cohorts, is not just well versed in comedy, he is a vastly intelligent man who pays attention to history and the world around him. He even wrote two books with psychiatrist and psychotherapist Robin Skynner: “Families and How to Survive Them,” and “Life and How to Survive It.”
“If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to try to control other people’s behavior,” he recalled Skynner saying. He added being around people who are over sensitive makes it hard to be spontaneous or creative, because one never knows what will “set them off.”
Do I get offended? Yes, I do.
We all do. I find lack of imagination and laziness in modern comedy exceptionally offensive. I don’t have any problem with profanity, as long as it isn’t put in place, of an actual joke. I think an R-Rated and G-Rated act can be equally funny, as long as it doesn’t insult my intelligence.
However, I don’t intend everyone to agree, or anyone to change what he or she think is funny to accommodate my cozy little happy place.
In other words, we can’t help feeling offended, but we can avoid getting “OUTRAGED!”
Everyone has a sensitive spot, but it being “offended” doesn’t have to be a blubbery rallying cry to stop someone from hurting your feelings, or telling you something you don’t want to hear.
Case in point, even as a Christian, I love Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” and find it one of funniest, smartest comedies I've ever seen. This look at an “also ran” in the race for Messiah received its share of protesters during its initial release, particularly in America.
Yet the Pythons are equal opportunity offenders. Jews, Romans, people with speech impediments, and even the ever-so-popular “gender identity” proponents (in one classic and eerily prophetic scene), were among those who received a few comedic blows.
Yes, there is a lot of offensive content out there. Yet the world is a broken, dirty place in many cases. Nothing shines some well-needed sunshine on it as comedy. Lowbrow, highbrow, cornball or Commedia dell'arte; there’s a place for it all.
Just remember, if you find yourself offended, remove yourself from the situation. It is easier to just get up and politely leave, than force everyone else to quit having a good time.
On our way into the theatre, the pre-show music included many familiar Python tunes including “I Like Chinese,” and “The Penis Song.” One lady in front of me told her date: “I hadn’t counted on this language. I don’t think I’ll be happy if they use that kind of talk in the show.”
“Lady,” I thought, “who exactly do you think it is you’re about to see?”