Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young crushed their rebel brands by bleeding ticket holders dry and abandoning free speech, respectively.
Not John Cleese.
The 83-year-old comic is as funny, and feisty as ever, skewering uptight scolds and defending his work against the woke revolution. Few voices are as strong, and unrelenting against cancel culture.
He’s older and grayer, but his wit and wisdom appear untouched by time (and the pressure to conform to modern mores).
Fans may know him best for his decades of work in Monty Python, but his comedy career began early and stretches from iconic movies (“A Fish Called Wanda”) to legendary sitcoms (“Fawlty Towers”).
His comedy career kicked off Clifton College where he was studying law at the time. He later joined Cambridge University’s Footlights Club comedy troupe before snagging a writing gig for BBC radio mere days before his planned law career began.
His college days had one other benefit. He met future Python colleague Graham Chapman at Cambridge University.
Cleese stayed busy post-graduation, penning material for British superstars like David Frost and Peter Sellers.
He eventually joined Chapman and cutups Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam to form Monty Python, an anarchic group of comics willing to try almost anything to make audiences howl. The TV troupe’s “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” debuted on October 5, 1969, on the BBC.
The show, smart and silly in outrageous doses, later reached American viewers via PBS stations, furthering the group’s global reach. Skits like the “Ministry of Silly Walks” to the iconic “Dead Parrot” captured the show’s manic, unpredictable glee.
The show lasted four seasons (three with Cleese), but the British star’s career was far from over. He eventually created “Fawlty Towers,” a hilarious sitcom featuring Cleese as a frazzled innkeeper.
The series lasted just 12 episodes (six in 1975, another six in 1979), but it became a comic institution.
He returned over and again to his Python mates, their work graduating to the big screen with impressive results. Their cinematic debut, 1975’s “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” stands as their masterwork, but subsequent projects like “Life of Brian” (1979) and “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” (1983) have their moments, too.
The big screen suited Cleese, who worked frequently in comic projects over the past few decades, even those that didn’t warrant his gifts (2019’s “Arctic Dogs,” anyone?). His notable films include 1981’s “Time Bandits,” 1985’s “Silverado” and appearances in the first two “Harry Potter” films as Nearly Headless Nick, a comical ghost.
For many, his finest film remains 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda.” Cleese wrote the screenplay over an extended period to get the characters and story just right. The comedy stars Cleese as Archie Leach (Cary Grant’s real name), a barrister who falls for a jewel thief (Jamie Lee Curtis) intertwined with two double-crossing lovers. Python alum Palin joined the fray as the stammering Ken, the kindest-hearted member of the quartet.
Co-star Kevin Kline earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the wily Otto, but the quartet reunited with diminished results for 1997’s “Fierce Creatures.”
Cleese has no intentions of slowing down in his ’80s, working steadily as a character actor and voice artist. His robust IMDB.com page boasts nine new projects on the way.
His biggest late-career role, though, pays nothing and engenders plenty of outrage. He’s the voice of reason in an unreasonable age, defending comedy and free speech with humor and a heavy heart.
It’s a fight that shouldn’t have to be waged.
Still, few artists have spoken out against the woke overreach as passionately as Cleese. Long before Joe Rogan blazed a free speech path, Cleese stood tall in defense of humor. It’s just jokes, Cleese cries, understanding the ramifications of comics who can’t say what they think.
He told Bill Maher in 2015 why political incorrectness, the pre-cursor to the more insidious “woke,” is “so awful.”
“It starts out as a halfway decent idea, and then it goes completely wrong … if you make jokes about people who are going to kill you, there is a tendency to hold back a little.”
Cleese wouldn’t let the issue go, saying in 2016 he avoids college campuses due to their suffocating political correctness.
In 2020, he savaged the BBC for briefly removing a “Fawlty Towers” episode mocking Germans.
“Everything humorous is critical. If you have someone who is perfectly kind and intelligent and flexible and who always behaves appropriately, they’re not funny. Funniness is about people who don’t do that, like Trump.”
He even spoke out against trans female athletes competing against biological women in competitive sports, a stance guaranteed to enrage the modern Left.
Now, he’s using his free speech brand to power new projects.
Last year, he announced he’s teaming with GB News, a Right-leaning English platform, to create a show about free speech alongside Andrew Doyle, a fellow free speech warrior and the mind behind Titania McGrath, Twitter’s faux social justice warrior. He also plans to reboot “Fawlty Towers,” a project likely to embrace his ability to tell jokes on his terms without censorship or a net.
Cleese is no conservative. He loathes President Trump and has lashed out against the American South over the years.
He believes in comedy and the very Western notion that free speech matters. That makes him a rebel in 2023 and a man who hasn’t lost his principles over 50+ years in the comedy trenches.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.