John Cleese

English comedian and actor (born 1939)

John Marwood Cleese (born 27 October 1939) is an English comedian and actor best known for being one of the members of the comedy group Monty Python and for co-writing the TV series Fawlty Towers in which he played Basil Fawlty.

He who laughs most, learns best.


Basil Fawlty was an easy character for me. For some reason, portraying a mean uptight incompetent bully comes naturally to me.
When you get to my age … you realize that the the world is a madhouse and that most people are operating in fantasy anyway. So once you realise that, it doesn't bother you much.
  • If I like chocolate it won't surprise you that I have a few chocolates in my fridge, but if you find out I've got 16 warehouses full of chocolate, you'd think I was insane. All these rich guys are insane, obsessive compulsive twits obsessed with money — money is all they think about — they're all nuts.
  • Basil Fawlty was an easy character for me. For some reason, portraying a mean, uptight, incompetent bully comes naturally to me.
    • On Fresh Air with Terry Gross (1997)
  • If I had not gone into Monty Python, I probably would have stuck to my original plan to graduate and become a chartered accountant, perhaps a barrister lawyer, and gotten a nice house in the suburbs, with a nice wife and kids, and gotten a country club membership, and then I would have killed myself.
    • On Fresh Air with Terry Gross (1997)
  • He who laughs most, learns best.
    • As quoted in Creating Emotionally Safe Schools: A Guide for Educators and Parents‎ (2001) by Jane Bluestein, p. 215
  • If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.
    • As quoted in Best New Games (2002) by Dale N. LeFevre, p. 9
  • Technology frightens me to death. It's designed by engineers to impress other engineers, and they always come with instruction booklets that are written by engineers for other engineers — which is why almost no technology ever works.
  • If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?
    • As quoted in W.T.F.? : (What Is Wrong With Tom Faerie?)‎ (2006) by H. M. Leathem
  • You see, you could never do a sketch like that these days. The audience is too uninformed. I blame the Americans. Nation of obese, violent, pig-ignorant, bible-thumping morons contaminating world culture. That’s why I spend most of my time here in France. … Beautiful, isn’t it? Just look at those olive trees. [Interviewer: This is Santa Barbara.]
    • From PBS series Monty Python's Personal Best: John Cleese's Personal Best (2006), playing role of senile old man.
  • My biggest regret? Not being knighted by the Queen. I should have been a knight, and I would have been knighted, if I hadn't written one horrible horrible Python sketch which I deeply deeply regret — [cue Python sketch: "Upper Class Twit of the Year"]
    • From PBS series Monty Python's Personal Best: John Cleese's Personal Best (2006), playing role of senile old man.
  • When you get to my age, and I'm 66 now, you realize that the world is a madhouse and that most people are operating in fantasy anyway. So once you realise that, it doesn't bother you much.
    • From Channel 4 documentary The Secret Life of Brian (2007)
  • Because these people are operating at a very very low level of mental health, they are incapable of understanding the teaching.
    • From Channel 4 documentary The Secret Life of Brian (2007)
  • A wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.
  • When I was teaching, the headmaster told me "You know, the sad thing about true stupidity is that you can do absolutely nothing about it."
    • A "tweet" by John Cleese on his @JohnCleese [verified] Twitter account (4 April 2017)
  • All humans are stupid, but the smarter ones at least have a handle on their own ignorance.
  • History is a history of crime. 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?
  • There's always been limitations on what they're allowed to say. Why you go to Molière and Louis XIV. I mean Molière had to be a bit careful. And there will always be limitations. I mean in England, until some ridiculous late date like 1965, all plays had to be submitted to what used to be a part of the palace called the Lord Chamberlain, and he would read it and there were hilarious letters used to go back was saying 'you may only say f--- once,' this sort of- ‘and you cannot say bugger. But you can say-' this sort of ridiculous negotiating letters.
  • But I think it's particularly worrying at the moment because you can only create in an atmosphere of freedom, where you're not checking everything you say critically before you move on. What you have to be able to do is to build without knowing where you're going because you've never been there before. That's what creativity is—you have to be allowed to build. And a lot of comedians now are sitting there and when they think of something, they say something like, 'Can I get away with it? I don't think so. So and so got into trouble, and he said that, oh, she said that.' You see what I mean? And that's the death of creativity. So I would say at the moment, this is a difficult time, particularly for young comedians, but you see, my audience is much older, and they're simply not interested in most of the woke attitudes. I mean, they just think that you should try and be kind to people and that's no need to complicate it, you know?

Quotes about John Cleese

  • Cleese, who enjoyed a fairly traditional, upper-middle-class upbringing, has dedicated his career to subverting the very same traditional British society which both molded him and projected him into the limelight. He has been enormously popular, in part because the British middle and upper class tend to enjoy that small moral relief which they experience through laughing at themselves. Christianity, nationalism and class have all come under Cleese’s satirical gaze while he continued to enjoy the fruits of the middle-class existence that he so tenaciously and profitably chipped away at. Now, like so many Boomers, he finds himself in the crumbling ruins of that same soppy-stern society, wishing that it would return, if only partially, and has begun a late-life declaration of war against political correctness, multiculturalism and the ‘loony left’ for which he is partly responsible.
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Monty Python  
  Members     Graham Chapman · John Cleese · Terry Gilliam · Eric Idle · Terry Jones · Michael Palin  
  Supporting cast     Carol Cleveland · Neil Innes  
  Television series     Flying Circus  (1969–1974) · Fliegender Zirkus  (1972) · Personal Best  (2006)  
  Filmography     And Now for Something Completely Different  (1971) · Holy Grail  (1975) · Life of Brian  (1979) · Live at the Hollywood Bowl  (1982) · The Meaning of Life  (1983)  
  Music     Monty Python albums  
  Specials     Parrot Sketch Not Included  (1989) · Live at Aspen  (1998) · Python Night  (1999)  
  Documentaries     The Seventh Python  (2008) · Almost the Truth (Lawyers Cut)  (2009)  
  Stage productions     Spamalot  (opened 2005) · Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)  (premiered 2007) · An Evening Without Monty Python  (debuted 2009) · Live (mostly)  (premiered 2014)  
  Literature     Big Red Book  (1971) · Brand New Bok  (1973)  
  Video games     Flying Circus  (1990) · Complete Waste of Time  (1994) · Quest for the Holy Grail  (1996) · The Meaning of Life  (1997) · Cow Tossing  (2011)  
  Related articles     Do Not Adjust Your Set  (1967–1969) · At Last the 1948 Show  (1967) · How to Irritate People  (1968) · We Have Ways of Making You Laugh  (1968) · The Complete and Utter History  
  of Britain
 (1969) · Rutland Weekend Television  (1975–1976) · Ripping Yarns  (1979) · Holy Flying Circus  (2011) · A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's  
  Graham Chapman