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Desert Island Discs

John Cleese

Dermot Kavanagh/Shutterstock

The 81-year-old John Cleese will take on the topic of “cancel culture” in a forthcoming Channel 4 television series, John Cleese: Cancel Me. I’ve always thought conformity is “something to be very suspicious of”, the Monty Python star told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 1997. Humour is about “anger, lust, envy, greed”, says Cleese, who “stuck out” at 6ft by the time he was 12. It’s about “attacking something”. That’s when it’s funny. “You show me a sitcom about St Francis of Assisi and I’ll show you a bummer.”

In Life of Brian, the target was organised religion. In The Meaning of Life, Cleese wasn’t so sure: “I did not think that we put the best material in… I suggested we should just give up.” It’s just as well he didn’t get his way. He’d written a series of sketches about the Ayatollah Khomeini, “which really could not have been any more abusive and rude”. They’d probably have resulted in “a fatwa”.

One of the earliest Cleese cancellations was his family name. His father “was born Reginald Francis Cheese, but got fed up with the teasing”. Cleese Sr had a sister “called Dorothy Cheese, who lived with us”, so couldn’t quite shake it. When people said “How strange you should have someone living in your house called Dorothy Cheese”, his dad would reply: “Oh yes, extraordinary coincidence.”

🎵 Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin

🎵 The Meaning of Life, Monty Python

🎵 Cavatina, Stanley Myers

🎵 Maple Leaf Rag, Scott Joplin

🎵 Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, Wagner

🎵 Gotta Get Up, Harry Nilsson

🎵 Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto (from Cavalleria rusticana), Pietro Mascagni

🎵 What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong

📕 Stand by Your Man, Tammy Wynette

🎁 Michael Palin, stuffed

Listen to the episode here.