If you ask most Americans what they know about the British Broadcasting Corporation, they’ll probably come up with three things: Doctor Who, boring news about countries we don’t care about, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Or, more likely, just the latter. Monty Python has transcended all barriers of class and culture, and even us lowly colonials enjoy it.* Millions of Americans won’t think you’re a lunatic if you randomly start shouting, “Ni! Ni!” They know that after a large meal, the last thing you want is a “waaaahfer-thin mint.” They can tell you the proper response if a guy dances up to you and starts slapping you in the face with tiny fish. America has been Pythonized.
Well, okay, maybe not millions of Americans. Thousands, at least. Somebody’s gotta be buying all those tickets to Spamalot.
Or at least that’s how things used to be. Now it’s 2018, so Monty Python stinks because they’re all middle-class white males and most of them aren’t LGBTQRSTUV.
A fellow named Shane Allen works for the BBC in the capacity of “Controller, Comedy Commissioning, Television.” Which sounds like a job title right out of a Python sketch. Recently, Allen explained the Beeb’s new diversity push, insisting that Monty Python is a thing of the past: “If you’re going to assemble a team now it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes. It’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world.”
He expanded on this in the pages of the BBC Blog:
I wanted to emphasise that BBC Comedy is striving to represent the contemporary world with more diversity and new voices than ever. However it seems that point has been mistranslated as; ‘no more funny white Oxbridge blokes, the new Monty Python wouldn’t get a look in’, as if I’m actively sacrificing funny being the priority to merely tick some boxes. I fart in that general direction…
Undeniably, the TV industry as a whole needs to redress the balance of who is portrayed on-screen as well as the creative talent off-screen making comedy; but, this should be seen as a good thing. I want the next generation of comedy giants to watch our content and think that not only is BBC comedy for them, but it’s a potential career avenue. Not to discount comedy as something not for them because they don’t feel represented or connected to it.
In principle, there’s nothing wrong with diversity, or representation, or whatever we’re calling it this week. It’s not a bad idea, in and of itself. But if you’re one of the guys who’s being held up as an example of What Not to Do Anymore, and your accuser is the very network you put on the map, you might resent it.
John Cleese sure did:
BBC's Head of Comedy puts Monty Python's lack of originality down to a surfeit of education and racist bias
Unfair ! We were remarkably diverse FOR OUR TIME
We had three grammar-school boys, one a poof, and Gilliam, though not actually black, was a Yank. And NO slave-owners
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 20, 2018
And Terry Gilliam was even more blunt:
“It made me cry: the idea that … no longer six white Oxbridge men can make a comedy show,” he said. “Now we need one of this, one of that, everybody represented… this is bullshit. I no longer want to be a white male, I don’t want to be blamed for everything wrong in the world: I tell the world now I’m a black lesbian… My name is Loretta and I’m a BLT, a black lesbian in transition.”
This is bad, and “depressing,” because humor shouldn’t be used as a weapon against disenfranchised people and we have protected classes for a reason and blah blah blah.
Cleese and Gilliam didn’t do anything wrong 50 years ago, and they’re not doing anything wrong now. They make comedy that’s funny to them. Lots of people, of all backgrounds, think it’s funny too. They’re not excluding anybody. They’re not saying you can only enjoy it if you look like them. Lighten up, you purse-lipped scolds.
I’m willing to give the new stuff a fair shot, though. Here’s a sketch from Famalam, one of the new BBC shows we’re supposed to like now because it’s not a bunch of white guys:
Get it? See, because he’s black, and they’re cops. I didn’t laugh, but at least I feel guilty about my privilege. And that’s what real comedy is all about.
*Or is it we lowly colonials? I dunno, English was never my best subject.