John Cleese's Quotes

1 [on Theresa May ] Margaret Thatcher with a sense of humour.
2 I'm more relaxed now but if I look at the world, I don't think it's ever been in a worse situation. I look at what's going on and there isn't much to be cheerful about. I look at Trump [ Donald J. Trump ], and I see a narcissist, with no attention span, who doesn't have clear ideas about anything and makes it all up as he goes along.
3 If I thought there was any chance of major reform in the EU, I'd vote to stay in. But there isn't. Sad.
4 [on how to reform the European Union] Give up the Euro, introduce accountability, and hang Jean-Claude Juncker .
5 [on Rupert Murdoch , the person he said he most despises] He did irreparable damage to English culture.
6 Now most people do not want an ordinary life in which they do a job well, earn the respect of their collaborators and competitors, bring up a family and have friends. That's not enough any more, and I think that is absolutely tragic - and I'm not exaggerating - that people feel like a decent, ordinary, fun life is no longer enough.
7 [on seeing himself acting on film for the first time] I looked like a giraffe on a hovercraft.
8 [on his years of depression] Life seemed almost pointless... The feeling was a kind of deadness... And the sense of humor was an early casualty. In fact, when I began to be able to laugh at all, it began to clear.
9 [about his home town] Childhood was very low key. Extremely little happened. Weston used to have a field-hockey festival, but that was stopped, as people were becoming too excited.
10 I think we're all born with a sense of humour. Creativity is another thing . . . The thing that mainly kills creativity and humour is anxiety. You need to be able to play. I think a lot of us lose this ability.
11 Piers Morgan writes that I didn't recognize him in a restaurant in New York. I did. I just didn't want to speak to someone I truly detest.
12 [on his surprise cameo in the iconic science-fiction series Doctor Who (1963) in 1979] It was lovely to do. It just took an hour and a half, so I enjoyed it. Douglas Adams suggested to the director that we should do it.
13 I don't think that you can edit humor because it may be misunderstood by idiots.
14 Political correctness started out as a very good idea. But it got latched onto by people who hang onto a small number of truths. In my stand-up , I'll make jokes about Germans, Canadians, the English and the French - which Americans particularly enjoy. And then I say, 'There's this Mexican joke'. And the place freezes. Why is everyone uncomfortable? Is that because Mexicans need particular protection? Are they not capable of looking after themselves?
15 The sad thing about comedy is that if you spend fifty years doing it, you do finish up knowing most of the jokes. And if you don't know the exact joke, you know something pretty close to it. There isn't the sense of discovery that you got when you were younger.
16 [on a knighthood] I'll only have one if Python get one. We always thought it would be nice to actually have Sir Monty Python but not actually have knighthoods ourselves.
17 The thing about shock is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation, as we realized in that instant that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.
18 [improvising during the Parrot Sketch for Monty Python's "One down, five to go" at the O2] I'm rather worried about David Beckham . You see him around all the time, but he never talks.
19 [on the Daniel Craig Bond films] I did two James Bond movies and then I believe that they decided that the tone they needed was that of the Bourne action movies, which are very gritty and humorless. Also, the big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that's why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it's a fundamental flaw. The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humor or the class jokes.
20 The thing you have to remember about critics is that they can't do it themselves.
21 I don't know what's going on in London because London is no longer an English city. That's how they got the Olympics, they said "We're the most cosmopolitan city in the world". But it doesn't feel English. I had a Californian friend come over two months ago, walked down the King's Road and said to me "Where are all the English people?" I mean, I love having different cultures around but when the parent culture kind of dissipates, you're left thinking "What's going on?"
22 Movie executives have almost no idea what they're doing. In fact, I would say that's an incorrect statement. I would say the executives don't have ANY idea what they're doing. But they don't have any idea that they have no idea, so they're blundering around. They're trying to control everything without having a clue what's really going on. And that's very sad because if somebody put me in charge of BBC comedy, I could resurrect it in six months. At the moment, the people there are just very poor.
23 [on the BBC in 2013] The people who became executives [in the Sixties and Seventies] had produced or directed a great deal of comedy. Now there seems to be an executive class and they have never written and never directed.
24 [on Fawlty Towers (1975)] There is a famous note which I have a copy of, I think it's framed. What happened was, Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert ( James Gilbert ). And first of all the fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote it fairly accurately, 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster'. And Jimmy himself said 'You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can't do the whole thing in the hotel'. Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.
25 [on British television] I don't think the writers work as hard as they used to, and I think they may lack experience because I don't think the writing is as good as it used to be. But I do proudly say that in the 60s, 70s and 80s we did have the least bad television in the world, and that's quite a claim. I think the main problem now is it's run on the basis of money.
26 [on why he has to avoid living in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics] I'm in a very strange situation. Because of the tax situation in the UK and because I have to pay this enormous alimony every year of one million dollars, I discovered that if I live in London, which I was intending to do, I have to make two million dollars before I keep a penny. That's quite a lot. So I'm not going to be living in London. The result of that for at least a year, I'm hardly allowed to go back there at all.
27 Someone telephonically knowledgeable and I had a bit of an argument about that. He said that telephone booths didn't work because they were vandalized. I said they were vandalized because they didn't work.
28 in Penelope Gilliatt, _To Wit: Skin and Bones of Comedy_, 1990] It's the people who try desperately to put a measured surface over secret anger seething away underneath who give you the sense of most violence.
29 Although my inclinations are slightly left-of-center, I was terribly disappointed with the last Labour government. Gordon Brown lacked emotional intelligence and was never a leader.
30 Some people ask me to do ads and I think, I don't really want to sell potato crisps.
31 I was asked to do a reality show a few months ago. I forget which one it was, it might have been the jungle one or perhaps Celebrity Root Canal. I just laughed, then asked how much they were offering out of curiosity. It was £200,000, but I would never agree to one of those shows. That would mean the collapse of western civilization. There is always a filter when it comes to accepting work. I call it the EQ - the embarrassment quota. I will only do embarrassing things if there is a lot of money involved and people won't really know about it.
32 [on British television] When I was growing up, we had the best television in the world. Now it's as bad as it is everywhere else, and I don't particularly want to participate in that. I don't really watch TV these days, except live sport. There's nothing much that appeals to me and I would rather read a book.
33 The divorce settlement absolutely affects every decision I make professionally. I have to earn $1 million a year before I even get to keep a penny and I have to build my professional choices around that fact. It annoys me that in my seventies I am having to live in a way I don't choose to live. Imagine how much I'd have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship - such as children or a conversation.
34 If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.
35 I always felt attracted by Austrian and German culture in a certain way. I've always liked Vienna. I never saw so much theatre and music and so many museums anywhere else. I like the city's velocity and the food. It doesn't have the tackiness of other big cities. I considered renting a small flat in Switzerland. I love being in Lyon, Strasbourg, Munich and Milan in four hours from there.
36 England changed much more than I did. We used to have some sort of middle class culture with an adequate amount of respect for education. It was a bit racist - not in a mean way though, but still racist. Some things have changed for the better. But it's not a middle class culture anymore, but a yob culture, a rowdy culture.
37 I don't miss London much. I find it crowded, vast and difficult to get around. Cabs are incredibly expensive.
38 I think that money spoils most things, once it becomes the primary motivating force.
39 Most of the bad taste I've been accused of has been generic bad taste; it's been making fun of an idea as opposed to a person. Oddly enough, the one or two jokes I really regret on Python are the more personal ones. We did have this thing about David Hemmings ... something about him being played by a piece of wood. At the end there was a voice-over saying: " David Hemmings appeared by permission of the Forestry Commission." Afterwards, I felt just a little bit guilty.
40 In the early days of my career, I'd have these moments of utter delight: at the age of 21, I discovered Buster Keaton ; at 24 it was Harold Lloyd ; then W.C. Fields . Just occasionally, one discovers someone new for oneself. I thought Bill Hicks was a genius, Eddie Izzard too. I don't want to be mean but there are several highly regarded shows around right now - and I'm not talking about Ricky Gervais , because I think he's excellent - that I don't much care for. So basically I keep my mouth shut. At this stage of my life I have to accept that I'm not likely to come across anything as startlingly good as Buster Keaton .
41 I think that phone call was astoundingly tasteless. Apparently Russell Brand had actually slept with the girl, who works in a slightly raunchy club. Oh yes, a burlesque club. Anyway ... I can't imagine why they would ring Andrew ( Andrew Sachs ) up. It was, as I say, very tasteless. I thought that was extraordinary, especially as I've met Jonathan Ross and liked him; it's very hard to see why he would have done it.
42 Why anyone who has not committed a punishable offense would listen to country and western music is beyond me.
43 [on making commercials to support himself and then-wife Connie Booth while writing Fawlty Towers (1975)] I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible. Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn't make a lot of money out of it. If it hadn't been for the commercials I wouldn't have been able to afford to spend so much time on the script.
44 [on BBC presenter Jonathan Ross 's obscene phone calls to his Fawlty Towers (1975) co-star Andrew Sachs in 2008] I'm uneasy about censorship so I think that it's important to hire people who have good enough taste to censor themselves. I've always thought that Jonathan Ross would have fallen into this category.
45 When I got divorced from Connie Booth , with whom I had dinner on Sunday, and when I got divorced from Barbara Trentham , I didn't need lawyers on either occasion, because I just sort of said, 'Why don't I give you this?' And they said, 'That's very fair, very generous. Thank you.' End of story. This woman [ Alyce Faye Eichelberger ] now was asking my old St John's Wood accountants for 60 boxes of documents, so many documents that they had to send people out from California to go through them.
46 We broke up in the marital therapist's office. We'd been seeing them for a couple of years. And we agreed to break up and three weeks later I heard about the lawyer that she was using and I rang her up and said, 'Do you know this lawyer's reputation?' And she said, 'I hear that yours can be pretty nasty, too.' And I said, 'OK, here's an offer. You get rid of yours. I'll get rid of mine. I'll appoint someone you're comfortable with, you appoint someone I'm comfortable with and it could be fairly easy.' And she said, 'No, I'm not interested. I would like to stay with the present situation.'
47 [on his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger ]: I feel angry sometimes. But my anger is not so much about sharing the property but having to go on working hard to provide alimony for someone who's already going to have at least $10 million worth of property, and who's getting £1 million this year. At some point you say, 'Well, what did I do wrong? You know, I was the breadwinner.' The system is insane.
48 It's very important for me that my friends have a sense of humour. To me it's the kind of touchstone of communication. Alyce Faye Eichelberger 's sense of humour was not very European, because she was from Oklahoma and I used to joke that the Oklahoma Sense of Irony is one of the world's short books.
49 [on his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger ] This is the happiest I have ever been and I feel that at 68 now I want as many years as I can get.
50 I had a very, very difficult relationship with my mother, who was supremely self-centred. She was hilariously self-centred. She did not really take interest in anything that didn't immediately affect her."
51 I don't want to have to start being unselfish again. The great thing about being on your own is you do what you damn well like.
52 I think marriage should be like dog licences. I think you should have to renew marriage licences every five years, unless you have children. And I think before you have children you should have to go and pass various tests and get a licence to have a child. Because it's the most transformative and difficult thing of your life. Far more important [than work]. People don't understand this, and some people who are highly motivated by work, but when I worked I was always motivated, funnily enough, by the fear of being bad. Because it is so humiliating to make a joke and have no one laugh.
53 When (third wife) Alyce Faye Eichelberger had her hip replacement I realised that there was a chance for a little humour and I sent a bunch of flowers to her lawyer's office saying, 'Would you please inspect these flowers and see whether they are acceptable and would you please vet the greetings card that comes with these and see whether that is also legitimate. And if you are satisfied that both of them are not harmful, would you be good enough to send them on to my wife as soon as possible?' To which the lawyer replied: 'As the trade papers say, he's not as funny as he was.' The sort of leaden, nasty - what's the word? - black-hearted response to a little conceit.
54 Filming is like a long air journey: there's so much hanging around and boredom that they keep giving you food.
55 [from the eulogy he gave at Graham Chapman 's memorial service] And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, a man of such capability and kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now, so suddenly, be spirited away at the age of only 48, before he'd achieved many of the things which he was capable and before he'd enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say "Nonsense!" Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries.
56 When people say "I'm not a prude, but..." what they mean is "I am a prude, and..."
57 I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.
58 You don't have to be the Dalai Lama to tell people that life's about change.
59 If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.
60 I don't think anyone should be educated sexually. There's far too many people on the planet. If we could hush it up for a few years, that would help.
61 My mum died about three years ago at the age of 101, and just towards the end, as she began to run out of energy, she did actually stop trying to tell me what to do most of the time.
62 When I was a child and I was upset about something, my mother was not capable of containing that emotion, of letting me be upset but reassuring me, of just being with me in a calming way. She always got in a flap, so I not only had my own baby panics, fears and terrors to deal with, but I had to cope with hers, too. Eventually I taught myself to remain calm when I was panicked, in order not to upset her. In a way, she had managed to put me in charge of her. At 18 months old, I was doing the parenting.
63 I'm probably the worst singer in Europe. I won't compete for North America.
64 [about his move from England to California] At my age, I want to wake up and see sunshine pouring in through the windows every day.
65 In Britain, girls seem to be either bright or attractive. In America, that's not the case. They're both.
66 I never enjoyed The Meaning of Life (1983). I always regarded that entire film as a bit of a cockup.
67 It's lovely that Harry Potter and the Bond movies are still shot in England - that's a great pleasure, but it's true that most of the well-paid work is in America.
68 [in 2001] You go in and meet the head of BBC One and get an assurance about not dumbing down. And then, of course a few months later, he's been replaced by someone you haven't met.
69 [in 2001] I think there's much more fear now than there used to be, much more fear of failure.
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