“Monty Python” star John Cleese confounded fellow comedians when he claimed that the British people should get reparations for slavery they endured at the beginning of civilization.
Fellow comedians Dulcé Sloan, Jim Gaffigan, and Ricky Velez joined the “Shrek” star for a Friday night panel at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Sloan, a “Daily Show” correspondent and Black comedian, made a colonization joke, and Cleese, 82, who is British, got testy and pointed out that people “forget the British Empire was the basic political unit of organization for 6,000 years — the British didn’t start [colonizing].”
“We know, but ya’ll did it so well!” Sloan replied to laughs from the crowd. “It’s the reason I’m here! I’m not supposed to be here!”
“We gave you free passage, too,” Cleese said to the groaning audience.
Britain did in fact begin colonizing overseas in the 16th century including colonies in North America, India, Australia, and parts of Africa. The empire was heavily involved in Transatlantic slave trade from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Cleese suddenly turned serious and gave an awkward account of his county’s past.
“History is a history of crime,” he continued. “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?”
“The Dutch are the problem,” Sloan joked. He attempted to get off the topic, but Cleese dug his heels in.
“My people were slaves too, you know,” he pressed on. “[People] get competitive about this business of being oppressed. We were oppressed, the English, by the Romans for 400 [years], from about 0 to 400.”
“You’re really going back,” Pasternack noted.
“This is getting so uncomfortable,” Velez added. “[Is this the new] Dave Chappelle special?”
“I don’t want to have a struggle competition,” Sloan remarked, but Cleese clearly did.
“I want reparations from Italy,” he said to the shocked crowd. “… and then the Normans came over in 1066 … they were horrible people from France, and they came and colonized us for 30 years — we need reparations there too, I’m afraid.”
Sloan put a halt to the conversation when he snatched Cleese’s microphone. “And now you saved the colonizer,” Pasternack snarked.
“I saved a comic whose career I respect,” Sloan corrected.