The 79-year-old Fawlty Towers and Monty Python actor and comedian posted a joke about a restaurant owner who claimed customers from the now destroyed Californian town of Paradise ordered ‘flambeed’ food and Cleese called this ‘magnificent.’
“Invited tonight to a Sacramento restaurant called Lucca, by the owner Erin. She said that last night several people came in to eat who were from Paradise, the place that just burned to the ground. She told me that they wanted everything they ordered flambeed. Magnificent…”
Unsurprisingly, many readers of the relayed joke are not seeing the funny side. The fires are the worst ever recorded in Californian history, have so far claimed more than 40 lives and are predicted to have killed hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of animals.
One user wrote ‘too soon’ while another wrote: “I love a bit of droll too… but not this time @JohnCleese Not so ‘magnificent’ for the people who have lost their homes, their lives …. not to mention the tragic loss of wildlife. #HaveAHeart.”
A third called it in ‘bad taste’: “Monty Python fan my entire adult life…but this was certainly in bad taste, Mr. Cleese” and yet another “Just as funny as the dozens of people who burned to death.”
Cleese seems to recognise that his joke is teetering on the line of humour and insensitivity, as he defended his joke to a user on the social media platform.
And of course many users did indeed see the funny side of the comedy veteran’s quip, with several arguing that sometimes ‘dark humour’ is needed during distressing times.
One user remarked: “My mum lived through the Blitz. And every story she told was done so with a shade of humour,” and another: “Some dark humour there!” and a third: “Humour is the best medicine!”
Cleese is no stranger to controversy. He raised eyebrows earlier this year when he said he thought Monty Python wasn’t shown on television anymore because it would put modern comedy to shame.
“It might not contrast well with some of the comedy they’re doing now, that’s the only explanation I’ve got. People might not laugh at modern comedy,” he said.