Skip to content

Why This Is the Most Important Joke John Cleese Has Ever Heard

John Cleese was in super sarcastic form during his recent Reddit AMA.
John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, Graffiti in Lisbon, Portugal.

When Bill Maher asked John Cleese how he treats fans, his response was not exactly suited for print on this site. “Awful fawning creatures,” he started in. Maher teed him up well, saying that once you’ve reached 60 you’re allowed to be cranky in public. Cleese, 75 during this particular show, agreed.


Yet Cleese loves Americans, or at least America, his home away from the UK because, as he told The Nightly Show, his bucket list is down to one item: “Never being cold again.” On top of that the 77-year-old writer, actor, “and tall person” finds it easy to make a lot of money in the States due to how much we love Monty Python. He isn’t wrong about that.

Whether or not he loves or hates his fans, he replied with good cheer to a recent Ask Me Anything on Reddit in preparation for the 2017 Monty Python tour. Below are a few of the highlights.

John Cleese on Confirmation Bias 

Q: Hi John. I saw your recent talk in Dublin. I completely agree with what you say about confirmation bias, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. On that subject, are you aware of tools like ‘DuckDuckGo’ — an alternative to Google that explicitly does not tailor its results to what it thinks you personally are most likely to click? How do you educate yourself about view outside your ‘bubble’?

A: That is a very good joke, but the bozos reading all this won’t get it. Secondly, I don’t think you should educate yourself outside your bubble, because it would confuse marketing people.

Confirmation bias is a growing problem in the digital information age. As Daniel Levitin writes, our brain is a “giant pattern detector.” If we read something that coincides with what we already believe we’re more likely to give it credence, while the opposite is not true. Thinking critically about a topic, as Cleese suggests, also makes us terrible consumers, with companies and marketing agencies preferring to easily predict our patterns.

John Cleese on Superstition

Q: Mr. Cleese, What do you think is the most IMPORTANT joke you’ve ever written?

A: This is the most important joke I’ve ever heard. Niels Bohr, the founder of Quantum Physics, had a friend to dinner. As the friend left, he noticed a horseshoe nailed above Bohr’s front door. He said to Bohr, accusingly, “Niels, you’re a great scientist. You can’t believe in superstitions.” Bohr answered, “I don’t, but apparently it works anyway.”

As with confirmation bias, we tend to lean toward superstitions that benefit us, as this last season of Game of Thronesproved. Proof of efficacy? None needed. Otherwise they wouldn’t “work.”  And as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

John Cleese on Death 

Q: Greetings, John the Entertainer! What request would you like to have honored at your own eulogy, and by whom?

A: I would like to do my own eulogy, and then shoot myself and then get in the coffin.

George Carlin once called for an uprooting of all cemeteries (and golf courses) to make room for low-cost and homeless housing. Cleese appears to want to visit the underworld, however, perhaps as a harbinger of the next question. Though, we have to ask, maybe he could come back as a reef ball?

John Cleese on the Afterlife

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself that we may find surprising?

A: Yes. I believe there is an afterlife. But don’t ask me for details.

Think you’re coming back? You’d have to figure out who “you” are first, which is a whole other can of worms. Michael Shermer is skeptical this is possible, for three reasons.

John Cleese on Anxiety

Q: Hi Mr. Cleese, A lot of us redditors suffer from some form of depression & Anxiety. Have you ever experienced this? And if so, what did you do to see the brighter side of life?

A: Never. And I wish you wusses would stop whining about your unhappiness. I’m really fed up with it. Pour yourself a scotch and pull yourself together. Go out and shoot something!

Apparently Cleese is a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” person. Very British of him. In this instance, Americans could probably learn a lot from our cousins across the pond. Too bad Cleese didn’t recommend which Scotch, though. Further commenters noted Cleese’s own Americanness in his final sentence. For those wondering how to deal with anxiety and depression, the first thing to consider is what you’re putting into your mouth.

John Cleese on Bitcoin

Q: What is your take on Bitcoin and decentralization of financial power?

A: 10 percent.

Cleese might not have too much to say on the topic, but John McAfee does. He’s come out as a strong proponent for cryptocurrency since Jamie Dimon called it a “fraud.” After an initial drop last week Bitcoin prices are climbing, for all you crypto advocates.

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

John Cleese on The Princess Bride

Q: Is there a project you passed on that you wish you had taken, or vice versa? Thanks for all the years of entertainment!

A: There are three roles I was asked to do that I really regret not taking. The Robin Williams role in The Birdcage, the butler called Stevens in The Remains of the Day and the clergyman in charge of the marriage service at the end of The Princess Bride.

We all regret him not being The Impressive Clergyman. No disrespect to Peter Cook.

John Cleese on Monty Python

Q: Will there ever be a Python movie again?

A: Only when the others are dead. Then I will make the definitive one.

But I thought there was an afterlife? Python will never be dead, and Cleese knows it.


Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.


Up Next