Meeting John Cleese While Naked
My interview with the comedic legend premieres Sunday night on GB News
I had the surreal experience of being invited by my lifelong idol, John Cleese, for an interview about my (then) forthcoming book, “The Canceling of the American Mind” (co-authored by the incomparable Rikki Schlott). Of course I agreed immediately and aggressively because, my god, who could be more important than the genius John Cleese?
Keep in mind my mom is British and I spent a lot of time over there, so an invitation from Cleese was somewhere on par with an invite by Queen Elizabeth — if she had also been a member of Monty Python. And, yes, I was that annoying kid who could recite “The Holy Grail” from memory and, yes, I did use the Galaxy Song from “The Meaning of Life” to calculate what warp drive nine must be.
So I made a point to fly across the Atlantic, zipping up from Heathrow, and staying one night in the middle of nowhere Britain in order to be interviewed by Cleese in what looked to me like a castle, but what I was assured was actually a “keep,” which means a smaller protective outer-castle. After all, you wouldn’t want to just leave your castle there unprotected where someone could just silly-walk off with it.
I arrived pretty exhausted and took a shower. Suddenly, there’s a knock on my door. I answered in a towel to find John Cleese staring back at me.
This was the moment I’d been waiting for — I just didn’t know I’d be naked when it happened. I had been practicing a line in my head: “I’m so honored to meet one of the funniest men who’s ever lived, and the reason I can only say ‘one of the funniest’ is because of that damned Oscar Wilde.” But he beat me to an opening, quickly saying, “I’m such a fan!” He apparently loved “Coddling” and is a big supporter of my and FIRE’s work in general, which led, of course, to my inability to speak coherently. The best I could do was mutter something to the effect of “wububwublum,” unintentionally doing my best impression of an Upper Class Twit of the Year contestant. As soon as I tried to compliment him he said, in that quintessentially British, self-deprecating manner, “no, no, shut up, shut up.”
Later on at dinner, when I did manage to get the line out, I actually got a laugh from John Cleese. My life was complete, and my interview with him was absolutely delightful. He is a truly lovely, warm, brilliant, and, of course, incredibly funny man.
NOTE: The data I cite in the interview was based on what we knew before we finished our review of campus cancelations in mid-July of 2023. The current data is actually shows that over 1000 professors have been targeted for sanction since 2014, 1 in 6 professors say they’ve been disciplined or threatened with discipline for their speech, 1 in 3 say they’ve been pressured by their colleagues to avoid controversial subjects, and 91% say they are at least “somewhat likely” to self-censor in at least one of the four settings we asked about—which is flatly unparalleled.
The interview between me and John Cleese will premiere live on GB News this Sunday at 4pm ET (9pm GMT) and you can tune in on the Youtube livestream. Here are some pictures from this experience — which I still can’t fully believe actually happened: