The actor spoke to 60 Minutes Australia for an interview where he accused “the PC people” of thinking that “if you make a joke, or tease someone, you are degrading or humiliating them”.
“This is a complete misunderstanding,” he said.
Cleese also addressed the removal of an episode of his TV series, Fawlty Towers, over the use of racial slurs.
In the episode, titled “The Germans”, which includes a notorious impersonation of Adolf Hitler, Cleese’s hotel manager character Basil Fawlty ends up in a discussion with guest Major Gowen that includes slurs about West Indies cricket team, and the use of the n-word.
“They completely missed the point,” he said. “It was a stupid decision in the first place. It was as though they thought that if you put certain words in people’s mouths, that meant it had to be true.”
He added: “Comedy’s not about perfect people. It’s about all of our imperfections and it’s not about things going right. It’s all about things going wrong.
“It’s this pathetic idea that people can’t stand up for themselves and can’t hear different opinions. It seems to me extraordinarily condescending.”
In August this year, a number of writers and academics signed an open letter against cancel culture, in which they condemned what they perceived as an “intolerant climate” for free speech.
Among the signatories were authors Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and JK Rowling.
While the letter never mentioned ‘cancel culture’ directly, it was interpreted as an attack on the recent phenomenon, often described as an extension of online shaming.