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Sir Michael Palin: Stifling jokes by decree is dangerous

The ex-Python is looking back at some of his famous, globe-trotting adventures in a new BBC show.

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Michael Palin has a new show on the BBC (Ian West/PA)

Michael Palin has a new show on the BBC (Ian West/PA)

Michael Palin has a new show on the BBC (Ian West/PA)

Sir Michael Palin says comedians cannot be told that some jokes are off-limits, and stifling comedy by decree is “dangerous”.

The Monty Python star, 77, who is looking back at some of his famous, globe-trotting adventures in a new BBC show, said he objects to humour which “bullies and belittles”.

And the star, who revisits his diaries from his trips for the new programme, said people need jokes “more than ever”.

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Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime (BBC/Firecrest Films/Ryan McNamara)

Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime (BBC/Firecrest Films/Ryan McNamara)

BBC / Firecrest Films / Ryan McNamara

Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime (BBC/Firecrest Films/Ryan McNamara)

There has been much debate about the impact of offence and outrage on the jokes comedians can tell.

Sir Michael told the PA news agency: “If something is funny and makes people laugh, then I’m afraid that just happens and you can’t say, ‘It shouldn’t be funny, stop making it funny’.”

The star, who was knighted last year, said that “the laughter that Python created was from general silliness. And looking at human behaviour and saying that, ‘we’re all idiots’.”

And he said he would “utterly object to” getting “laughs from bullying and belittling people”.

But he added: “Any attempt by authority to say, ‘No, you’ve got to make sure that we’re portrayed in a serious manner’, is a dangerous thing.

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John Cleese, Eric Idle, the late Terry Jones, Sir Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam (Andy Gotts/PA)

John Cleese, Eric Idle, the late Terry Jones, Sir Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam (Andy Gotts/PA)

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John Cleese, Eric Idle, the late Terry Jones, Sir Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam (Andy Gotts/PA)

“Everybody, myself included, should be up for being laughed at or joked with.

“It is the responsibility of the writers what you choose to write about and how you choose to play it. And that I think is up to the individual writer and performer.”

Asked whether “PC culture” can have a stifling effect on comedy, he said: “I think it can do, yes.

“Anything that says, ‘well, you mustn’t talk about this particular area of life…’ that’s as wrong as saying, ‘If you’re writing a novel, you shouldn’t write a novel about this kind of life’.

“Comedy… and writing books … have to reflect the way life is. Comedy is very important, especially in times of crisis, people need laughter more than ever.

“One needs jokes, one needs laughter. But you shouldn’t stifle it by decree.

“You should stifle it if it’s bad and nasty and it’s something that you…. don’t want to do yourself, then stop doing it.”

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Sir Michael Palin is made a Knight at Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Michael Palin is made a Knight at Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

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Sir Michael Palin is made a Knight at Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

The star reads excerpts from his travel diaries from shows such as Around The World In 80 Days and Pole To Pole to tell his personal story in the new BBC production Michael Palin, Travels Of A Lifetime.

SIr Michael said he was relieved that none of the “fear” he felt when he made his first foray into travel presenting was obvious to viewers.

He was worried, at the time, about whether the show “would work, would it be a complete disaster and who was going to watch it?,” he admitted.

“Inside, I was full of anxiety and misgivings and worries… about whether I’d be up to it and all that. But looking at them I managed to sort of suppress those, mostly, on camera.

“I was pleased about that. I looked as though I was enjoying myself when in fact it was difficult!”

Michael Palin, Travels Of A Lifetime begins at 8pm on October 4 on BBC Two. 

PA