Rowan Atkinson slams cancel culture as he says the job of comedy is to offend

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Rowan Atkinson, 67, has slammed cancel culture, insisting “the job of comedy is to offend” and warning that we cannot let that change. He said every joke has a “victim”, and refuted the idea that it should always be powerful people. 

“It does seem to me that the job of comedy is to offend, or have the potential to offend, and it cannot be drained of that potential,” said Rowan. 

“Every joke has a victim. That’s the definition of a joke. Someone or something or an idea is made to look ridiculous.”

“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful about saying what you’re allowed to make jokes about,” he added to the Irish Times. 

“You’ve always got to kick up? Really? What if there’s someone extremely smug, arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied, who happens to be below in society? They’re not all in houses of parliament or in monarchies.”

Blackadder star Rowan has made his thoughts known on cancel culture before.

In January, he compared “woke” snowflakes to a “medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn”.

Rowan admitted that one of the main concerns is that social media sites run off a basic “algorithm” that decides “what it wants” users to see.

He said it can create a “simplistic, binary view” of what the world is like, and makes those interacting feel as if they should comply with certain viewpoints, or be “cancelled”.

“It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn,” he said.

“So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future,” he added to the Radio Times.

However, he agreed some people, such as Harvey Weinstein, should be cancelled, adding: “Love it, great.” 

Last year , Rowan joined forces with 20 other arts and media personalities to challenge the proposals put forward by the SNP’s Humza Yousaf for new hate crime laws to be introduced.

He signed a letter alongside actress Elaine C Smith and writers Chris Brookmyre and Val McDermid against the SNP’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill.

The group has concerns about its impact in relation to “stirring up hatred”, which could see those who express divisive views spend up to seven years in prison.

In 2005, the actor also led a successful campaign against Westminster legislation that could have made insulting language a criminal offence.

He joined Nicholas Hytner, Stephen Fry, and Ian McEwan in asking for a review of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in the UK, which they felt would give overwhelming power to religious groups to impose censorship on the arts. 

Rowan is currently starring in Netflix’s Man vs Bee, a comedy in which he plays a man called Trevor who finds his nemesis in a bee while house-sitting. 

Comparing Trevor to Mr Bean, one of his most famous characters, Rowan told Deadline: “Trevor is different.

“He is a much nicer and much sweeter and more normal person, I hope — and that was certainly our aim…he seems like a sweet, well-intentioned, perfectly intelligent man, but, of course, he’s got fault lines, his weak spots, and his weak spot is his obsessiveness.”

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