Rowan Atkinson has hit out at modern-day cancel culture and claimed a society is only free if one is at liberty to make jokes about “absolutely anything.”
The actor, 67, best known for Mr. Bean and Blackadder, made the comments in an interview with the Irish Times in which he lamented the current trajectory of comedy and free speech limitations, arguing that the whole point of comedy is that it has “the potential to offend.”
“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. Every joke has a victim,” he told the newspaper.
“There are lots of extremely smug and self-satisfied people in what would be deemed lower down in society, who also deserve to be pulled up. In a proper free society, you should be allowed to make jokes about absolutely anything,” he added.
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It isn’t the first time Atkinson has commented on the demise of comedy and the dangers of online cancel culture. In January 2021, he compared those who gang up on others on social media to how medieval mobs would hunt down and burn dissenters.
“The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society. It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘canceled,'” he said at the time.
Atkinson has long been a staunch advocate of free speech. In 2012, he spoke at a U.K. parliamentary reception where he campaigned to change Section 5 of the Public Order Act, the controversial “insults” law.
“If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue and that must include the right to insult or to offend. Because, as someone once said, the freedom to be inoffensive is no freedom at all,” he said.
More recently, Atkinson joined the backlash against the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill in 2020, fearing it would limit freedom of expression.