Comedy icon John Cleese is best known for his work on Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, as well as his many and varied film and voice roles. Now John Cleese tells us what he would change if he ruled the world.

People would sit quietly twice a day... 

Stressful things happen to us all the time; someone cuts us up in their car, someone throws a lemon at us—whatever it might be, we need time to allow things to settle, to stop being cross and process our emotions. Before the British had heard of meditation or yoga, we used to do things like go for a walk or sit on a bench and stare into the distance. Personally I like to do a jigsaw. If we paused a little more, the world might be a saner place.

 

I’d hire dolphins to teach us how to breathe and swim underwater...

Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

 

I’d get rid of all our technology...

It’s impossible to find true peace and quiet because the moment you sit down something buzzes or rings at you. There’s a phrase by Henry David Thoreau: “Technology is merely an improved means to an unimproved end.” We think it’s making our lives easier, but in fact it ends up making us anxious. If you ever go on a retreat and don’t talk for a day or so, you feel absolutely marvellous. 

 

I’d tell people, “Life’s a madhouse, nobody knows what’s going to happen so stop worrying”... 

Have you ever met a Buddhist? They know this truism, so they laugh at life instead—they’re always giggling. If the guys who spend their lives analysing the stock markets couldn’t predict the Wall Street crash, then who can say what’s going to happen? We’d be better off trying to improve the lives of a few people in some simple ways than fretting about things we’re powerless to control. When I was writing my book and thought of the time I’d spent worrying about my romantic relationships, I could see that none of it really mattered in the grand scheme of my life. 

 

I’d make everyone wear his or her underwear on the outside... 

Like the dictator stipulates in Woody Allen’s film Bananas. I can’t think of anything funnier. Plus we’d all wear more colourful ties and definitely lots of silly hats. No one could dress in black and men would have to shave properly—none of that Jack the Lad stubble that’s supposed to make blokes look tough.

 

Newspapers that make people despair would be banned... 

There are some papers that aim to scare us with their disapproving tone and their dishonest articles. They cause misery to both the object of their attention and their readers. 

 

Everyone would have three cats...

My wife Jenny and I have three, and when we get home in the evening we spend our time talking to them and laughing. If we go into another room they come in to join us within 30 seconds. They make us very happy.

 

I’d change the divorce laws...

When a couple split up, the breadwinner shouldn’t be penalised for bringing in the money. There should be some acknowledgement of their hard work. If you want to get rich in California you marry someone wealthy, give up work, get divorced and you’re set up for life. It’s completely mad. 

 

I’d ban celery...

It tastes horrible.

 

I’d encourage people to be open-minded about the afterlife...

Human experience is far more complicated than science suggests. The book Irreducible Mind by Edward F Kelly is a brilliant look at phenomena that’s almost impossible to account for in physical terms. If we’re open to the idea of an afterlife, maybe we’d start behaving a little better in this life.

 

Older people would stop pretending they know what they’re talking about...

Then the young might listen to us more.

 

Listen to John Cleese talk about life and his autobiography So, Anyway... in the Reader's Digest podcast

John’s memoir So, Anyway… is out now

Read more articles by Caroline Hutton here

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