Rowan Atkinson savaged by fans for supporting Boris Johnson’s “Islamophobic” comments
British comedian Rowan Atkinson has been severely criticised by fans and former colleagues after coming out in support of Boris Johnson’s recent remarks on women wearing burkas, which have been described as inflammatory and “Islamophobic”.
The 63-year-old actor, known for his comedy performances in Mr Bean and Blackadder, said Johnson’s political remarks were “funny”.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – full name Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – caused outrage earlier this week after describing Muslim women wearing veils as looking like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said his comments risked “vilifying Muslim women”and described them as “inflammatory and divisive”. Boris Johnson stood by is comments, despite facing a possible investigation into breaches of the Conservative Party code of conduct.
But comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson came to the former London Mayor’s defence.
In a letter to The Times, Atkinson noted:
“As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.”
He added: “All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them. ‘You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.”
However, former colleagues and fans of the Johnny English star condemned his remarks, calling him out for failing to differentiate between comedy and political oppression.
Writer Richard Littler felt Rowan Atkinson was naive in being unable to differentiate between a comedian making jokes about religion and a politician supporting very dangerous right-wing political discourse.
“While I’ve always agreed [with] Rowan Atkinson that we should be allowed to joke about religion & be free to offend, I don’t think Boris was joking as such. His comments play into the much wider issue of accelerating populism & the tacit endorsement of far-right political discourse,” he wrote.
While I've always agreed w/ Rowan Atkinson that we should be allowed to joke about religion & be free to offend, I don't think Boris was joking as such. His comments play into the much wider issue of accelerating populism & the tacit endorsement of far-right political discourse.
— Richard Littler (@richard_littler) August 10, 2018
Twitter user Fosh added: “Boris isn’t a comedian, he wasn’t making jokes to make people laugh he was using the language of the far right and deliberately othering Muslim women because it plays to the racist Tory base.”
Public historian and author Greg Jenner, who has worked with Rowan Atkinson, stated:
“I worked with Rowan Atkinson on Horrible Histories. I wrote a song for him. I’ve never seen anyone dissect comedy with more forensic precision. He’s fastidiously meticulous about joke mechanics. But in this case he’s failed to see *why* Boris Johnson made that Burka reference.”
I worked with Rowan Atkinson on Horrible Histories. I wrote a song for him. I’ve never seen anyone dissect comedy with more forensic precision. He’s fastidiously meticulous about joke mechanics. But in this case he’s failed to see *why* Boris Johnson made that Burka reference
— Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) August 10, 2018
Radio host James O’Brien tweeted:
“Call me psychic but I have a feeling Rowan Atkinson isn’t going to be subjected to the usual ignorant right-wing insistence that wealthy ‘luvvies’ should stay out of politics…”
While disability activist Liz Coys responded:
“My view of Rowan Atkinson has completely changed. I’m disgusted that anyone would defend Boris Johnson’s comment let alone someone so high profile. Kids that love Mr Bean are watching a man they look up to defending racism. Shameful.”
Satirical journalist alter-ego Jonathan Pie – creation of comedian Tom Walker – wrote:
“I always found Blackadder to be predominantly white men childishly lampooning the history of other white men. That show would thankfully NEVER get made in these enlightened times. Thank God. And Rowan Atkinson it turns out is an Islamaphobic CUNT! Surprise Surprise. #OUTRAGE”
I always found Blackadder to be predominantly white men childishly lampooning the history of other white men. That show would thankfully NEVER get made in these enlightened times. Thank God. And Rowan Atkinson it turns out is an Islamaphobic CUNT! Surprise Surprise. #OUTRAGE
— Jonathan Pie (@JonathanPieNews) August 10, 2018
Award-winning journalist and author Hugo Rifkind commented:
“Rowan Atkinson is normally worth listening to on speech, but he seems to have missed the point with Johnson. Usually, when he defends religious jokes, he does so on the basis that they are just jokes, where humour is the aim, and thus aren’t doing precisely what Johnson was.”
Rowan Atkinson is normally worth listening to on speech, but he seems to have missed the point with Johnson. Usually, when he defends religious jokes, he does so on the basis that they are just jokes, where humour is the aim, and thus aren't doing precisely what Johnson was.
— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) August 10, 2018
S. J. Watson, author of New York Times bestseller Before I Go To Sleep, didn’t feel Rowan’s comments made sense in light of the context of the current political climate.
“Rowan Atkinson’s comments would make sense if they were referring to a joke a comedian had made. But they’re not. It’s not a politician’s job to make jokes, no matter how incompetent he is,” he wrote.
Rowan Atkinson’s comments would make sense if they were referring to a joke a comedian had made. But they’re not. It’s not a politician’s job to make jokes, no matter how incompetent he is.
— S J Watson (@SJ_Watson) August 10, 2018
The “burka” is the name commonly but mistakenly used in Britain to describe a loose garment worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women in the UK, which includes a face veil (niqab) and a long gown, known as a ‘jilbab’ or ‘abaya’.
Although the combination of clothing are frequently referred to as a “burka” or “burqa” by political and media commentators, the term actually only refers to the full-body gowns worn in parts of Afghanistan; an item of clothing rarely seen on British streets.
Rowan Atkinson has previously spent years campaigning against legislation making inciting religious hatred an offence.
The Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which became law in 2007, was repeatedly attacked by free speech campaigners prior to becoming law.
The law was designed to punish extremists who incite religious hatred – to protect faith groups, particularly Muslims, from attacks – but Atkinson described it as a ‘wholly inappropriate response’. At the time, Atkinson claimed aspects of the legislation could stifle freedom of speech.
In light of Rowan Atkinson’s latest comments, many on social media have highlighted that the comedian’s brother Rodney Atkinson stood for the leadership of UKIP, but there is no indication Rowan is a supporter of the right-wing political party, commonly associated with former leader Nigel Farage.
Hugely impressed by Rowan Atkinson’s defence of @BorisJohnson. He surely anticipated he’d be targeted by the Twitter outrage mob as a consequence, but stood up for free speech anyway. As @JohnCleese said, no one has the right not to be offended.
— Toby Young (@toadmeister) August 10, 2018
Meanwhile, Rowan Atkinson has had some support, including from former Daily Mail writer Toby Young, who earlier this year resigned from the Office for Students after misogynistic and homophobic Twitter comments attributed to him were uncovered.
What they’re saying…
Call me psychic but I have a feeling Rowan Atkinson isn't going to be subjected to the usual ignorant right-wing insistence that wealthy 'luvvies' should stay out of politics…
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) August 10, 2018
No-one thought Boris Johnson's Islamophobic comments were a joke, before Rowan Atkinson branded them one. Why? Because they weren't funny. Jokes are supposed to be funny. No-one was laughing at his bigoted, misogynistic hate-speech. Tutting, perhaps, but not laughing.
— Joss Sheldon (@JossSheldon) August 10, 2018
My view of Rowan Atkinson has completely changed. I’m disgusted that anyone would defend Boris Johnson’s comment let alone someone so high profile. Kids that love Mr Bean are watching a man they look up to defending racism. Shameful. 😡
— liz COYS 🌹♿️ #PCPEU (@simpson_liz) August 10, 2018
So 1970s-80s comic Rowan Atkinson, who secretly edited Not the Nine O'clock News to wipe out footage from the only woman involved, thinks it's perfectly acceptable that fellow entitled multi-millionaire Boris Johnson belittles, smears and encourages abuse towards Muslim women
— Will Black (@WillBlackWriter) August 10, 2018
So privately educated Rowan Atkinson (net worth £100m), whose older brother Rodney (a big pal of Norris McWhirter) narrowly lost the UKIP leadership election in 2000, has come out in support of Johnson's comments about Muslim women's dress.
Amazed to hear this. Just amazed.
— Elinor Elliot #FBPE (@ElliotElinor) August 10, 2018
Rich old white guy defends other rich old white guy at the expense of the minority he just threw under a fucking bus.
When will these privileged wankers learn to think about someone other than themselves?https://t.co/tEi6EnRiX1
— Max, Spiller Of Tea 🏳️🌈 (@SpillerOfTea) August 10, 2018
So Rowan Atkinson has come out in support of BoJo the clown.
Well i ask them both to concidder this letter i spotted pic.twitter.com/KyiVQraN7P
— Steven Tuck (@Tuckleton) August 10, 2018
I've just seen a Burka wearing Muslim lady with her kids being abused outside the medical centre, youths were shoving envelopes in her face, and her kids were crying. Police had to be called. This is your doing #BorisJohnson and Rowan Atkinson thinks what you said is funny. 😡
— Amanda Fleiss (@Amanda_Fleiss) August 10, 2018
Imagine if you were regularly abused or threatened for your religion (which happens to Christians in some countries). You rely on the state to protect you. So if a comedian e.g. Rowan Atkinson, jokes about you being an inanimate object, that's less problematic, but your MP?
— Femi (@Femi_Sorry) August 10, 2018
Rowan Atkinson understands that some Tories have a problem with deep-seated racism that they try to deflect/divert from with sophistry and weasel words. So it's doubly appalling he attempts to excuse Boris Johnson and himself from accusations of racismpic.twitter.com/rcDXbt2XVQ
— LabourFanTV (@TheBirmingham6) August 10, 2018
Rowan Atkinson is cancelled. https://t.co/hjYqZPcZVW
— Limmy (@DaftLimmy) August 10, 2018
This Rowan Atkinson thing goes in line with something I've been thinking about a lot, and will probably write something on in the near future. About comedy. About what's funny. And who tells the joke. Who finds it funny. And crucially, who doesn't.
— Nikesh Shukla (@nikeshshukla) August 10, 2018
Once again, free speech is not an issue here. It is Johnson's judgement in how he exercises that freedom that is in question. If Rowan Atkinson said it, it still wouldn't be very funny, but he's not an MP and he doesn't (as far as I know) want to be Prime Minister. https://t.co/qmu7dmVYAt
— Mark Stockwell (@Mark_Stockwell) August 9, 2018
In an alternate universe Rowan Atkinson's brother Rodney, who spent the late 90s in a battle with Nigel Farage's faction for control of UKIP, won just 16 more votes in the party's leadership election, led the party into obscurity, and NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE EVER HAPPENED.
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) August 10, 2018
Rowan Atkinson is a comedian, he's entitled to his opinion about Boris but Boris Johnson is a politician and suppose to be a professional and not make jokes regarding religion.
Rowan's job is to make jokes… Boris's is not.
— Anna Dragičević🔵⚪🐻 (@hahoAnna) August 10, 2018
Unless of course, the joke is on you. It’s really not a good time to be making fun of Muslim women in this country right now, if you hasn’t noticed. It feeds the Robinson following and legitimises bullying and abuse. Very irresponsible of Rowan. Not funny! https://t.co/H2ZQiwnlTo
— Clare Reeve #JC9 🌹👩🏽👱🏻♀️👵🏼🧕🏼 (@Clare_Jennifer) August 10, 2018
Rowan Atkinson should know that satire is exposes the excesses, corruption and hypocrisy of the powerful.
A wealthy Eton educated former Bullingdon Boy turned Tory MP does not get to mock working class Muslim women.
— Matt Widdowson (@Widdox80) August 10, 2018
What the good Mr Bean fails to realise is a joke is very much predicated on context – who’s telling the joke, where is it being told & who are the intended recipients. A con MP using pejorative imagery to characterise bigoted leanings really isn’t funny. https://t.co/9UQVg4wqsi
— Anthony Anaxagorou (@Anthony1983) August 10, 2018
And today – thanks to Rowan Atkinson – it’s the left’s turn to say that comedians and actors should stay out of politics.
— Helen Dale (@_HelenDale) August 10, 2018
I really couldn't give two hoots what Rowan Atkinson thinks about anything. Blackadder finished nearly 30 years ago and Johnny English films are shit.
— Alan Antimatter (@Alan_Antimatter) August 10, 2018