The Interview

Stephen Fry on mythos, political correctness and why Britain's 'preposterous' monarchy endures

Stephen Fry has carved out a unique place in pop culture as an actor, author and activist – all of it done with a characteristic comedic flourish. Here's his take on the royals, Greek mythology and Marvel comics, political correctness, and Trump's modern America.

Actor, author and activist takes on the royals, Greek mythology, Marvel comics and Trump's America

Stephen Fry isn't shy about sharing his views and describes himself as an ornery contrarian. 'In the 16th century in Spain I would have been a heretic.' (David Donnelly/CBC)

From TV's Blackadder, to hosting QI, to treading the boards on Broadway, to his long list of movie and documentary credits, British comedian Stephen Fry has carved out a unique place in pop culture as an actor, author and activist.

And no matter what he's up to, it's done with a characteristic comedic flourish.

For the next two months Fry has taken up residence in a small town in Canada. He's drawing on his book Mythos to stage a trilogy of one-man shows at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., that explore Greek mythology.

But there's much more to Fry than his penchant for ancient thrillers.

Stephen Fry, seen here with CBC's Susan Ormiston in Toronto, is basing his plays about Greek mythology at the Shaw Festival on his book Mythos. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The National's Susan Ormiston caught up with him in Toronto to talk about the world according to Stephen Fry, from his issues with the current state of political correctness, to his views about why Britain's "preposterous" monarchy endures — and what Donald Trump's modern America could learn from it. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

  • WATCH: Susan Ormiston's interview with Stephen Fry tonight on The National on CBC television, and streamed online

Why Greek mythology beats the Marvel universe

In his book Mythos and his series of one-man plays at the Shaw Festival, Fry retells some of the greatest stories from Greek mythology. 

Fry explains his fascination with these ancient tales, and delves into why modern pop culture — even things like the Marvel Comics universe — owes a lot to the storytelling of the Greeks.

"When I first heard a Greek myth when I was young, I sort of thought I already knew it in a weird way," he says. 

"There's something so perfectly familiar and right about them, and they have seeped into our language, our art, our way of thinking about everything." 

Stephen Fry explains his fascination with Greek mythology, and why the Marvel Comics universe owes a great deal to the storytelling of the Greeks. 2:50

Problems with political correctness

Fry was in Toronto on Friday for the Spring 2018 Munk Debate at Roy Thomson Hall, paired up with controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson in a debate over the state of political correctness.

Prior to the debate, Fry discussed his views on political correctness with Ormiston.

He says political correctness has evolved to a point where it's no longer achieving the goals of the people who passionately promote it.

"If you want to advance the causes that I would like to advance, in terms of inclusion and diversity and equality for everyone ... the wrong way to do it is to alienate those who are a little bit on the edge and aren't quite sure, by telling them they're speaking wrong, they're using the wrong language, they can't talk like that."

Stephen Fry explains why he's so put out by the current state of political correctness. "If you want to advance the causes that I would like to advance in terms of inclusion and diversity and equality for everyone ... the wrong way to do it is to alienate those who are a little bit on the edge and aren't quite sure." 3:21

America, Trump and the rise of nationalism

Fry is an outspoken critic of the U.S. president and his government's policies. But he argues that the support that propelled Trump to the White House is largely a result of the behaviour of the very people who most vehemently oppose him and his world view.

"I don't see the rise of Trump or the rise of Brexit in Britain and various other nativist movements in Europe, I don't see them as a triumph of the right. I see them as a failure of the left."

Fry adds that Trump is, "like a Dr. Seuss character ... the more you say his name the bigger he gets. All you have to do to defeat him is never mention his name."

Stephen Fry talks about Donald Trump, clickbait, Dr. Seuss, and why nationalistic movements are not "a triumph of the right" but rather "a failure of the left." 2:39

Why Britain's 'preposterous' monarchy endures

The British monarchy is a "preposterous" concept, according to Fry, but he makes the case that it continues to survive because it plays a useful role to "keep the politicians in place." 

"I'm an empiricist — in other words, not a rationalist. I think if it works, it's very foolish to get rid of it even if it's unreasonable."

He adds that countries like the U.S. could benefit from a similar arrangement, to temper the ambitions of elected politicians. 

Stephen Fry offers his perspective on how the 'unreasonable' concept of a monarchy manages to survive in modern Britain, and why countries like the U.S. might benefit from a similar idea to 'keep the politicians in place.' 3:05

  • WATCH: Susan Ormiston's interview with Stephen Fry tonight on The National on CBC television, and streamed online

Corrections

  • When this story was originally published, Stephen Fry was mistakenly quoted saying he was an "imperialist." The word he actually used was "empiricist."
    May 20, 2018 10:05 PM ET