Rowan Atkinson is a genius comedian, and the character of Mr. Bean is the greatest work he has done, the best proof of his genius. As someone who works at humor and tries to get it right, I have to analyze and carefully study the work of the master. How does he do it? What does it all mean? And what can I learn from it?
Atkinson not only created the character, he co-wrote the entire television series and controls every aspect of the performance as the central character. Mr. Bean is the bumbling every-man, going through horrific troubles because of the cascade effect of simple little errors. We laugh at him because we have all been there. Tasting the hot sauce leads to a meltdown that causes chaos and disaster for the entire store. Overcoming fear of heights makes him the center of attention for the entire pool-house when can’t overcome the urge to use the diving board, and yet, can’t make himself jump off. We have all lived the nightmare of being trapped naked in the hotel hallway, locked out of our room, just when the hallway becomes crowded.
There is a certain charm to Mr. Bean. He is a childlike character, blissfully unaware of how much he doesn’t know about the complex society around him. He has a teddy bear that sleeps with him and comforts him. He lays out his supplies for the big exam, and he’s thought of practically everything he will possibly need, but basic physics fails him and makes the pencils keep rolling out of place.
Rowan Atkinson is a master of the art form because he has such tremendous control of his rubberized goofy face and manic body. He can drive his goofy little yellow car from a sofa mounted on top. He can change clothes while driving. Just watching him shave with an electric razor is a total hoot.
It is mostly physical comedy, almost slapstick, and yet it is not the broad unfeeling poke-in-the-eye you get with the Three Stooges. Most of the real damage is done to himself, though pompous and deserving people are often near enough to get a helping of it smack in the face. A lot of it is practically pantomime, with hardly any real dialogue. Much of it, like the sword fight with the bumblebee using a butter knife, is simply silly.
The movie, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, extends the character by making him actually interact with other characters, though in his own inimitable Mr. Bean way. The limited dialogue thing is amplified by the fact that he is traveling in France and does not speak French. Still, he interacts with the boy he accidentally kidnaps, the girl who wants to be a movie star whom he helps in her quest by an accident at the Cannes Film Festival, and the movie director whom he almost kills but ends up saving his career with a hit home movie.
Mr. Bean makes the ridiculous an art form by helping us to laugh at ourselves as we are beset by all the little troubles of life that Bean magically floats through.
So, now I have told you why I love Rowan Atkinson as a comedian. He is a comedic genius. Of course, you knew that already, right?