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?
I Love to Laugh
“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”
“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”
“How can you say that? You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”
“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”
“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor. She lectured me about being more studious. But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh. It was all worth it. And the teacher was right. I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing. But I remember that laugh. It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”
“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like. I listened to the words. Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him. He didn’t seem to listen to them. Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening? In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom. Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to. I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”
“Laughing is a way of showing understanding. Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good. Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul. So, I want to laugh more. I need to laugh more. I love to laugh.”
Filed under autobiography, comedians, commentary, goofiness, goofy thoughts, humor, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom
Tagged as Ed Wynn, Groucho Marx, Moe Howard