For most people, being good at physical comedy means being able to fall down well, do a silly walk, or pull a weird face. But anyone well-versed in the work of British comedian Rowan Atkinson knows that it takes a whole lot more. The latest Nerdwriter video re-examines Atkinson’s storied career, from his internationally famous, nearly silent character Mr. Bean to his quintessentially British stage performances. As it turns out, the thing that separates Atkinson from others of his ilk is his ability to perfectly communicate the attitude of his characters.
While the easiest places to see Atkinson do his thing are in the widely released Mr. Bean features or his cameos in films like Love, Actually and Rat Race, the depth of his physical comedy really shines when the production value is lowered. Using clips from Atkinson’s live performances, Nerdwriter shows how, while the jokes he’s saying are funny, the pitch-perfect attitude of the character is really what makes the piece work. This attitude can be expressed in something as simple as a casual gesture or nervous facial twitch, but it tells you everything you need to know about who that character is.
“Generally, the things that make me laugh are characters. It’s people who, kind of, present a sort of truth to you … and you think, ‘I know that situation. I’ve been there or I’ve seen someone like that on the train,’” Atkinson said of his own comedic preferences. It makes sense then that the actor has committed so much time and effort to physicalizing hyper-specific things that people do and then exaggerated them or underplaying them for comedic effect. It’s what makes him, as the video title suggests, the master of physical comedy.