Rowan Atkinson Says Comedy's Job Is To 'Offend' People

Sarah Kester
owan Atkinson arrives for the special screening of "Johnny English Strikes Again" at AMC Lincoln Square in New York on October 23, 2018.
Getty | ANGELA WEISS

When it comes to comedy, there’s no one better to trust than Rowan Atkinson.

The legendary actor played the iconic comedy role of Mr. Bean for over 30 years, including in two feature films, Bean and Mr. Bean's Holiday.

So, of course, all ears were open when he shared that comedy’s job is to offend people. 

Comedy has done a very good job of offending people over the years. 

In 2020, Tom hanks and other celebs got angry at Ricky Gervais's celebrity roasts at the Golden Globes.

Most recently, Chris Rock was slapped across the face at the Oscars for making a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s bald head.

Dave Chapelle, in particular, has many stories of his comedy toeing the line between funny and offensive. 

Dave Chapelle with a friend
instagram | Dave Chapelle

There was a heavy backlash from LGBTQ and trans activists.

Dave Chapelle saying "that was crazy"
Giphy | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

They took to social media to call on Netflix to remove Dave’s specials from their services. Netflix chose to stand by Dave instead, with Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos' saying that they will leave it up regardless of how much criticism they get.  

With cancel culture becoming so rampant in this modern age, it makes sense that comedians would censor some of their jokes. 

But one person who is firmly against this is Rowan Atkinson. In the past, he has slammed cancel culture, comparing it to a “medieval mob.”

“The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society," he said.

mr bean waving
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"It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled.’

“It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn,” Atkinson continued.

Roman Atkinson
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“So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future."

In a new interview with 'Irish Times,' while promoting his new movie, “Man vs Bee,” the actor took a stand against cancel culture. 

“It does seem to me that the job of comedy is to offend, or have the potential to offend, and it cannot be drained of that potential,” Atkinson said. 

“Every joke has a victim. That’s the definition of a joke. Someone or something or an idea is made to look ridiculous.”

Roman Atkinson joking around
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When asked whether comedy should only be aimed at public figures and people in authority, he disagreed. 

“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful about saying what you’re allowed to make jokes about. You’ve always got to kick up? Really?” He explained. 

“What if there’s someone extremely smug, arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied, who happens to be below in society?” he continued. 

“They’re not all in houses of parliament or in monarchies.”

Mr. Bean looking upset
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He believes that there should be no restrictions on comedy in a truly “free” society. “There are lots of extremely smug and self-satisfied people in what would be deemed lower down in society."

"Who also deserve to be pulled up,” he added. 

“In a proper free society, you should be allowed to make jokes about absolutely anything.”

We're not sure everyone would agree, but he certainly gives people something to think about!

For more of Rowan’s interview, read it here.