Judge Mike Rubino is learning that there is more to British comedy than chase scenes and cross-dressing.
A rare live performance from the man who was a Bean.
Rowan Atkinson has a prestigious reputation in the world of comedy. You may know him as the iconic Mr. Bean or from the British television series The Black Adder. Or maybe you just really like Johnny English. Now see him like never before: doing monologues and sketches—that you may have seen before! It's a hilarious look back at a one-man show (of sorts) with everyone's favorite Brit.
Facts of the Case
Taped back in 1991 at Boston University, this A&E video presents a side of Rowan Atkinson that may not be familiar to most Americans. The performance features sketches and monologues taken from Atkinson's one-man shows first performed back in '81 and '86.
The sketches and routines run the gamut of comedy, giving the audience every sort of humor possible, short of stupid pet tricks. Atkinson performs alongside "straight man" Angus Deayton (Nighty Night), who often plays the role of narrator, instructor, or concerned churchgoer. The show features a number of original routines, along with some sketches that appeared in the original Mr. Bean television series.
Atkinson shows off his slapstick chops with classic sketches like "It Started With a Sneeze," where he plays a church parishioner who just can't seem to get through a church service; but he also exhibits his intellectual and satirical side, giving monologues as Satan (you can call him "Toby") and as a school teacher who is doing role call for students with terribly dirty names. The show isn't lacking in variety, and proves that Atkinson is more than just Mr. Bean.
This DVD release also features three bonus sketches from the performance: "Elementary Dating," "Guys After the Game," and "Tom, Dick, and Harry."
Rowan Atkinson Live offers a look back at a rare performance of a great British comedian. Atkinson shows that he is extremely versatile in his humor, and is also a very intelligent, thoughtful comedian. His performance is so varied that it's hard to imagine finding someone who can't laugh at something on this DVD. While the video quality may be showing its age here, Atkinson's brand of humor is certainly proving to be timeless.
Throughout this 55-minute performance, the viewer is treated to a wide range of topics (all ripe for comedy, of course). Atkinson seems to focus mostly on religion, playing the role of a priest three times, and also playing Satan and a parishioner. Yet all the while, he isn't offensive or cynical with his humor. I would normally chalk this up to the fact that he has a British accent and therefore always seems polite, but that would be robbing him of much due credit. Atkinson is thoughtful and layered in his humor. As Satan (er, Toby), he hams up the role of organizer, putting every group of hell-goers in their place. In "And Now, From Nazareth, the Amazing…," he plays a priest reading tales of Jesus's magical acts from The Bible, including when the servants went "bananas" for his water-into-wine trick.
For those who are used to him as the silent Mr. Bean, his slapstick humor is present in this performance, and still fantastic. In "Invisible Man," he plays a commuter on a train who is being hounded and manipulated by an invisible man. The most impressive miming he does in the entire DVD, however, is "A Final Bash," where he plays an entire imaginary drum set. Atkinson is able to establish imaginary objects and space within his performances, and accurately interacts with everything as if it's really there.
The performance featured on the DVD is consistently hilarious from beginning to end. While I enjoyed some skits more than others, none of them fails outright. The disc does contain three bonus sketches that are better left out of the main feature. "Elementary Dating" is pretty funny, but the other two come up a little flat.
Rowan Atkinson Live was taped back in 1991, and it really shows on this disc. A&E presents the footage exactly how it was, therefore popping in this DVD is a lot like watching a VHS tape from over a decade ago. The color is washed out, the picture is at times very fuzzy (especially the intertitles), and there isn't a true black anywhere. It's okay that the show is presented in full-frame, as it was back in '91, but A&E really should have tried to touch this up some. Atkinson does use a lot of colorful sets, and the show runs with a Mondrian theme that looks quite nice…except that the colors often bleed together, or appear too fuzzy and blurry at the edges. It doesn't ruin the performance, but they could have done more to clean it up.
The sound quality fares a little better. At times, the performance can sound a little muffled. Again, this goes back to the original recording of the performance. It's presented on DVD with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and really isn't anything to write home about. Atkinson does use a lot of classical music in his show, and it comes through all right. If you can't understand what Rowan is saying, it's probably because he's using British slang, and not because of the disc's sound.
As I've mentioned, the big special feature on the disc is the three extra skits. They are pretty funny, but definitely not as good as the stuff that made the cut. Also included on the disc is a biography and filmography of Rowan Atkinson. It's just text to read through, but provides some background in case you don't know who the heck he is.
The disc's packaging is adequate, if a little misleading. The phrase "stand-up comedy" is used a number of times on the packaging, and I have to wonder why. He doesn't really do "stand-up." Sure, he's standing when he delivers his monologues, but really I think this is more of a ploy to better market this show to Americans. If you pick this up expecting to see Rowan Atkinson ask, "What's the deal with waiting rooms?," you'll be sorely disappointed. The packaging is also missing any sort of picture from the performance. It has his iconic, droopy eyes on the front in a portrait of the top half of his head, but otherwise you have no idea what's happening in this show. There are some really photographic moments in the performance that would have made a great picture on the back (rather than all that copy explaining what this is).
It's pretty obvious that I think Rowan Atkinson is hilarious. He is a man of many talents, and they are all showcased in this live performance. The best part about this disc is that you don't need to know anything about him going in to it. It's all funny at face value, which is important. Sure the video and sound aren't the best, but people won't be watching this to inspect every frame for quality…they'll be watching it to laugh. It does that just fine.
Guilty of being funny as hell! Sorry, Toby.
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Scales of Justice
• Bonus Sketches: "Elementary Dating," "Guys After the Game," and "Tom, Dick, and Harry."
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