Rowan Atkinson, star of Mr. Bean and Netflix’s new series Man vs. Bee, has slammed cancel culture in a new interview with The Irish Times, claiming, “The job of comedy is to offend.”
It’s unclear what he sees as offensive about Man vs. Bee — in which a bumbling man tries to remove a malicious insect from a house full of breakable objects — or why Atkinson is so riled up at the thought of people criticizing famous comedians. But after cancel culture came up, he said, “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. Every joke has a victim. That’s the definition of a joke. Someone or something or an idea is made to look ridiculous.”
Atkinson has spent his career playing the victim of the joke, though he’s quick to defend those who mock others. When asked about whether comedians should punch down instead of up, he bristled at the idea that jokes should only be launched at the powerful.
“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful about saying what you’re allowed to make jokes about,” he said. “You’ve always got to kick up? Really? What if there’s someone extremely smug, arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied, who happens to be below in society? They’re not all in houses of parliament or in monarchies. 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. In a proper free society, you should be allowed to make jokes about absolutely anything.”
The comedian added, “Not all jokes are for everyone.”
Man vs. Bee lands on Netflix June 24th. The trailer is about as inoffensive as it gets; decide for yourself if it does “the job of comedy” below.