Professor Kerry Soper highlights comedy’s earliest stars and how their on-screen personas became famous without even saying a word.
Across a majority of genres, protagonists are most sympathetic when the audience identifies with them. As such, protagonists are often everymen who, with a certain amount of charm and wit, are able to overcome the obstacles before them. We like these characters because we can put ourselves in their place; for a moment our ordinary existence seems like it might be the perfect solution to an extraordinary or fantastic problem. It may not seem as though at first glance, but this trend is apparent throughout the history of slapstick comedy. In his recent lecture to BYU’s International Cinema, professor Kerry Soper described how three of early comedy’s biggest stars utilized the idea of the everyman and made themselves into the endearing underdogs that launched cinema to new heights.
Gabriel-Maximilien Leuvielle, also known by the character name of Max Linder, was one of film’s first international stars. As an actor, screenwriter, and director, Leuvielle’s silent films made heavy use of sight gags and slapstick that took advantage of an audience’s limited point of view. His work achieved some degree of fame, but it never quite caught on in Hollywood. Soper explained that this may have been the result of Linder’s comic persona. Max was a wealthy man of leisure; his slapstick often critiqued rigid social norms, but he was still too out of touch with the common man. This characterization may have led to a few laughs, but it also created a barrier between the character and American audiences, thus limiting Linder’s popularity.