For most people a big part of comedy is visual, how the comedian looks, so that relatively normal-looking comic-actors like Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy, or for another generation, Dick Van Dyke, all start with a major drawback. They compensate by developing strong slapstick skills or wearing goofy clothes. It’s the same reason clowns wear make-up, because big shoes and red noses used to be funny to a lot of people, it’s an easy way of get getting attention. The looks signaled that this person was here to make you laugh so people would start laughing as a reflex,kind of the way some people will break down as soon as you tell them that you have bad news without waiting to find out what the bad news is.
He looked like a fish, was bug-eyed and skinny (all possibly explained by the fact that he was born and raised in West Virginia), and in the true sense of somebody who grew up in the era of Vaudeville, he used it. What I always wondered was how a guy who made a living from looking odd got laid.
Robin Williams/Jim Carrey
They are not anywhere near as goofy-looking as Knotts, but have faces that can easily be transformed into something that says “good-natured simpleton”, or “deranged simpleton” depending on the character. People like characters who are exaggeratedly dumb and clumsy, this makes them feel better, and the dumber the audience the more likely the exaggerations will be lost on them. That’s why Larry the Cable Guy is considered funny by so many.
He carefully cultivated the look that seemed mostly to be an anti-Semitic caricature, the way Jimmie Walker’s JJ character seemed to be a white racist idea of young black men.
Fat people are supposed to be jolly and good natured, I imagine that stereotype is because they are happy to have a meal to look forward to (maybe even more than one!). Skinny people like having somebody to laugh at and feel better than, and fat people like having celebrities of their own. Being fat works out the same way as clown makeup or buck teeth if you handle it right, meaning if you make yourself the clown (which Farley did aggressively) rather than force them to pity you.
Being short is right up there with being fat as comedic gold for your average audience member, that’s why people love midgets. DeVito himself is not a particularly gifted comic-actor in my option, which is not to say that he is a bad actor, just not funny. He makes his living from being unexpectedly short in comparison with his surroundings, this comes with the impotent aggression people find amusing in the short, like Chihuahas who bare their teeth at you.
Younger people probably have no idea who this is, hell, he was before my time and I would not consider myself a “young person”. Look at him, he looks retarded, like a slightly larger version of Herve Villechaize.
Basically, Jimmie Walker was every racist American cartoon, every Jim Crow-era nigger-joke rolled into one living, walking, talking human being. Hollywood went out and found themselves a black person that reminded them most of Heckle and Jeckle and put him on prime-time TV, which says a lot about Hollywood, at least in the 70s.
Tenacious D aside, he has almost exactly the same screen persona as Chris Farley, only with slightly less fat. I would bet money that he would be nowhere near as famous or popular if Farley had not offed himself. It’s about being manic and clownish and making sure the audience never forget that you are a fat guy doing stupid shit.
Candy also played the fat clown role, but unlike Farley and Black he was actually pretty clever, on the level of a younger Steve Martin I would say. The thing was everybody thought he was funny pretty much only because he was fat so it didn’t really matter.
Jim Varney/Martin Lawrence
Yes, I put those 2 together. Both are odd-looking men who made people laugh by making funny facial expressions. That’s it. Unlike Carrey or Williams neither one has ever, at ay point in their careers, not even once for one single joke, been funny, but as with the other members of this list, that doesn’t matter at all. The audience will laugh at you if you look sufficiently abnormal or inferior to them but make it clear that you are a clown. By the way, I know they haven’t been funny because they have no sense of humor, they lack the capacity. 5 minutes’ exposure to their work will tell you this.
Christopher Mintz Plasse/Jaleel White
You look at these guys in character and you are supposed to think that they will never ever get laid. You, with your score of 3 (4 if you count the handjob), feel like a smooth lothario in comparison. That’s the idea. You feel better than them, better-looking and stronger and more manly, so you get to laugh at somebody more virginal than yourself.