Whenever people say something like, "You know, Rowan Atkinson is actually quite intelligent," they are betraying at least one of two things.
Either they are perplexed, and not a little troubled, by the fact that someone "otherwise intelligent" would produce something like Mr. Bean. Citing Atkinson's actual intelligence is for them a way of legitimizing how silly, how pointless, Mr. Bean is. There's a method to his madness, you see, so, while they personally don't "get the joke," they can reassure themselves that Atkinson himself isn't really like that, doesn't really find it amusing.
Or they are anxious about the fact that they secretly love Mr. Bean and cling to Atkinson's actual intelligence as a way of justifying their own enjoyment. It's not simply mindless fun, and certainly not low humor, since, after all, the performer is actually quite intelligent.
This dynamic lies behind the frequent adulation "freethinkers" have for George Carlin, about whom I have written before. On the one hand, some fans might realize how arch and unreasoning Carlin's shtick often is, and so they advert to his obvious intelligence to buttress what they realize is little better than the ramblings of an angry drunk man. This is what Crude aptly calls "reverse strawmanning". On the other hand, perhaps fans really take all––or nearly all––of Carlin's pontifications to be rationally sound and compelling. When, however, someone begins to critique the logic, coherence, or relevance of what Carlin actually says on a particular topic, the fans advert to Carlin's actual intelligence––such as his love for physics––as a kind of blanket defense. The critic is allegedly missing the point, since, while Carlin may not have expressed himself flawlessly in this or that instance, "he's actually very intelligent," so his larger point of view holds. So there! Now shut up and laugh!
(As always, I want to go out of my way to say that I really do respect George Carlin as a comedian and rhetor, and, if his loyalty to his daughter is any indication, as a father. I don't deny for an instant that he makes me laugh, consistently, and pretty much always makes me at least grin. His delivery is one of the best in the business and he brings a great deal of insight into social foibles to the stage. When I disagree with Carlin, therefore, I do so either for intellectual or ethical reasons, as I have explained before. I have no axe to grind against Carlin, and I even pray for his soul.)
Some jokes can be denounced for intellectual reasons but I think we all know few if any jokes can be redeemed with an intellectual certification. A defense of a comedian which points more to his education than his material, more to his daily eloquence than his on-stage delivery, is just an elaborate form of "explaining the joke." Nearly all funny people are intelligent, but only a few intelligent people are funny.