So, silent characters go way back to the mimes of ancient Greece, though silent characters have always played a large role in traditional Japanese theater. Silent characters were often featured in the Commedia dell’arte of the 16th through 18th century, in which acting troupes rolled around the countryside, putting on shows in town squares – heavy on the action, light on the dialogue.
In the early days of Hollywood, Buster Keaton carried out this proud tradition, albeit by necessity. Buster Keaton plays the bungling oaf so well that it’s easy not to notice the way that each stumble and bungle is performed with perfect precision. Watch enough of his films and you’ll notice that the world around him seems to conspire to keep him safe – that he defies death poker faced because he simply knows that the universe will look after him. His childhood may have had a lot to do with that. According to busterkeaton.com, Keaton nearly suffocated to death when he was only a few months old – his parents, Vaudevillian performers, had left him back stage at a show and he’d gotten locked in a costume trunk. A few years later, according to a story that may well be too perfect to be true, a cyclone sucked him out of the open window he was sitting near and deposited him, perfectly unharmed, in the yard of a neighbor several feet away.
In real life, sorta, there's the mononymous Teller, half of the duo Penn & Teller. He started performing in silence, according to Wikipedia, because it made for less heckling early in his career. The no talking thing eventually became his thing, and now he rarely speaks in public (though there are those who would suggest that Teller just hasn't let him get a word in for the past 40 years).
Which is kind of too bad. The guy’s a freaking genius – literally. He’s one of the world’s foremost authorities on Harry Houdini, and he’s even appeared in documentaries about the guy, albeit with his features obscured like he’s in the witness protection program. Teller’s also a fellow at the Cato institute and has been co-author on a study in Nature Reviews: Neuroscience.
They say everybody hates a mime, but that’s not really true. What’s Snoopy if not a mime? Or Harpo Marx (who – fun fact - didn’t actually learn how to play the harp until pretty late in his career). There’s Mr. Bean, Daryl, Daryl, the Stig, and so on. Maybe it's the makeup.