By Ken Tucker
Updated July 23, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

An uneven but frequently amusing three-part documentary about comedy, Laughing Matters (Showtime, July 23, 10-11:30 p.m.) begins with a clever mock lecture by British comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) on the history of comedy. Atkinson’s presentation is illustrated with clips from vintage film comedies featuring performers like Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy, as well as scenes featuring Atkinson himself in action — he can make grabbing at a slippery bar of soap seem like a comic ballet.

Like all such grab bags of comic moments, however, Matters rips movie classics from their original contexts, which can occasionally mar the humor. Then too, the second half of this show, a look at famous comedy teams, offers nothing new at great length about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ tumultuous partnership. Most amusing: Lewis’ saying that he ”loved” Martin, then hastening to assure us that he’s heterosexual. The two subsequent episodes of Laughing Matters will include examinations of the sitcom (July 30) and stand-up comedy (Aug. 13). B