Batman: The Animated Series – “Make ‘Em Laugh”

make em laugh cardEpisode Number:  83

Original Air Date:  November 5, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  The Condiment King

Episode 83 brings us the final Joker episode of Batman: The Animated Series in its original run. Not surprisingly, The Joker has done the most heavy-lifting of all the villains in this 85 episode series. As Batman’s most famous rogue, that was to be expected. What really wasn’t a given was just how consistently good Joker could be. Going into it, I would have expected Joker to be a silly villain used for comic relief as he was in the 1960s series when he was played by Cesar Romero. And there’s certainly aspects of Romero in this Joker, but the writers for this show were able to also incorporate that sinister side of Joker we’d come to see in the character throughout the 1980s. Sure, he’s never as malicious as he is in The Killing Joke or Death in the Family, but there’s an unsettling aspect to the character that comes out now and again making this version of The Joker possibly the best version.

And a lot of the credit should go to voice actor Mark Hamill. Back in the early 90s when this show was in its run, finding out the actor most famous for playing Luke Skywalker did the voice for Joker (as well as Spider-Man’s Hobgoblin) was like a revelation. Pre-internet, it was hardly common knowledge and I only knew about it via the Fox Kids newsletter. I was blown away, and sometimes I still am when I pause to consider the voice behind the role. Hamill’s Joker, despite somewhat famously being put-down by critic Gene Siskel in what was possibly the famed critic’s worst take, is what I will hear in my head now and forever whenever I read a line from the character. He’s so good at that manic, high-pitched, voice which he can pivot from to a lower, more threatening tone, on a dime. And that laugh brings it all together. Hamill’s Joker has been rightly celebrated for years now, but it’s important to remember that not enough good things can really be said of it. Mark Hamill is simply the best Joker we’ve ever had and quite likely will ever have.

the condiment king strikes

Introducing The Condiment King!

For The Joker’s final starring role in this series, the episode takes an interesting turn. This one is actually a mystery. Like most mysteries in this show, the solution is easy to solve, but at least this episode tries. So many episodes will show a shadowy figure in the darkness, and if that silhouette doesn’t make it obvious, the reveal comes almost immediately after. For a character that is often referred to as a detective, Batman has little detective work to do in this show aside from looking up information in his super computer. This episode actually has a deliberate twist, and while it really didn’t fool me even as a kid, it certainly gave me pause.

“Make ‘Em Laugh” opens in a swanky restaurant. A lot of what appear to be fairly well-off folks are about to have their dinner disturbed by The Condiment King (Stuart Pankin). If you’re picturing a man in a spandex suit with twin guns that fire ketchup and mustard then good for you because that is precisely how this character looks. He adds to the persona by speaking in puns which cite other popular condiments (“How I’ve relished this meeting!”). This guy is a show invention, but he’ll actually make the jump to the comics, hence why he gets tagged in the First Appearance section in the heading.

condiment king defeated

That looks like it hurt. A lot.

Batman will soon show up to deal with this guy, who despite not possessing weapons that can actually harm people has been relatively successful at extracting cash and jewelry from the patrons. Batman takes one look at his foe and despite The Condiment King’s eagerness for a fight, Batman does not seem willing to oblige. He even does something he almost never does:  he gives the guy a chance to go home and we’ll forget this all happened. The Condiment King never backs down though! Unfortunately for him, he sucks at this. As the two end up on a balcony, The Condiment King loses his balance and falls off landing back-first atop a police cruiser that just arrived. Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmer) is the responding officer and she unmasks the villain and discovers he’s popular comedian Buddy Standler.

the pack rat

You think we’re done with goofy villains, well here’s The Pack Rat!

At home, Batman and Robin have the television going and Standler’s agent is being interviewed by Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). He expresses shock at what happened and doesn’t understand why his client chose to throw his career away like that. Evidently he’s not a great agent since most would at least attempt to explain the actions of their client or just offer a “no comment” instead. Robin is equally confused and remarks he and Alfred were supposed to see Standler judge a comedy competition soon.

batman introduces himself

Pack Rat, prepare to meet Batman.

The next day, Alfred is shopping at a department store called Mayfield’s. A small man in a trench coat approaches a woman and grabs her purse. He dumps the contents on the floor and apparently is only interested in the purse itself. He removes his coat and hat to reveal his own villainous attire of The Pack Rat (Grant Shaud)! He’s out to steal Gotham’s junk (though maybe the all male writing staff is unaware how expensive and valuable purses are) and he’d seem harmless if not for the fact that he’s armed with a submachine gun.

pack rat packin heat

Well that didn’t go the way they wanted it to.

Alfred knows who to call, and Batman and Robin are soon on the scene. The Pack Rat is easily subdued with a rope which pins his arms at his sides. This seems effective for a moment, but he soon falls on his back which leaves the gun pointing straight ahead at the ankles of The Dynamic Duo. He starts spraying gunfire wildly forcing Batman and Robin to take cover. He eventually frees himself from his bounds and starts emptying his gun, which for some reason appears to be ejecting shotgun shells, but who cares? Batman is able to knock him into a display dislodging the gun. For the second consecutive entry, we get a Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference out of me as Pack Rat emerges from the collection of junk armed with a golf club. He swings wildly at Batman missing him and inadvertently hits an electrical box. The resulting shock knocks him unconscious allowing Robin to realize that their enemy is another comedian, this time Harry Loomis. Batman also finds a tiny microchip that had been stuck to the man’s neck via an adhesive and he knows who specializes in such devices.

mad hatter gone mad

The Mad Hatter seems to be doing well.

Batman and Robin head for Arkham to have a chat with one of its famous inmates:  The Mad Hatter. They arrive at the villain’s cell and enter to find The Mad Hatter laying on his side, his back to them. They roll him over and find his face is in a frozen smile. He doesn’t respond to any of their words and Batman soon uncovers a mind control device has been planted on him as well. Someone is using his tech to go after comedians, and more detective work will be needed from our heroes.

While Batman was dealing with Pack Rat, a scene unfolded featuring another comedian:  Lisa Lorraine (Andrea Martin). Her name may sound similar to that of comedian Lisa Lampanelli, but this character is clearly stylized to resemble (and talk like) Roseanne Barr. She was sitting on her couch enjoying some snacks and television when a knock at the door forced her from this cozy spot. She irritably answers the door to find a pizza boy, but she didn’t order any pizza. No matter, she’ll take it, but when the delivery man opens the box noxious gas surrounds her face. The scene makes little effort in disguising the assailant:  The Joker.

smilin shecky

Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot has little to smile about.

With their lead failing them, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave to find out from Alfred that Lorraine has been kidnapped. She and the other two comedians turned rogues were to be the judges of a comedy competition that night. They do it every year, and Robin just happened to tape last year’s edition. Alfred, knowing that time is a factor, already has the video cued up for the pair and found something interesting. Just before the judges announced last year’s winner, an unknown comic burst onto the stage in an attempt to win them over. He refers to himself as Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot, but his voice gives him away. He was thrown off stage and while being hauled away did the usual villain routine of shouting about how he was being wronged and vows revenge. If the voice didn’t give it away, Batman isolates the man’s face, removes his hat and adds some makeup to reveal this man was none other than The Joker.

joker revealed

Hey, guess what? It was The Joker this whole time!

With the reveal officially out-of-the-way, we’re taken to Joker who’s getting ready to take the stage at this year’s Laugh-Off event. He once again dons the persona of Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot and declares himself the winner. He then reveals his real face and goes into his routine while also releasing a bunch of laughing gas to make sure he has a friendly audience. Batman and Robin get the drop on him and bat the gas canister away. Joker then teases the debut of his new female sidekick:  Mighty Mom! It’s Lisa Lorraine in a super hero costume armed with a mop and other household items. She’s under Joker’s control and gives the boys a little fight, but is eventually subdued.

Batman leaves Robin to deal with Mighty Mom while he goes after Joker who leads him to the roof of the club. Batman seems rather angry with Joker for what he did to those comedians and doesn’t understand the criminal’s desire for some trophy. Joker explains it’s not the trophy he wanted, but the title of Funniest Man in Gotham. Joker flees to a giant clown balloon and Batman goes after him. They do their little dance, and Joker produces a knife. When it seems like he might actually get Batman, Robin swings in with the save. The balloon is punctured in the process, and Joker is knocked from it with the trophy stuck on his head. Batman is able to use his grapple gun to catch Joker and they let the deflating balloon slowly bring them to ground level.

joker makes em laugh

Joker does indeed make them laugh in the end.

During the slow descent, Joker’s pants fall off and as he is gently deposited in the street the balloon lands on top of him. He emerges with his pants around his ankles and the trophy still stuck on his head. The many onlookers all react with laughter as the police move in and cuff him. To add more insult to the situation, Joker isn’t even allowed to pull up his pants as he is lead to the police transport and trips. Once inside, he grabs the trophy and puts it back on his head in a bid to hide his shame, or silence the laughter. And that’s the last we’ll see of Joker until The New Batman Adventures.

joker bows out

So Joker doesn’t go out with a bang, but this one is all right.

As a Joker episode, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is definitely more of the comic variety and probably no one’s favorite. The slow reveal of who is behind the real criminal activity is appreciated, and the payoff is mostly satisfactory. Joker being humiliated isn’t new, but the spectacle of this particular ending is a bit more than we’re used to. Many of these season two episodes seemed to try and inject more comedic relief into the series. Either via one of Robin’s numerous jokes, or in this example some really silly villains in The Condiment King and Pack Rat. Sometimes the show has gone a little too far in really changing the tone of the show, but for the most part it’s fine and the comedy bits certainly work better with Joker episodes.

Interestingly, I found myself missing the presence of Harley Quinn here. She’s become so synonymous with The Joker that her absence is almost always felt. I’m not saying the two should be a packaged deal, but I feel like the episode could have used her. At the same time, I’m also glad it did not without at least providing a plausible explanation as to why the two would be working together again.

In terms of last appearances, this episode contains the last appearance of TV news reporter Summer Gleeson. She’ll have two non-speaking cameos in the following series, but her role as convenient TV host and sometimes plot device is over, as far as the main series is concerned. She will pop-up in a voiced role one more time for the feature Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This is also the last contribution, again aside from that feature to come, for director Boyd Kirkland. He’s directed 21 of the show’s 85 episodes plus the feature Mask of the Phantasm. He would go on to direct episodes of other popular series such as X-Men: Evolution and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sadly, Kirkland passed away in 2011 due to complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis while waiting for a lung transplant. He was 60 years old.


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