September 17, 2019

Horse 2596 - You Know What's Not Funny? The Joker!

Holy Hand Grenade, Batman!

This post is not about Batman. As a concept, the idea that a billionaire buys a bunch of gadgets to beat up on street level crime; in the age of Trump, Putin, Murdoch, and Bezos, is just not funny. When you have actually villains operating the levers of power, politics and the economy, the idea that Batman is noble just doesn't sit well with me. Batman's most famous enemy, The Joker, is equally idiotic as I don't really understand his motivation at all. He is the bad guy because Batman needs a bad guy and at this point, even at least one sensible dimension to his character would be helpful.
The Joker's biggest problem though is that with the name 'The Joker', why does he have to be so painfully unfunny?

To be honest, the latest Joker trailer for whatever the new film is called (I don't really care because it was enough to convince me to not see it), is also not funny. All that's in the trailer are a bunch of angry clowns, who want to hurt people, and unless the film is some kind of Jackass style series of japes (which having lived in a house of chaps, I have seen more than I care to; it was also unfunny), I suspect that it is going to be just another one of these "darker and edgier" films that Hollywood wants to churn out every so often.
Ho hum. Yawn. Crick. Roll over.
You know what would be really subversive and edgy right now? The Joker being funny.

I was born in the late 70s; which means that when I were a wee lad, a lot of people still had porcelain figures and prints in their houses as decorations. This might sound insane to a twenty-first century audience but there was a time when people actually used to have porcelain clowns and sad clown prints in their houses. That was so strange to me as a kid and continues to be so strange to me now that it bared repeating. I can think of at least three people's houses that I went to as a kid where I saw such things.
It should also be noted that by the time I was a kid, the idea of a sad clown, an angry clown, or a murderous psychotic clown, was already a well worn trope. As it was, by the time of the 1989 Batman movie, the Joker had already been around for 49 years; so it isn't as if he already wasn't a trope himself.

In fact, in my not very well paid opinion, the only truly plausible portrayal of the Joker was in the 1966 Batman television series which starred Adam West. It had Cesar Romaro as the Joker and he played the Joker with a sense of whimsy; which I think has to this day been the best portrayal of the Joker.
Given that not quite 80 years after the character of the Joker was created, I think that it's fair to say that we've seen every possible subversion and interpretation of both Batman and the Joker. I don't think that there is any new or interesting place to go with Batman but there is a way that the character of the Joker could be taken that I don't think has ever been done before - play him straight.

Clowns as we know them now, lean heavily into the long dead tradition of the comedy della arte from Italy. They also have their roots in the comedy players at court, like the Jester. Mostly our modern conception comes out of the circus; and then they became pathetically marooned in the land of cheaply produced television and kid's birthday parties. If they were credible oh so long ago, they are surely not, now.
Clowns used to be, once upon a time, or at least I imagine so, funny; or at least they were supposed to be. Circuses, television and kid's birthday parties, have collectively drained whatever art to clowning that there was, to the point where I am not sure if they are redeemable as a concept.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I would have commissioned this new Joker film as a straight up comedy; with the Joker trying to resurrect the long dead art of clowning.
That creates a grand conflict which is essential for good story telling. It also provides a fairly self explanatory set of motives for why this character does what he is going to do. It also might have the added bonus of giving a proper comedian the chance to do justice to the role. To that end, I think that the last plausible clown in the last fifty years (which says a lot about how dead the concept is), was Fozzie Bear from the Muppets. He went so far as to adopt the uniform of the beat up hat and necktie; which put him in the tradition of vaudeville and which on reflection is a really odd thing to be presenting to kids in the late 1970s.

I think that the generally accepted canon for the Joker is that his face became disfigured as the result of a chemical burn. I think that that explains why someone might turn into a murderous villain, in order to get revenge upon the world, but that doesn't really leave you anywhere to go with the story of why he became the Joker. The only logical story here is that the character of the Joker is itself a mask and that's boring because we've already been here.
Reimagining the Joker as a comedian gives you a blank slate as to why he becomes a the Joker. It also means that you can head in the more interesting direction of the tragicomedy. Becoming the Joker is the end result of the series of events which can be written as farce; with the conceit that the audience already knows what the punchline of the movie is. That is more interesting and sounds funnier to me.

My big problem with cinema these days is that the movie houses have decided that the stories which sell the most tickets are superhero films. I do not know at what point that the market will reach a glut but I do not really have that much of an interest in seeing them. I suppose that what I am asking for is the most unsuperheroey of superhero movies because that would be funnier and funner.
The world just doesn't need yet another darker and edgier Joker movie.


Dear filmmakers,
I have a really difficult challenge for you.

Make a really interesting and genuinely funny G rated movie. I imagine that it must be really difficult because I honestly can't think of any that have been made in this century. 


I also think that Batman should be recast as a proper detective, as per the 1939 comic book series. Have it produced by the same people that make British crime dramas and give him a Ford Mondeo as the Batmobile. 

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