“wHy so sERIous?”

I was inspired by my MS Clowning & Puppetry Class to talk about the world’s coolest villain: the Joker. Yeah, I’m a die-hard Batman fan. Forget web-slinging fools or Superdorks in spandex, the Bat is the man. In class my students are working on building their own clown characters based on classic clown types, which can be very hard to do. Clown characters are supposed to be extensions of yourself…to a degree. They are exaggerated, overly physical, comedic beings that are supposed to be offered as a “caricatured you.” Everyone, of course, wants their clown to look like Heath Ledger portrayal of the The Joker…and at that age, everyone seems to associated clowns with psychopaths. (Not a class period goes by when I ask for examples of Whiteface Clowns that a student doesn’t shout out “IT!”….from the Stephen King movie/novel. Like, I’ve seen it, or something! Heh!) But, truth be told, clowns (whether good, bad or ugly) remain a highly respected and under-appreciated form of performance art to this day.

But, back to Batman. First and foremost, I must give kudos where they are deserved. I’m not one to throw award predictions around or make idle comments on the scope of an actor’s worth based on a single performance…but if Ledger gets an Oscar nod, or an actual posthumous award, I wouldn’t be surprised. His portrayal of the deformed, destructive, smiling lunatic in THE DARK KNIGHT, is simply amazing. What a multi-layered performance! I truly enjoyed the movie.

But, I grew up with Batman. Reruns from the 60s series ran at 6:30am before I went away to school everyday. (And, no I did not grow up in the 60s.) I used to LOVE the Penguin…he was my favorite villain for a while on that show…but after catching Grumpy Old Men (that cinematic masterpiece), turns out I only really like Burgess Meredith. But, the campy series was like eating a handful of marshmallows. Not much substance, very sweet, easy to swallow…and leaves a weird taste in your mouth afterward. It was just a smidge….eh…..weird. I categorize it under the same file as old-school Star Trek. While a fan…there’s just something about those types of shows that seemed almost “underground” and unpolished. It was like I was watching a late night, cable-access, University television show produced by obnoxious frat boys and brilliant chess club geeks collectively, complete with choppy editing and lame plot structures. But it was fun.

However…I need to talk about the Joker on that series. (Played by a forever mustached Cesar Romero.) First of all, shave your stinkin’ mustache if you’re playing the Joker, dude! I don’t care how in-style they were. Some say it was Romero’s monniker. (Much like Marilyn Monroe’s beauty spot.) Whatever. Under all that make-up Romero just looked….well, skraggly! Second…the dude never smiled. He always looked like he was in pain, and being shocked by a Tazer gun at the same time. He bounced around, and while the contrived laugh he cranked out every now and then seemed out of place at times…it was kinda creepy. The lavender suit, phoney laugh and cheesy plots all kinda ran together for me. Sometimes “Joker episodes” would leave me very unhappy.

I’ve never caught the Batman animated series, but…check it out…Luke Skywalker does the voice of the Joker. What the stink!? Joker Skywalker! Eh. Doesn’t seem like a good fit for me. But then again, who else with ANY star power are they going to find to voice the guy. Hayden Christinsen? Nah. Harrison Ford is still frozen in carbonite and is a bit unavailable.

Then there was Jack Nicholson. There is nothing bad anyone can say about this guy. I think he’s borderline brilliant…and the fact that he’s a grade-A arrogant slob in real life, doesn’t really bother me much. There is something about the way he carries himself in every picture that just “sells!” If you look back at that first Batman movie….completely out of context in comparison to the later Batman films…you HAVE to agree that this film was HUGE back when it was released. Just HUGE. It was the rebirth of Batman….they had huge star power behind the film…and it was a lot of crazy movie magic. Win, win, win. Granted…Nicholson’s Joker wasn’t nearly as tragic as Ledger’s…but the fun house approach to the character was so cool. Everyone wanted to be the Joker after the movie came out. (Just like my students now!) And I think there are moments in that film that are just plain freaky. When the surgeon, in the abandoned hospital carefully unwinds his bloodied bandages….and then the impatient Joker pushes him aside and rips of the rest, grabs the mirror…and slowly laughs as he stumbles away…..so cool.

So that leaves us with Ledger, who I would argue, presented the Joker character in the flesh for the first time. (Which is something that I think is hard to do with comic book characters. I rarely see it. Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luther are only a few I can think of. I hear Iron Man is good.) Ledger’s Joker was fun to watch and we wanted to know more about the character so badly that we almost ended up rooting for the guy in the end. The only criticism I had about the movie, and it may be simply because of Ledger’s sudden and tragic death, was the fact that the Joker overshadowed the other characters. Put Ledger the actor aside for a moment…take a look at that storyline and the those performances. It’s actually a brilliant film. Dang…Two-Face is cool, huh? Loved that subplot. But, the film itself won’t get the recognition it deserves because of Ledger’s passing and the fact that for his final performance…he delivered.

I’m not a horror movie fan. My wife is…and if you know her, her soft-spoken, caring and intelligent approach doesn’t seem like the slasher type, but she really loves ’em. I don’t see too many, quite frankly because I like to sleep at night. But there are some movies that skate the fine line between horror and action or fantasy. I can handle those. The Dark Knight was one of those films that really got me pumped up for the closing sequences.

So, my vote goes for Ledger, followed by Nicholson in a close second….followed by anyone without a moustache. Sheesh.

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