BTAS RETROSPECTIVE: "Be A Clown" Author: Ricky Church (Follow @RICHARDCHURCH16)
Date: June 23, 2017
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Production Order: 09
Airdate Order: 11
Original Airdates: September 16, 1992
Written by Ted Pedersen & Steve Hayes
Directed by Frank Paur
Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Mark Hamill as Joker
Lloyd Bochner as Mayor Hill
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
One of the most memorable aspects of Batman: The Animated Series is without a doubt Mark Hamill’s interpretation of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. He captured the zany, deadly and psychotic nature of the character through his time on the series and the many years after.
“Be A Clown” is one of the sillier episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, one where Joker isn’t out to destroy the city, pulling off a heist or kill Batman. Rather, he takes sees an opportunity to humiliate (and quite possibly kill) Gotham’s Mayor Hill after he boasts to make Gotham as safe as his mansion. In fact, Joker only becomes interested after Hill says Joker and Batman are cut from the same cloth, a statement that angers Joker.
This is the first episode thus far to examine The Joker’s obsession with Batman, however slightly. He believes himself to be superior to Batman and the rest of Gotham and hates being compared to Batman or other supervillains. This trait is now a staple of the character, but it adds to “Be A Clown” that that is the inciting incident for Joker to act upon.
There’s also a bit of a childish element to the episode through Jordan, Mayor Hill’s son, who just wants to be a magician and thinks his father doesn’t care about what he wants. After Joker impersonates an actual birthday clown, Jordan stows away in Joker’s truck and goes with him to his hideout, still believing he’s Jekko the Clown. This had the potential to be pretty cheesy, but Jordan’s story actually plays out well and doesn’t hit you over the head with too many slapstick or juvenile elements.
Mark Hamill delivers a great performance as The Joker, but is actually on double duty as Jekko. As Jekko he delivers a silly, fantastic wonder to the supposed clown and as Joker he manages to make the villain sound funny, serious and deadly. He’s got a very good vocal moment as Joker realizes Jordan followed him, going from brutal anger to amusement in the span of a few seconds. It’s just really well done and a good example of what Hamill would be able to do later in the series (especially after taking over when Tim Curry dropped out of the role).
While “Be A Clown” may not be the most memorable Joker episode in Batman: The Animated Series, it certainly helped set the groundwork for what Joker would become after his first appearance in “Joker’s Favor.” The story is well-told, the acting is great and ends on a heartwarming note. - Ricky Church