The Matt Signal – Episode 83: Make ‘Em Laugh

Plot summary: A trio of TV comedians inexplicably don costumes and commit crimes one year after humiliating The Joker.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’

Original Air Date: November 5th, 1994

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (21)

Written: Paul Dini (23) & Randy Rogel (9)

The trio of contestants are all voiced by (semi) famous comedians. Grant Shaud was a regular on Murphy Brown, Stuart Pankin was on Not Necessarily the News and Andrea Martin worked on SCTV.

Lisa Lorraine is modelled on Rosanne Barr, but likely named for Lisa Lampanelli. Likewise Buddy Standler and Harry Loomis appear to be patterned after Buddy Hackett and Jerry Lewis.

As mentioned in ‘Riddler’s Reform’, one of Nygma’s TV commercials can be heard in the background of this episode when Lisa answers the door.

Recap

The freakin’ Condiment King causes a ruckus in a restaurant, covering the patrons in ketchup and mustard, even going as far as to force hot sauce into a man’s mouth! Unthinkable! Naturally intimidated, they all hand over their wallets and jewellery.

Batman arrives on the scene and is thoroughly unimpressed by the would-be-thief’s puns, advising him to just return the stolen goods and go home. Condiment King instead slips on some of his own ketchup and is lucky to survive the fall from the building.

Summer Gleeson (remember her?) reports that Condiment King is in fact TV comedian Buddy Standler, with his manager and Robin utterly baffled by his behaviour.

Across town, another costumed criminal, the Pack Rat, sticks up a department store, opting for a gun filled with actual bullets instead of sauce. Coincidentally Alfred is one of the shoppers and calls Bruce for help.

Batman again makes short work of the hapless first-time villain, who likewise has a penchant for bad jokes. Robin identifies the culprit as Harry Loomis, another famous funny man. Bruce notices a microchip on Loomis’ neck and naturally suspects Mad Hatter.

Visiting Tetch in Arkham, they find him catatonic with a disturbing grin on his face and a microchip of his own…

Alfred reports on a third TV personality, Lisa Lorraine, being abducted. Robin is finally able to link the trio as judges on an annual comedy competition.

Firing up a recording of the previous year’s edition, Batman notices that a disgraced contestant was in fact a disguised The Joker, who received laughs from the audience, but annoyed the judges and was promptly dismissed, swearing revenge.

Talk of the Murder-Clown, he approaches the host of the competition, offering up three replacement judges: Knuckles, Vinnie and Kowalski, a trio of heavies in shoddy clown make-up. Joker states he’s to be presented with the trophy and places a microchip on him just in case.

Sure enough, Joker is presented as the only contestant, and attempts to unleash laughing gas on the captive audience, but The Dynamic Duo intervene.

Unbothered, Joker presents his “new girl”, Mighty Mom, who is of course the third judge, Lisa Lorraine. Batman leaves Robin to deal with her in order to pursue Joker, and despite some minor embarrassment, the Boy Wonder manages to remove her microchip.

Up on the roof, Batman pursues Joker onto a giant runaway balloon. Mistah J briefly beats Bats with the stolen trophy, but Robin swoops in and in the chaos the balloon is popped, causing Joker to gently touch down, trousers around his ankles, humiliated.

Best Performance

My decision here depends entirely on whether Mark Hamill actually voiced Joker’s alter-ego, ‘Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot or not. I’m about 60% sure it is him, in which case, he walks away with this category, because it’s so profoundly different to how he usually sounds, and a pitch-perfect attempt at a slightly annoying stand-up comedian.

Ordinarily Hamill wins this category on the strength of his Joker voice alone, but he seemed to be playing the character a little differently this time, intentionally or not. It’s… lighter? More upbeat? I don’t know. I just wasn’t feeling it as much.

If Hamill DIDN’T voice Rimshot, then I don’t know who did and would thus be forced to make it a three-way tie between Andrea Martin, Stuart Pankin and Grant Shaud as the trio of TV comedians. They were sublime castings, understood what they were being asked to do and did it commendably.

Ranking

I have seen this episode compared to The King of Comedy. That is incredibly over-generous. It’s an entertaining episode of the show, for sure, but let’s not get carried away. Better than Joker though…

It manages to serve as a loving homage to a bygone era of Batman, while also delivering a mini-mystery for Batman & Robin to unravel, and even finds room for a disturbing little wrinkle with Mad Hatter. The episode is in many ways a more light-hearted take on ‘Joker’s Favour’, which is fitting as that was Paul Dini’s first stab at the character. More on that below.

Boy howdy can you see the Fox mandate that Robin do more things in this one. He has all the insight into the comedians, gets a one on one fight with Mighty Mom, and then ultimately rescues Batman. The script clearly called for the two to split up and for Dick to take out the lesser threat, which happens in several episodes, but instead he basically does it all, with Bruce looking comparatively ineffective. I’m not saying Robin should never get to save the day or that Batman has to get the final win, but the way this was handled was rather inelegant and detracted from the episode’s otherwise high quality.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Riddler’s Reform
  8. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  9. I Am the Night
  10. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  11. Baby-Doll
  12. The Man Who Killed Batman
  13. Perchance to Dream
  14. Two-Face Part I
  15. Bane
  16. A Bullet For Bullock
  17. Joker’s Favor
  18. Read My Lips
  19. Feat of Clay Part II
  20. Harley’s Holiday
  21. Catwalk
  22. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  23. Harley and Ivy
  24. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  25. House & Garden
  26. Beware the Gray Ghost
  27. Second Chance
  28. Mad as a Hatter
  29. Heart of Steel Part II
  30. Appointment In Crime Alley
  31. Two-Face Part II
  32. Pretty Poison
  33. Harley’s Holiday
  34. Lock-Up
  35. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  36. Feat of Clay Part I
  37. His Silicon Soul
  38. Off Balance
  39. Vendetta
  40. Birds of a Feather
  41. Heart of Steel Part I
  42. On Leather Wings
  43. See No Evil
  44. The Clock King
  45. It’s Never Too Late
  46. Make ‘Em Laugh (NEW ENTRY)
  47. Joker’s Wild
  48. Eternal Youth
  49. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  50. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  51. Zatanna
  52. Day of the Samurai
  53. Avatar
  54. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  55. The Mechanic
  56. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  57. Terror in the Sky
  58. P.O.V.
  59. Christmas with the Joker
  60. Fear of Victory
  61. Be a Clown
  62. The Worry Men
  63. What is Reality?
  64. Fire From Olympus
  65. Night of the Ninja
  66. Mudslide
  67. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  68. Nothing to Fear
  69. The Lion and the Unicorn
  70. Prophecy of Doom
  71. Tyger, Tyger
  72. Blind as a Bat
  73. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  74. Dreams In Darkness
  75. The Last Laugh
  76. Cat Scratch Fever
  77. Moon of the Wolf
  78. Paging the Crime Doctor
  79. Time Out of Joint
  80. Sideshow
  81. The Under-Dwellers
  82. The Forgotten
  83. Showdown
  84. The Terrible Trio
  85. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (fourteenth appearance)

Most notable Joker stories delve into how twisted and edgy the Clown Prince can be, but I’ve always been a fan of Paul Dini’s infusion of extreme pettiness that began with ‘Joker’s Favor.’ Kidnapping the judges of a competition he felt was rightfully his to win and forcing them to dress as ridiculous villains one year later is the kind of grudge-holding I can get behind.

It’s also fun to see him legitimately try and win the competition while in disguise in the first place, alluding to The Killing Joke’s hypothesis that he used to be a struggling stand-up comedian. I like that he got laughs, but didn’t win because he angered the judges by failing to register in time and taking the stage over etc.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if you think it’s good or bad that his final appearance on the main run of the show was being carted away with his trousers around his ankles while everybody laughs at him.

Condiment King/Mighty Mom/The Pack Rat (Stuart Pankin/Andrea Martin/Grant Shaud) (first appearance)

I won’t go as far as to say these are top-flight Batman villains, but I loved how deliberately terrible and annoying they were, likely in loving tribute to Batman ’66. They’re also fun parodies of real comedians, fitting the story like a glove.

Condiment King gained some pop culture cache by appearing in The Lego Batman Movie, but is actually a BTAS original, joining Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya and Lock-Up as creations that found their way into comic book canon.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Poison Ivy
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. The Phantasm
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. Bane
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Penguin
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Clayface
  16. Ra’s al Ghul
  17. Lock-Up
  18. Lloyd Ventrix
  19. Killer Croc
  20. Rupert Thorne
  21. Count Vertigo
  22. Clock King
  23. Nivens
  24. Josiah Wormwood
  25. Scarecrow
  26. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  27. Talia al Ghul
  28. Sid the Squid
  29. Queen Thoth Khepera
  30. Maxie Zeus
  31. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  32. Tony Zucco
  33. Man-Bat
  34. Hugo Strange
  35. Red Claw
  36. Arnold Stromwell
  37. Mad Bomber
  38. Tygrus
  39. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  40. Kyodai Ken
  41. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom (NEW ENTRY)
  42. Gil Mason
  43. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  44. Cameron Kaiser
  45. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  46. Mad Dog
  47. Ubu
  48. Professor Milo
  49. Romulus
  50. Arkady Duvall
  51. Sewer King
  52. Boss Biggis
  53. Montague Kane
  54. The Terrible Trio

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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