Gotham City trembles before the might of the Condiment King (Stuart Pankin), who’s summarily dispatched by Batman and revealed to be stand-up comedian Buddy Standler. Shortly thereafter, another comedian winds up on the wrong side of the law when Harry Loomis (Grant Shaud) makes his criminal debut as The Pack Rat. With the annual “Laugh-Off” competition just around the corner, Gotham doesn’t seem so funny anymore, yet Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot is still grinning, despite losing last year’s “Laugh-Off.” As if you couldn’t guess, Batman and Robin discover that Shecky is actually The Joker in disguise, readying his final punchline.
“Make ’Em Laugh” is the final Joker episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and while it’s not the Clown Prince’s best outing it’s a fine finale for the fiend. The episode does well to focus on Joker’s desperate need to perform and to be applauded, his deep insecurities manifesting as a conspiracy to win a trophy and a title; moreover, the episode is chock-full of Mark Hamill’s laugh, which is so infectious that it ought to be investigated by the CDC. Hamill gets one last crack at most of his great laugh styles, from his hearty guffaws to his bubbly giggles, and not a one of them is a letdown. And without Harley Quinn by his side, it’s fascinating to see once more what happens when Joker is on his own, without someone to enable him or to remind him how sick he is (both of which, Harley fulfilled).
It’s a real wonder that BtAS has one last original character to bestow upon us, and it’s quite amazing to think that The Condiment King carried over into the comics (and film, with The Lego Batman Movie) in a way that Baby-Doll and Red Claw never did. I have no idea why this is the case – other than Red Claw is lame and ketchup guns are, frankly, unspeakably awesome – but it’s worth noting that I remembered this episode first as the Condiment King episode and second as the Joker’s swan song. Somewhere between pickle puns and his exclamation of “Horseradish!” we fell in love with this strange beast of a bad guy, who demonstrates that the greatest strength of this show has always been its ability to distill a character to a diamond absolute. Whether it’s the underutilized Mr. Freeze (who we’ll see next week) or the Batman himself, BtAS knows what works about its characters and always gets there (at least, in the case of Catwoman, eventually).
What works so well about the Condiment King does not, however, translate quite as effectively to Joker’s other two creations, The Pack Rat and Mighty Mom (Andrea Martin). Pack Rat never takes off as a concept, juxtaposing machine guns with stealing junk in a way that doesn’t resonate as much as it needs for being the entire second act of the episode. Mighty Mom, too, isn’t alchemically successful, reminding one more than a little of a broom-wielding Stompa from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga. What’s more, after last week’s oddly topical prefiguring of Donald Trump, there’s no getting around the fact that Mighty Mom is a deliberate caricature of Roseanne Barr. Were it not for the short-lived reboot of Roseanne over on ABC, this is the kind of joke that would not have aged well, much less recognizably, but even with a new season of the Conners, Mighty Mom is nowhere near as effective beyond a throwaway gag.
“Make ’Em Laugh” does, however, begin and end with a bang, and any episode that includes Hamill’s Joker has an uphill battle toward being unengaging. And if this episode is only remembered as the one that gave us the Condiment King, I really don’t think that’s such a bad thing. The world needs more offbeat Bat-villains like the Condiment King and Mister Toad and Kite Man (“hell, yeah”); Gotham may be a worse place for them, but our world is all the better with them in it. “Make ’Em Laugh” remembers to leave us with a smile, and the “just another night in Gotham” atmosphere takes the sting out of this being the antepenultimate episode of the show.
Writers: Paul Dini and Randy Rogel
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Villain: The Joker (Mark Hamill)
Next episode: “Deep Freeze,” in which Mr. Freeze returns for his only other episode.
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