This is big, friends, and a sad day for followers of this column. We’re reaching the end of Batman: the Animated Series and one of the big indicators is how we’re starting to say goodbye to the Rogues Gallery. We’ve already had final episodes from the likes of Two-Face, Riddler, Harley Quinn, Penguin, and Poison Ivy, but this week marks the series wrap for Batman’s most prolific and iconic villain – folks, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the very final episode aired to feature the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker, as voiced by the inimitable Mark Hamill. Let us mourn the end of an era. And, more aptly, let us mourn the fact that “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a just-okay episode at best. While the villains mentioned above each got humdingers of a sendoff, the Joker gets little more than a fizzle, a couple of gags, and the whole city of Gotham laughing at him.
Written by Randy Rogel and Paul Dini and directed by Boyd Kirkland, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is an homage to comedians and the Joker’s desire to be the only one laughing. It’s fitting that all of the guest cast, aside from those who were semiregulars anyway, were voiced by comedic actors and/or stand-ups: Andrea Martin, Stuart Pankin, Grant Shaud, and Richard Jeni were all tapped to play the four well known comedians in the episode, who all get outsmarted by the Joker and who, despite their costumes and spunk, don’t stand much of a chance against the Dynamic Duo.
We begin at a fancy restaurant that is turned into a mockery holdup when a man who calls himself The Condiment King announces his presence, wearing a pickle on his head and sporting ketchup and mustard guns (that he is unafraid to use). Someone calls the police and Batman hears the bizarre announcement in the Batmobile before proclaiming “It’s going to be one of those nights.” He makes his way to the restaurant, which is on the penthouse floor of a tall building, and the Condiment King is about to make his daring escape, with a bag full of valuables. Batman humors the man who won’t accept defeat and he eventually climbs up on the ledge, slips on his own ketchup, and falls, grabbing onto a neon sign. Batman tries to save him, but it doesn’t hold and he falls onto Bullock and Montoya’s car.
In the Batcave later, Batman and Robin discuss the news coming in from Summer Gleason that the Condiment King was actually a very famous television comedian. Robin says the man was going to be one of the judges of the annual stand-up comedy showcase, and that he and Alfred got tickets. But where is Alfred? Turns out, Alfred is in a department store when something else crazy begins to happen: a man dressed as a rat begins stealing people’s crap. If they have a wallet full of cash, he dumps the cash and takes the wallet. He breaks open a jewelry case, tosses the necklace, and takes the fake velvet thing it sat on. He calls himself The Pack Rat, and normally someone like this wouldn’t be a problem at all, but this fella brought himself a machine pistol. Oh, good. Alfred makes his way to a payphone and calls Batman, but is spotted by the Pack Rat.
As Batman and Robin speed over to the department store, a woman sits in her lavish apartment eating chips and talking to her agent. There’s a knock at the door and someone is delivering a pizza. Now, she didn’t order one, but she’ll take it anyway, but when the pizza guy (who’s in the shadows…and is clearly the Joker) opens the lid, she’s hit in the face with gas.
Meanwhile, back at the department store, Batman and Robin arrive and begin trying disarm the Pack Rat, which is equal parts super easy and super not easy. Ultimately, Batman is able to punch the new fiend’s lights out and Robin realizes it’s another famous comedian, and another judge of the Laff Off contest. Batman finds a mind controller chip taped to the man’s neck which leads them to believe the Mad Hatter must be involved.
They go to Arkham to question Jervis Tetch, but when they enter his cell, they find that he’s in a smiling, grinning catatonia, and another mind control chip is on his neck. Someone clearly beat the Mad Hatter at his own game.
When Batman and Robin return to the Batcave, they discover that the third judge of the contest, the woman with the pizza, has been kidnapped. Alfred, being an excellent detective himself, has taken the liberty of checking the tape of the previous year’s Laff Off, also judged by the same three comedians, and found something interesting: right before the winner was to be named, a different comedian elbowed his way onstage and began doing and act. He called himself Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot and he began shouting anger at the three comedians when they ring the gong on him and security pulls him offstage. Batman realizes, though some clever jiggering with the image, that Rimshot is in fact the Joker, and now he all of the judges are either missing or in jail.
The host of the event is freaking out because no one’s around to judge, but the Joker arrives and says his three goons will handle it. They hold the host down and the Joker puts a mind control chip on him. Then he goes out onstage and says “Tonight’s first and only performer will be Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot,” and the Joker, in disguise, comes out, but then immediately reveals himself to be the Joker. Batman and Robin arrive to stop him, taking out the thugs, but he’s not alone. The third comedian comes out as Modern Mom and begins whooping Batman and Robin with a broomstick while Joker runs off with the trophy.
Batman leaves Robin to handle Modern Mom while he chases the Joker, who attempts to get on a giant Laff Off balloon and make his getaway. Batman jumps up after him and they have a bit of a tussle. Robin eventually joins and pops the balloon. As it begins to deflate, Joker falls and his head gets stuck in the trophy. He falls off the balloon but Batman catches him with the Batgrapple, but the Joker’s pants come off. The Joker is then left in the middle of the crowded street, surrounded by cops, with a trophy on his head and his pants around his ankles. Not a very dignified defeat even for someone who loves comedy as much as he does.
This isn’t a bad episode per say, it’s just very bog standard. With the exception of the comedy-based villains, which are weird and funny, the rest of the episode is pretty middle of the road. The Joker’s scheme is dumb even for him; he wants to win a comedy trophy? If he wanted it so bad, why didn’t he steal it the year before? And if he wanted to win it, then why go to the trouble of rigging it the following year? It just seems like they had the idea for the comedy villains and then tried to make the rest of the story work. Compared the Joker’s first episode, “Joker’s Favor,” where he’s downright terrifying and absolutely ruins a man’s life for cutting him off in traffic, this seems like a real step down, or several steps. A shame, for a villain as perfectly depicted as the Joker is in TAS, his goes out with the weakest of fizzles.
But, hey, let’s not dwell on the downside of things. Next week, we get the return of Batgirl for her final episode, fittingly titled “Batgirl Returns,” which also bids farewell to all-purpose corporate baddie Roland Daggett.