A History of the Joker

“When you bring me out,
Can you introduce me as Joker?” Todd Phillips’ Joker tells
*a* Joker origin story, but it doesn’t tell
*the* origin story because there isn’t one. Over the years the Joker
himself has given conflicting accounts
of how he came to be. “You dropped me into
that vat of chemicals!” “I stick a razor in my mouth
and do this… to myself.” “When I was a little boy and
told people I was gonna be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well, no one’s laughing now.” It’s even possible
he’s made them all up, or doesn’t remember
his real origin. But where did the character of the Joker come from? And what made him one of the most iconic
comic-book villains of all-time? The colorfully clad
perfect enemy of the Dark Knight made his debut in the pages
of Batman #1 in 1940. Since then, Joker has morphed with
each new interpretation of the character, yet through the years
he’s remained recognizably “the Joker” from his sinister clown appearance
to his twisted “jokes” with punchlines that only make sense to someone detached
from all notions of right and wrong. “I’m gonna make this pencil disappear.” “TA-DA! It’s gone.” His crimes are a means to an end–
the point is chaos “I’m an agent of chaos.” Like Batman, he has no superpowers–
the Joker is most threatening on philosophical, moral and human levels. “Some men just want to
watch the world burn.” So here’s our take on the history that’s led to the Joker of today and what’s really behind
that unsettling grin. “It’s gonna make you smile.” “Uh-oh! His smile is our grimace” This video is brought to you by Hostinger. If you want to create a website
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To get up to 91 percent off. Almost every element that would come
to define the Joker can be found in
his first appearance, Batman #1. The first comic book to feature
Batman’s name in the title featured a retelling of Batman’s origin,
the debut of Catwoman, and opening and closing
stories both involving the Joker. Already in 1940, he had the trademark
juxtaposition of mirth and malevolence, The purple suit, and the look:
a pale face whose resting expression is a disturbing smile. Joker owes that to some combination
of artists Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane, and writer Bill Finger. Each gave conflicting accounts of
how the idea was born, but all pointed to two inspirations:
a Joker playing card, and actor Conrad Veidt’s appearance
in the 1928 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs. That character’s childhood disfigurement
has made him an outcast from society– and he’s only laughing on the outside, whereas with the Joker,
we’re never quite sure. “I’m only laughing on the outside,
my smile is just skin-deep.” Batman #1 established the Joker
as a showman with a gift for irony. Using the radio, he announces his plans to kill a millionaire
and steal his prized possession. He then proceeds to horrifically
murder the man with gas that freezes his face in a smile. Joker’s lethal laughing gas– a weapon that embodies
his particular brand of danger– would continue to be a staple
of the character’s arsenal for the rest of his existence. “If you’ve got to go…
…go with a smile. ” “Smylex gas… He’s going to kill everybody!” Batman began as a grim avenger starring in violent stories inspired by pulp fiction,
but he didn’t stay that way for long. He picked up a boy sidekick, Robin,
and with him even more kid readers. As the age of comics readers drifted downward,
the stories grew softer. And after the panic over comic books’ influence
on young readers led to a 1954 Senate hearing, “The comic books are an important
contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.” and the self-censoring Comics Code Authority,
they grew softer still. What place did a psychopathic mass murderer
have in this puritanical environment? The Joker adapted by turning into a sillier,
less lethal character. And this would set up a question
that’s come into play with all Jokers since: to what extent should this
clownish villain be truly scary, versus enjoyably playful,
or even likeable? In the 1946 story “The Joker Follows Suit,”
he built a Jokermobile and Joker Plane. At heart, he remained the same– a man detached from reality
laughing at jokes only he understood. He just became less of a threat. And he showed up less frequently. In the ’50s and early ’60s, Batman and
Robin got increasingly wrapped up in science fiction-inspired stories that took them away from
the grim back alleys of Gotham. It would take another medium to put
the Clown Prince of Crime back on top. “Hello kiddies, meet the Joker. No hard feelings…” The Batman TV sensation premiering
in 1966 offered a knowing riff on the more kid-friendly Batman stories
the show creators grew up reading. “Ask yourselves what is wrong
with this sentence? He who laughs last, laughs good! (laughs)”
“Holy grammar!” But Cesar Romero’s dead-eyed stare
and maniacal laugh (laughing) still gave his Joker an edge. “If they do not see the joke
pull the rope and let them choke!” Even when he’s attempting to intimidate
a bunch of high school athletes. “When the board of education sees this picture
with you holding the answer to those exams… Ho, ho, ho, ho!” “Good gosh, we’ll be suspended” or facing off with Batman
over a surfing contest, “I’m challenging you to the surfing title
Of the Gotham Point World Championships.” For a generation of TV viewers,
Romero was the definitive Joker, and thus he asserted an influence
on interpretations that followed-— even those that defined themselves
in opposition to his cartoonishness. (Laughing) “Corny, aren’t I?” When the TV series’ popularity waned,
so did the Joker’s fortunes. Too tied to the now canceled series,
he effectively disappeared from the pages of Batman’s comics for a few years. Then, in the early ’70s, he was reborn as an incarnation
of his darker original self– thanks in large part to
an influx of new talent. Stories like “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge”
and “The Laughing Fish” restored his old menace
and lethal tactics, while tapping into
his peculiar type of madness. In “The Laughing Fish,” the Joker attempts
to copyright fish he’s poisoned, freezing their faces in a smile
that resembles his– a quintessential example of the warped logic
that drives the character’s actions. In 1975, the Joker was even
the first supervillain ever to get his own comic book series. It was cancelled
after only nine issues– whether that was because
his edge had to be blunted to suit the still-in-place
Comics Code Authority, or because readers weren’t yet ready
for this psychopath to be a protagonist. But though the comic might have failed,
it wouldn’t be the last time that the Joker became the center of a story,
or that readers were asked to sympathize with his point of view. The 1980s saw a darkening of Batman stories—
and of mainstream comics in general– thanks especially to Frank Miller’s
The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s
The Killing Joke. “The Killing Joke” has the Joker
shooting Batgirl Barbara Gordon, leaving her permanently paralyzed,
and forcing her dad, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, to look at naked photos
of her injured body. In the 1988 story “A Death in the Family,”
Joker beats the second Robin, Jason Todd, with a crowbar,
and then blows him up— but only after readers voted for his death
by calling a 1-900 number. For better or worse, Batman’s readers
had become bloodthirsty and Joker stories helped sate that thirst. We can see the legacy of this dark turn
clearly in modern renditions of the Joker. “Oh, I’m not gonna kill ya,
I’m just gonna hurt ya, really, really bad.” By the late 80s,
Joker was also ready to help Batman make
the leap to the big screen. Enter Jack Nicholson. “You can call me Joker.” Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was a film
built around dualities, so it posited the Joker as the opposite
in every way to Michael Keaton’s Batman: evil to his good,
chaos to his order, attention-hungry extrovert
to his secretive introvert. “You ever dance with the devil
in the pale moonlight?” “What?” “I always ask that of all my prey– I just like the sound of it.” Nicholson filtered
the spirit of the character through his own bigger-than-life
movie star persona, “Here’s Johnny!” bringing a sardonic,
unhinged menace to the role. “You can’t make an omelet
without breaking some eggs.” He might not seem remarkably
dark compared to what we’ve seen since, but Nicholson’s new extreme of
black-hearted malevolence was a departure from what came before onscreen
and it would lay the groundwork for the Joker’s even bleaker
future at the cinema. “Why so serious?” Burton’s film heightens 
the Joker’s fixation on Batman– and explores where his
obsession comes from “And where… is the Batman?” The film inserts the Joker
into Batman’s origins by making him the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents. “You killed my parents.” And, vice versa, it makes Batman
accidentally responsible for the Joker’s fall into the vat of chemicals
that made him how he is. “You made me!” Incidentally, the vat of chemicals
is the most famous version of Joker’s origin story–
it was first seen in the 1951 story, “The Man Behind the Red Hood” and
repeated in Batman: The Killing Joke. Burton’s depiction of this hero
and villain pair who created each other “I made you, but you made me first.” “I was a kid when I killed your parents.” established the pair’s codependency
bordering on a toxic love affair that we can see explored in
later renditions of the story: “I’m fine with you fighting
other people if you wanna do that, but what we have is special.” The new round of Batmania
sparked by Burton’s film led to the 1992 debut of
Batman: The Animated Series. “Justice is served hot, Batman… You’re going to melt just like
a grilled cheese sandwich.” This series’ Joker–
voiced by Mark Hamill– was the most psychologically
complex version of the character yet “Who’s given more hours of amusement
to the Gotham police force than me?” Complicating matters was
the introduction of Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist who falls in love with Joker
while treating him at Arkham Asylum “It’s only natural you’d be attracted
to a man who could make you laugh again.” “I knew you’d understand!” “Anytime.” Quinn’s love immediately made the Joker
a more complicated person. What did it say about him that he could
inspire this kind of passionate love in another human being? Was he capable of returning it “Baby, you’re the greatest!” or merely exploiting any person
unlucky enough to fall for him? “You were gonna come back for me,
weren’t you, puddin’?” “Of course, pumpkin pie. It’s just that,
well, here you are, so I can save myself a trip!” And could his fascination with anyone else
rival the level of his hang-up on Batman? “You’re always taking shots from folks
who just don’t get the joke. Like my dad. Or Batman.” On one level, with Harley Quinn, the Joker’s villainy felt
more personally offensive– as he was depicted as an abusive creep
toward a loving girlfriend. “My fault… I didn’t get the joke…” At other times, her love seemed to have
the potential to redeem him– or at least humanize him–
as this madwoman-soulmate offered audiences a bridge
toward understanding him. “And I thought my jokes were bad.” Our modern understanding of the Joker
is defined by Heath Ledger. “When the chips are down… These uh… These civilized people– They’ll eat each other.” After teasing the Joker’s existence
in the final moments of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan put him at the center
of its sequel, The Dark Knight. The morality play pits
Christian Bale’s Batman against a ruthless crime lord
who is nihilism embodied. “This city just showed you that it’s full
of people ready to believe in good.” “Until their spirit breaks completely.” Now his jokes aren’t merely
for entertaining his own sick mind– they’re strategically undermining
all the meaning and values society takes for granted. “See their morals, their code… It’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign
of trouble.” This film again explores the deep link between The Joker and Batman. “You complete me.” This time to force Batman to confront
his own potential villainy and whether he’s truly as different
from the Joker as he, and we, like to believe. “To them you’re just a freak. Like me!” This Joker is determined to prove
that everyone becomes a villain when they suffer trauma
that’s soul-crushing enough… “He wanted to prove that even someone
as good as you could fall.” “And he was right.” The Joker struck a chord by challenging viewers to question how any of us
would measure up when truly tested “At midnight I blow you all up. If, however, one of you presses the button, I’ll let that boat live.” Ledger took inspiration from A Clockwork Orange’s Alex in his performance– and he plays the Joker as simultaneously
unhinged and controlled, capable of complex schemes but also
a darkly impulsive wild card. He layers into the Joker a mystery:
are his different versions of his origin story part of a disarming strategy,
or evidence of his madness? “Now I’m always smiling.” Ledger won a, sadly posthumous,
Oscar for his efforts. Those daring enough follow Ledger
into the purple suit have had to grapple with the late actor’s shadow. Fellow Oscar winners Jared Leto
in Suicide Squad and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
both take the darkness of Ledger’s Joker as a jumping-off point. “Is it just me, or is it getting
crazier out there?” And Ledger’s charisma (which turned the Joker into
a character just as compelling as Batman) opened up difficult questions
that these latest updates force us to confront. Does fan enjoyment of this character
translate into leading-man material? And when does it become
a problem to be enraptured by his magnetic evil? “See, I’m not a monster,
I’m just ahead of the curve.” Suicide Squad’s Joker is a
tattooed, club-dwelling tough guy who murders without thinking twice– Todd Philips’ Joker pushes the limits
of bleakness and graphic violence “All I have are negative thoughts.” It fleshes out one of the Joker’s origin stories (also seen in The Killing Joke) which has him beginning as
a failed stand-up comic. And it takes inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s depictions of urban alienation,
in classics like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy,
another story about a wanna-be comedian going mad, which explored our
cultural obsession with fame. “The fact is he’s tied up. And I’m the one who tied him. I know you think I’m joking,
but that’s the only way I could break into show business.” The movie even includes
the star of those movies, Robert DeNiro, this time playing
the famous talk show host character. Thus The Joker continues
further down the path The Dark Knight began–
but there’s a key difference. Nolan refused to clarify the Joker’s
origins as part of a strategic choice not to humanize him–
because the director said this would make him
“less threatening.” With Joker, some have pointed
to the risks that come with bestowing too much
humanity on a mass murderer. David Edelstein wrote for Vulture
that the movie “exalts its protagonist
and gives him the origin story of his dreams, in which killing is
a just — and artful — response to a malevolently indifferent society.” Indiewire’s David Ehrlich
even called the film a “toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.” Since the Joker’s debut
nearly 80 years ago, his constant evolution
reflects an ongoing conversation between comics, television,
video games, and movies. He epitomizes how a character
can take on a life of his own, beyond any one story, actor or medium. “If you could see inside
I’m really crying– you might join me for a weep.” Recently, the Joker has journeyed
so far into darkness, he’s become more monster
than madman. “No, we don’t Daddy… I wanna keep him forever!” “No, no please, no! (Screams)” But there are also signs
the pendulum could swing back toward the comic interpretations
that used to prevail. In The LEGO Batman Movie,
Zach Galifianakis delivers a fun, funny interpretation that loses
none of the psychological complexity, portraying Joker’s madness as stemming
from neediness and the desire to be seen. “There is no ‘us.’ Batman and Joker are not a thing”. Even in his lightest interpretations, the Joker remains deeply unsettling. He challenges the basic assumptions
of human civility and decency which hold society together. He delights in his misdeeds because they make human beings
the butt of his jokes. And his humor costs people their lives,
their sanity, or just their sense that they understand how the world works-—
a sense that even the briefest brush with the Joker can turn upside down. *laughter* “(Singing) Send in the clown…” This video is brought
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100 thoughts on “A History of the Joker

  1. Go to https://www.hostinger.com/thetake and use code THETAKE to get up to 91% OFF yearly web hosting plans. Succeed faster!
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  2. I was hoping you would cover more the Joker’s dependency on Batman as depicted famously in works such as Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns_, _The Man Who Killed Batman episode of Batman The Animated Series, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and Steve Englehart and Marshall Roger’s Strange Apparitions.

  3. Watching the 70s TV joker made me realize he was just Salvador Dalí dialed way up. An attention-seeking surrealist trying to establish himself as the glamorous enfant terrible of bourgeois society while getting very wealthy. The "smile" makeup literally looks like the Dalí mustache.

    Nice video, I enjoyed open-minded the Joker comparisons.


    The middle


  5. There was another Animated Joker Based off of Cesar Romero's Joker, it's the Joker that the Scooby Gang went up against when they met Batman and Robin Voiced by Casey Kasem and Olan Soule, yes the Joker from the Superfriends T.V. Shows, Don't Forget about him.

  6. Do you guys think you'd ever do a video on The Dark Crystal? With AoR out, there's a lot to say about how the creative team built upon the original film to deliver some genuinely fascinating social & political commentary

  7. But the time I'm writing this, Joaquin Phoenix's Joker movie hasn't been released in my country. Is it now available in cinemas at the US?
    I loved the analysis of the Joker's different iterations, but I feel a little risky judging the latest one only by the trailers and third parties.

  8. Batman and Joker really are a codependent bromance, aren't they? Everybody has some kind of trauma. It's the choices you make with yours that define us: watching the world burn or trying to put out the fire.

  9. Uh, in the Killing Joke, it's heavily implied that the Joker not only shot and took naked photos of Barbara Gordon, but that he raped her, which is why Batman at the end seems to snap and it's left up to the reader to decide whether Batman killed the Joker. It's a really dark comic, and I don't think enough people realize that.

  10. I'm glad Lego Batman was so good. With how much Ledger nailed the dark version of Joker, it's gonna be a while before we can watch that type of portrayal without comparing it to the Dark Knight. But Lego Joker was so fun in a really specific way, I wasn't thinking about Heath Ledger while watching him.

  11. I know Joaquin will not only knock his role as the Joker out of the ball park but he will receive an Oscar as well that is if the Academy doesn't let SJWs & other assholes sway them from it. He & Heath took this clown of crime to a whole other level one thing that got me about Joquin's version was his eyes the actor has beautiful, memorizing as well as hypnotizing eyes. But that's just my opinion. I have a question in a game of manipulation who would win Joker or Black Widow?

  12. Ledger's Joker was an anarchist terrorist, as Nolan's movies reflected the current War on Terror. However, in previous depictions, the Joker was a mobster, a prankster, a serial murderer or a supervillain. Only on a few occasions, all those crimes were about making a twisted social and political statement, as in the Soft Targets storyline from Gotham Central. If we were to move from a world obsessed with terrorism and surveillance, to a world where we've realized that the madmen are running the house, the Joker from the Dark Knight trilogy, despite how definitive its portrayal felt, would be still be fondly remembered, but as an outdated product of his time.

  13. For me villains make a more interesting character study. Please do one on the Chamberlain from the Dark Crystal. He like the Joker is a master manipulator

  14. I inside every average person living a life he doesnt want..theres an element of joker inside him. The lunacy prevails when they cant take it anymore and the mind snaps. Some people don't even remember what happens during that time. Some people go "away" forever.

  15. If you'd actually took the time to research this rather than a quick five minutes to capitalize off the latest hot movie you'd realize that all of these answers and none of them are correct. There was never just one Joker. There are atleast 3 different Jokers. That's why there are different personalities and origin stories.

  16. Isn't most of the Batman villain's origins usually social commentary pointing out society's flaws, and how people overall treat one another?

  17. I honestly can't watch the Dark Knight movies anymore without laughing at Christian Bales' bat, only because of those hysterical College Humor Badman videos LOLOL!!!!

  18. Loved this video. You guys should do one on Fleabag. I've tried finding an analysis video for it but there's no one who's done one yet. It's a funny series, but it has so much depth and I'm pretty sure you guys would nail it.

  19. This is NOT a "comic book" movie. This is character study of man who is driven to the edge. Who happens to become " The Joker".

  20. Yes Yes Just like playing GTA makes a school shooter and playing Fifa helps you become world-class level soccer player, Joker will cause the uprise of the straight white men incels(Worse than even Hitler himself) uprise and destroy the world…SMH

  21. Hi the take!
    My name is Nícolas, I am from Brazil, and I love your work (my dream is to work with you ahah), and specially your videos about Mad Men.
    You did a whole series of character study abot all the Mad men, but there is one specific mad man who is out! Harry Crane, probably the only mad man who really understood what is to be a mad man is about. Please, make one of him!
    Congratulations for your very talented channel.
    Take care

  22. I’m surprised Jordan Peterson hasn’t talked about the joker and his symbolism to real life incels. He seems to perfectly fit into what he calls a “judge of being,” as he has a very good understanding as to why people do terrible things like mass shootings as he’s talked many times on the columbine shooters and their motives.

  23. I saw Joker and there is nothing toxic or bad in it, it’s a fiction, with fictional characters, not an educational media. A fiction depicts a totally imaginary story, or with real elements, not of what society should be but of what it is, could have been or could become. Not only now a lot of people and critics seems not to understand this anymore, but we’ve been hearing this accusation towards violent movies (that violent characters or movies would incite people to commit violence for real) for 40 years. it's as stupid as saying that doing something in video games would make people do it in real life. A violent media does not turn people mad or violent, but some people with already psychological problems may be attracted by that and take it as a pretext to do bad things, it’s a huge nuance. And also, in Joker, the fall and the transformation of the protagonist doesn’t praise violence but denounce the trivialized violence inside society and its treatment by the power, the double standard, the complain about violence while they are creating all the conditions for it, and the movie is also about the perception of mental illness. seriously I can’t even understand the morons relating this movie to the incels, it’s completely a subjective connexion

  24. Can you compare this to Fight Club? Both are about white male rage, but in this climate, Joker is getting a lot of backlash. Would Fight Club face that backlash today? I'd guess no. It feels like FIght Club did a better job of satirising white male rage whereas this seems to legitimise it due to vague mental illness and the protagonist's perceived "mistreatment". Fight Club was honest that the men were entitled and angry whereas Joker plays like an underdog's violent revenge fantasy, which in this climate of entitled white male incels, Trump and school / movie / mosque / church shootings feels a bit reckless. We need a nuanced take on this!

  25. I’d love to post something deep about the Joker, because truly one of my favorite down the rabbit hole characters and guys did a nice job would love to see you do the new film, but could you also do Napoleon Dynamite? My boyfriend made me watch it the other day, did not enjoy it very much but it seems worth a Take.

  26. I was wondering about the new movie humanizing the Joker too much, as well as celebrating him. He is a terrible person and villain. No matter how interesting the psychological factor is, or how much of a great character study it is, that shouldn't be forgotten. Also I think the current climate doesn't really need movies like this…

  27. The problem with "more lethal" Joker is that as he continues to pile dead bodies up, Batman's "no-kill," "maybe he can be helped" policy becomes increasingly idiotic until we're right back into camp. And even if you ignore Bats, there's every cop in Gotham and guard in Arkham who has an interest in rendering him room temperature before he murders them. Not to mention all the other metas in the DCU; for example there have been a few attempts to hand-wave why the Spectre never iced him (or any of Gotham's other mass-murderers) but it's always some pathetic excuse that never seemed to save any of the Spectre's other targets. Green Arrow put a shaft through Prometheus' cranium, Superman killed Zod, and yet the Joker is still breathing. You're kinda broken, DCU.

    Ha ha! Who's stupid enough to believe the result of the "Robin-lives-or-dies" poll was legitimate and not pre-determined? I have bridges to sell them!

    I don't mind that the new movie tweaks the origin story, but no, falling in the vat didn't "turn" him into the Joker. It permanently discolored his skin and hair, and that made him "snap," but the Red Hood was already a criminal and the whole mass-murdering lunatic thing didn't come until much, much later. (Eh, don't feel bad: Batman vs TNMT also gets that wrong with its end-credits scene in which Shredder becomes a wild, cackling "Joker-Shredder" after a dunk in a similar vat years later just happens to give him the same discoloration.)

  28. Me and and my friends after seeing the Joker movie began to think and talk about the best joker and i have to say honestly Joaquin Phoenix i feel is the best interpretation of the Joker i respect and enjoy Heath Ledgers take but i feel Joaquin takes the cake

  29. Yeah no one wants to see a grown ass man dressing in a fucking rubber suit and cape and all that bullshit, crime fighting Bat guy! Joker could very well be the death of Batman! There is plenty more stories behind a man with issues and hardship than there is a guy who inherited a lot of money!!

  30. Whatever it is, this move feels like the truth. A mentally deranged SINGLE SMOTHERING mother keeping a boy from becoming a man, letting resentment build up from his inadequacies up to boiling point and from there, well there is no turning back from there.

  31. "Fellow Oscar winners Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix…" Phoenix has not, thus far, won an Oscar. Do a damn google search, and stop taking money from Better Help while you're at it, The Take.

  32. i dint feel that joker represented well the characther, he is psycopath but that is not a disorder, is a personality trait, they try to make us feel pity for him, he is a saddistic criminal who knows perfectly when he is doing something wrong and enjoys it, he is not psicotic, like we see in the movie, people with mental illnes only hurt others when are having persecutory delusions which didnt happen to him, is inaccurate in so many ways

  33. Joker & Harley's relationship in the animated series is an allegory for the cycle of domestic abuse. The idea of a victim supposedly being shown a redemptive aspect of the perpetrator, keeping the former tragically coming back to accept the abuse as their own fault for not "understanding" the latter. Which really extends to the viewer as a test of whether to fall into the same trap of believing that a genuine love can potentially exist behind the abuse rather than through caring & selflessness.

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