Joker: The True Story | NowThis Nerd

– Hi everyone, I’m Moose, and I’ve been feeling kinda funny lately. (suspenseful music) (maniacal laugh) – Is this a joke to you? See there’s a new ‘Joker’
movie just around the corner, and it’s already stirring up controversy, along with rave reviews. But who is responsible
for giving birth to this clown prince of crime? How did he evolve and
adapt throughout the years? And why do we just– – Love that Joker? (maniacal laughing) – This is the true story of the Joker. 80 years after he first appeared the canonical origin of the Joker is still shrouded in mystery. And fittingly enough for the man with a multiple choice past, no one really knows who exactly
came up with him either. So let’s start with what we
do know about his creation. Three men have claimed
the honor of creating the clown prince of crime. There’s artist Bob Kane,
who for decades was the only byline on Batman, getting all of the cash and accolades despite having a fairly minimal role in shaping the world of Gotham. There’s also writer Bill Finger, arguably the real brains behind Batman, who died penniless and
unacknowledged until just a few years ago. And finally, there’s Jerry Robinson, one of Kane’s assistants
who did a lot of the actual ya’ know, drawing for him. Much of the argument revolves around who came up with what first, but if we take everyone at their word, it kinda goes something like this. Robinson dreamt up a character
made of contradictions. A comedic clown and an ice
cold killer all in one. So he jotted down this playing card sketch and showed it to Bill Finger. Finger wasn’t super impressed,
but the concept reminded him of a still he had seen
from an old silent movie, 1928’s ‘The Man Who Laughs.’ Based on an 1869 novel by Victor Hugo, it tells the story of Gwynplaine, a boy punished for his
father’s actions by mutilating his face into a permanent rictus grin. And these illustrations from
the 1800s are creepy enough. But it was clearly actor
Conrad Veidt’s portrayal that provided the blueprint
for Batman’s arch nemesis. Bob Kane whipped up a
design based on Finger and Robinson’s ideas, plus a little inspo from this
creepy Coney Island mascot. And on April 25th, 1940,
the Joker was born. Today, all three men share
the credit for his creation, although, as often happened
in the Golden Age of comics, only one of them got rich. For such an old character,
the Joker actually appeared fairly fully formed in
his first appearance. But thanks to congressional hearings and a national censorship campaign, Mistah J. was forced to
undergo some changes. In his debut story, the
Joker brazenly announces that he’s going to
murder three of Gotham’s most prominent citizens. A simple plot that established
so much about his character from his twisted sense of humor, to his callous disregard for human life. And it directly inspired
Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in ‘The Dark Knight.’ In 1942, just two years
after his first appearance, the Joker committed what
would be his last murder for decades as he morphed
from a psycho killer into a harmless prankster. Towards the end of the Golden
Age, the comics industry was rocked by a moral
panic as concerned parents around the country blamed a perceived rise in juvenile delinquency on
those awful, nasty comic books. The newly established
Comics Code put the kibosh on Joker’s killing sprees,
though this period wasn’t a total loss as far as
his development goes. Once guns and knives were off the table, DC had to be more creative with
the clown’s criminal tools, leading to his iconic arsenal
of deadly joy buzzers, acid-spewing boutonnieres, and all sorts of wonderful wonderful toys. Also, in 1951, we got our
first tantalizing glimpse at what could be the Joker’s origin. As the Comics Code tightened
its grip on the medium, DC eventually phased out
Mister J. altogether, pitting Batman against aliens and other silly sci-fi villains instead. But while the character was
hibernating in the comics, the Joker made his debut
outside the printed page in the 1966 ‘Batman’ TV series. (suspenseful music) (maniacal laughing) And, in what would become a tradition with casting the clown prince of crime, the person behind the makeup
wasn’t really who you’d expect. Cesar Romero, a Cuban-Spanish
actor known as the Latin from Manhattan, was mostly famous for romantic roles. But with his luscious mustache
covered with greasepaint, he was the perfect flamboyant foil for Adam West’s deadpan Dark Knight. – It’s time for you to
sing a different tune my crooked clown. – Songs are for parties my caped copper. – Starting in 1973, Denny
O’Neal and Neal Adams returned the Joker to his violent roots. Their exquisitely evil
take on the character was so popular that Mistah J.
even got his own solo series. Although it only lasted 9 issues, since DC mandated that
the Joker had to be caught and punished at the end of every story. And where is the fun in that? Still, the stage was set
for the Joker renaissance. And from the ’80s through the modern era, different generations
of writers and artists began to explore and expand
his twisted character. Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’ and Grant Morrison’s
‘Arkham Asylum’ introduced a queer subtext to Batman
and the Joker’s relationship. ‘A Death in the Family’
and ‘The Killing Joke’ made their feud even more personal. And in the legendary animated series, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
introduced us to the greatest thing to happen to Joker since Gotham got rid of the death penalty. – Knock, knock, warden. Say hello to your new,
improved Harley Quinn. – Mistah J. continues
to evolve in the pages of DC comics today. From the existential terror
of ‘The Clown at Midnight,’ to the faceless Mr. Fixit from
the Snyder and Capullo run. But when it comes to the Joker, comics are only half the story. Because arguably his character has made the most impact onscreen. Over the years there’s
been plenty of actors who put a smile on their
face to portray the Joker. Troy Baker, Kevin Michael
Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Zach Galifinakis, just to name a few. But, great as they may be, there are few Joker
performances that are clearly a cut above the rest, (suspenseful music) – Why so serious? and redefined how the entire
world perceives the character. Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’ was a watershed moment in the career of the caped crusader. It’s when he went from beloved character to global phenomenon. And it’s largely thanks
to some killer casting. Jack Nicholson was always the first choice to play the Joker. But when he didn’t want to play ball the studio offered the role
to Robin Williams instead. The comic jumped at the chance. – I am sitting on a gold mine. – But it turns out they
were only using him as bait to get Jack to join. Williams did not appreciate it. And he refused the role of the Riddler for ‘Batman Forever’ as a result. But that was a bridge
kinda worth burning though because Nicholson was absolutely
the right man for the job. – Wait till they get a load of me. (suspenseful music) – He had a blast playing
the bombastic bad guy probably due to the fact
that he had just inked literally the greatest
deal in Hollywood history. Earning $90 million for one role is enough to make anyone happy, but Nicholson looks genuinely gleeful in the guise of the Joker. His co-star Michael Keaton
once told a story about when they were both sitting
in their makeup chairs getting suited up. And Nicholson just kinda
leans over to him and says, “Well, we just gotta let the
wardrobe do the acting kid.” That’s true after all man,
you just work the suit. – Nicholson left some
pretty big shoes to fill, but nearly 20 years later, Heath Ledger escaped from his
shadow with ‘The Dark Knight.’ – This town deserves a
better class of criminal. (dogs barking) And I’m gonna give it to ’em. – Like most fans, I was skeptical that the pretty Australian dude from
’10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘A Knight’s Tale,’ could pull off a convincing killer clown. But Ledger threw himself
into the role completely. He holed himself up in a
hotel room for a month, researching killers, writing a
twisted in-character journal, and discovering the vocal tics that made the character so unforgettable. – I locked myself away
for six weeks in a room and I kinda came up with this creep. Walkin’ around like a mad man, and finding posture, finding stance, finding his voice is very important. Because when you find the voice, you find the breath within the voice. – A twisted sociopath who
utterly lacks empathy, this stripped-down, back-to-basics Joker never fell in a vat of chemicals, he doesn’t use fancy
poisons that make people smile when they die. He is simply a chaotic force. One that resonated with people for all the right and wrong reasons. After Heath’s tragic
death, he was awarded a posthumous Oscar for his work. The first and so far only
time the award has gone to a comic book character. The reigns passed to Jared Leto, a fine actor slash musician
slash possible cult leader. But his performance just
kinda seemed like a discount Dark Knight with face tattoos. – Are you sweet talkin’ me? – And only time will tell
if we ever see him rumble with Robert Pattinson. Now, there is one glaring omission I haven’t talked about yet. Mark Hamill’s definitive
portrayal of the Joker that began with the
Batman animated series. (maniacal laughing) It is wild to think that
arguably the greatest Joker of all time was actually
the second choice. Originally, Tim Curry was
cast in the role fresh off his portrayal of Pennywise
in the ‘It’ miniseries. But after he was laid up with bronchitis the producers quickly
replaced him with Mark Hamill. And what a great substitute. He’s got the goofiness of Romero, the ruthlessness of Nicholson, and a deranged charisma all his own. (maniacal laughing) – His laugh should be
like a musical instrument. It should sort of illustrate his mood. – Hamill’s Joker is the benchmark by which all others are defined. And while it might not
have inspired hundreds of edgelords to paint their
faces for Halloween 2008, his portrayal has held
up through the ages as, let’s face it, the
greatest Joker of all time. – You were so busy thinking
of Mark Hamill as a celebrity, you forgot that he’s also
a talented voice actor. – What’s a voice actor? – However, he may have a
contender in Joaquin Phoenix. (maniacal laughing) Judging from the early buzz,
‘Joker’ could be the second time in history that two
different actors win an Oscar for portraying the same character. Which would put this silly
super villain up there with Don Corleone in the
annals of the Academy. – You’re not gonna mess with my boy. – It’s become one of
those roles like King Lear or Willy Loman, an archetypal character that a skilled actor
can completely inhabit, shape, and transform. Every generation has a
Joker to call their own, and just like the character in the comics, he changes to fit the times. Nicholson’s sleazy gangster
embraced the excess of the ’80s and ’90s. – Ever dance with the devil
in the pale moon light? – What? – I just like the sound of it. (lightning striking) (screams) – Ledger’s anarchist
agent was the perfect fit for the post-9/11 political atmosphere. – I’m an agent of chaos. – While Leto is the
poster child of a studio desperately stumbling into
the shared universe craze. – I am not someone who is loved. I have an idea. – As for Mark Hamill, he’s just timeless. (maniacal laughing) And while we don’t yet
know history will reflect on Joaquin Phoenix’s unconventional
take on the character, critics are already concerned that he’s a little too reflective of our current chaotic environment. The Todd Phillips film strips
away the comic book origins and the caped crusader, to paint the picture of a disturbed man warped by the times he lives in. – All I have are negative thoughts. – It’s a throwback to the
bleak, grimy, contemplative films of the ’70s. And whether you love it or hate it, It’s hard to argue that it’s
not authentic to the character, because there is no one Joker. He’s whatever his
environment shapes him to be. A blank slate, a primordial force. The Joker simply is. And that is why he’s endured. – We mustn’t compare
ourselves to regular people. We’re artists.

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