From the same parade that gave us ALF’s running commentary comes this bizarre artifact. 1989, you may recall, was the year that Tim Burton’s Batman came out. It’s suffered a hit in reputation of late, thanks to the newer, far superior Batman reboots. But if 1989’s Batman doesn’t completely measure up to those high watermarks, it’s still an enjoyable flick. It has requisite Tim Burton dark playfulness and mostly avoids some of his usual crimes, like relying heavily on Johnny Depp. I like Depp and I like Burton. (It’s been a while since he put out something decent, with the possible exception of Sweeney Todd, but I’ll forgive a lot from the man behind Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice.). However, if I were teaching them in elementary school, I’d make those two kids sit at different tables for a while.
One of the big reasons for Batman‘s success was Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker. Now that we also have Heath Ledger’s version, the bite of Jack’s performance is not quite as sharp in comparison, but again, it remains eminently watchable. Wanting to keep pace with the zeitgeist, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade thought it would be fun to have a Joker “drop in” on the proceedings. The conceit of this segment is that the Clown Prince of Crime has arrived unannounced to ruin the party. Oh Joker, will you ever learn?
But rather than release toxic chemicals or run people over, The Joker just belts out a very Broadway “bad guy” song called “The Joker.” It comes from a 1964 musical called The Roar of the Greaspaint, The Smell of the Crowd, and was introduced by Athony Newley. So…well, just connect the dots, okay? (Truth be told, my own impressions of Mr. Newley are limited mostly to Tom Servo’s impression of him on Mystery Science Theater 3000. “William Holden’s coming overrrrr…”)
Did I expect The Joker to poison parade goers or shock them with a 20,000 watt joy buzzer? Of course not. But I also didn’t expect him to sing a song with an awful lot of slide whistle (any slide whistle is an awful lot, I’d say), while accentuating dopey lyrics by mannerisms that make Tommy Tune look butch, topped off with some corny jokes at the Caped Crusader’s expense. What are the odds Bruce Vilanch was somehow involved with this? I place the over/under at 117%. In fact, I would not bat an eye if you told me this scene was written and scored by Rip Taylor.
But the weirdest part of all might be the end, when we cut to a studio somewhere and a prerecord bit reveals to us that The Joker is actually comedian Fred Travalena and he wishes us all a happy Thanksgiving. As if we were all in a great deal of suspense wondering about the identity of this fake Joker we met almost two minutes ago. I WAS ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT, NBC. DON’T YOU DRAW REVEALS OUT LIKE THAT!
What is the point, really, of dressing these celebrities in bizarro costumes for no reason if you’re going to say, “Just kidding, folks, this is the real me and I wish you a happy non-Joker holiday” Was Mr. Travalena pulling a diva move and insisting his identity be acknowledged? “Oh no, no way I’m singing this fruity song in white makeup at 8 in the morning when it’s 23 degrees out and go unrecognized. Do you know who you’re dealing with? I’M FRED MOTHERFUCKING TRAVALENA. There better be a hooker in my trailer when I’m done, too.”