For many pop culture fanatics, Mark Hamill's greatest claim to fame is his journey as Luke Skywalker through the ever-expanding Star Wars franchise. A smaller subset of fans exists, however, that will forever hold Hamill in highest esteem for his decades of work as Batman nemesis The Joker, which started back in 1992 on Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill recently talked at length about where that iconic and haunting voice came from, and the combination is one that fans likely wouldn't have predicted.
I would imitate the old Universal horror films and I realize, in retrospect, I wasn't doing it consciously, but Claude Rains as The Invisible Man. [As Rains] 'Crazy? You think I'm crazy? I'll show you who's crazy!' So he had sort of the grit that I incorporated into it. And I said to voiceover people later, I would do a character and I would say, 'It's sort of like Howard Cosell meets Jay Leno. Is that a cheat?' And they said, 'No, we do that all the time.' People don't even realize, you take elements. I don't do a very good Jay Leno, but just [as Leno], 'Ya know, that cadence,' And I'll use people all the time. I have lots of influences.
The next time you see the animated Joker skulking around, possibly with Harley Quinn by his side, you'll definitely remember that what you're hearing was partly inspired by a movie monster whose most frightful element was his voice. The fact that it was also partly inspired by David Letterman's late night nemesis is a little less badass, to be sure. But hey, Jay Leno was one of the most-watched talk show hosts of all time, so I suppose that his voice helps to supply the affable entertainer element that makes The Joker so watchable.
When Mark Hamill took on his Joker gig in the early '90s -- having replaced the similarly spooky-voiced Tim Curry -- he had quite a few acts to follow. On the animated side, F Troop's Larry Storch and Scooby-Doo vets Frank Welker and Lennie Weinrib voiced the villain through the 1960s and 1970s. The mustachioed Cesar Romero played The Joker in the live-action Batman TV show, while Jack Nicholson memorably donned the facepaint for Tim Burton's feature. Hamill obviously didn't want to outright copy anyone else, and he actually got the note from show producers to avoid using Nicholson's performance as inspiration.
While talking with hip-hop and radio superstar Sway on his show Sway's Underground, Mark Hamill also talked about how even though he may have had two distinct inspirations for his Joker voice, no two performances were exactly the same for the actor.
I would say, with The Joker, he's different every time you play him. You try and play him like the first time you've ever done it. In one script, he's meant to be really menacing and another was a parody of Thelma and Louise where Harley and Ivy teamed up and Joker was left shuffling around the apartment in furry slippers and totally cuckolded, so he was played as kind of a goof in that one. So he's different every time. That's the way I look at it. But, boy, I've had so much fun doing it.
If any animators out there want to create an endless line of animated movie parodies where Hamill's Joker and Arleen Sorkin's Harley Quinn are standing in for the main characters, I think fans would be down. In fact, hearing The Joker's voice coming out of Luke Skywalker's mouth is a bucket list item I didn't know I had.
Speaking of check out the video below to hear just about every iteration of Mark Hamill's Joker out there.
While Batman: The Animated Series is long gone, episodes can be streamed on Amazon, and revisiting is never a bad idea. In the meantime, check out Mark Hamill finding his young Luke Skywalker voice for Forces of Destiny, and how he nailed The Joker's laugh. Then head to our midseason premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way. To check out his entire interview on Sway's Universe, head to the next page.