Source: Six Feet Under (HBO)

EPISODE 8 - Batman: the animated series
Guest: yassir lester

Comedian, writer, actor, and podcast host Yassir Lester joins Sandy to dissect the beautifully dark and twisted Saturday morning cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series. They discuss Arkham Asylum’s model of mental healthcare, Batman’s own mental health, and whether Batman and Robin count as a Thing.


Yassir Lester (he/him) is a stand up comedian, a writer and actor on the Showtime series Black Monday, and co-host of the podcast My Brother’s Sneaker. He has previously worked on Making History, Champions, The Carmichael Show, Girls, and Black Dynamite.



  • Here’s a Vulture oral history of Batman: TAS that’s got tons of gems. Worth checking out if you loved the show. 

  • Check out Yassir Lester’s comedy, follow him on Twitter. He recently dropped his first track too; it’s pure fire.

  • Here’s the thesis I referenced, by Zina Hutton, “Queering The Clown Prince of Crime: A Look at

    Queer Stereotypes as Signifiers In DC Comics’ The Joker”

  • A reminder that our second Mad Chat Book Club will be on October 3 at 8:30 pm eastern on Mad Chat’s Instagram Live. We’re chatting about Robert Whitaker’s Mad In America. It was a book that majorly changed my thinking in this space and I recommend you check it out — especially if you’re interested in mental health, especially if you have wanted information to back up the sorts of stuff I say on the show. If you’ve read it already, awesome; I hope you’ll come to book club. You can email questions ahead of time to madchatshow@gmail or DM us.


SANDY ALLEN: I feel like Joker, the reason he’s so dangerous, is ‘cause he’s out. He’s, like, out here, he’s wearing makeup, he’s wearing eyeliner, he’s wearing heels, he’s wearing, like, a little flower and a bolo tie, and like — you know? Like, he’s got a lot of accoutrements, like, he changes outfits, like, he’s got a good bathing suit look with sunglasses, like, you know, like:


JOKER: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

SANDY: He’s just — in general he’s kind of, like, living his, like, wild dream. And that, I think, is what’s so dangerous to Batman. And actually I was reading this, like, scholarly article about the Joker as a very queer-coded character kind of through all these different versions, and, you know, the extent to which a lot of villains, right, get — get kind of a queerness about them, especially back in the early ‘90s, I feel like there was a lot of Disney villains who had a sort of queer thing going on.

YASSIR: Oh, I mean, Jafar, Ursula, Scar —


SIMBA: Hey Uncle Scar, when I’m king, what’ll that make you?

SCAR: A monkey’s uncle. 

SIMBA: (laughs) You’re so weird.

SCAR: You have no idea.

SANDY: So that was a thing — I think that was a thing in the culture, it does seem like part of the kind of danger of Joker is — is — is his femininity, for lack of a better word, right? Like, his insanity is also an element of it, and I think those are both problematic in a way. And — and the show leans on it over and over again. 


SANDY: This is Mad Chat, a podcast where we unpack what our pop culture is telling us about madness and mental health. I’m your host, Sandy Allen. Today I am thrilled to be talking about a cartoon I absolutely loved as a child, one that is incidentally about a billionaire who beats up people he then returns to an asylum: Batman: The Animated Series.

YASSIR: I thought you were gonna say Elon Musk.

SANDY: Elon Musk: The Cartoon (BOTH laugh). Here to discuss the show with me is comedian, actor, writer, and professional and famous model, Yassir Lester (YASSIR laughs).


SANDY: Yassir, welcome to Mad Chat.

YASSIR: Sandy, what’s up?

SANDY: You know, I’m happy to see you. I’m gonna say a little bit about Batman: The Animated Series.


SANDY: Then we’re gonna get to what we’re gonna really talk about this thing.

YASSIR: Perfect.

SANDY: We’re gonna — we’re gonna — we’re gonna get into all the reasons why this show is problematic as fuck, but also it’s great (BOTH laugh). 


SANDY: Batman: The Animated Series aired for 85 episodes on FOX Kids between 1992 and 1995. Ostensibly a kids show. It was dark and sometimes pretty adult. It’s regarded as one of the best animated superhero shows of all time, and it’s of course taking up Batman, the very famous DC superhero, as well as his cast of rogues. And each episode was visually really beautiful, a combination of noir and art deco. It had its own score. So the show was sort of, like, better than it needed to be, and I think it — it stood out for that reason. So Yassir, take me back in time. Were you into Batman particularly?

YASSIR: Well, you know what’s weird, so I — this show came along in a very interesting point in my life, as what, an eight-year-old or whatever. 

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: Wait, what — what year did it start airing?

SANDY: ‘92. 

YASSIR: ‘92. So yeah, I was — yeah, I was exactly eight. I was — 

SANDY: I was five. 

YASSIR: Oh. Okay, I get it. 

SANDY: Yeah, yeah — that’s the difference between us.

YASSIR: I’m older. (BOTH laugh)

SANDY: I’m just saying.

YASSIR: Why did you do that?! Just lose my mind. No, so I was eight years old, and Marvel was just gigantic, and Image Comics came along, so you know you have your Spawn, and your — your Nighthawks, and, you know, all these — all these larger than life characters. And someone — I wish I could remember them so I could credit them with this quote, which I found so interesting — they said that Marvel is about characters, and DC is about stories. And I was like, “Oh, yeah!” That’s why as a kid I never really cared about Batman, I never really cared about Superman, or Wonder Woman, any of the big DC tentpoles —

SANDY: You were into the comic books. Like, you were reading —

YASSIR: Yes, but I loved Marvel. I read everything they put out.

SANDY: You’d, like, go to the store and get a new comic book —

YASSIR: Every, you know, just —

SANDY: — and all that stereotypical nerd shit?

YASSIR: Absolutely.

SANDY: Wow. So you were —

YASSIR: Just like, the one in Fresno, California, yeah. 

SANDY: — really a loser.

YASSIR: Yeah, yeah. 

SANDY: Okay.

YASSIR: Yeah. By every metric.

SANDY: Okay, so you’re really into Marvel and you’re not into DC. 

YASSIR: And then this cartoon comes along — the show, when I first started watching it, weirdly felt like a secret. Like, the first thing I ever saw that was R-rated — and I don’t know why my mom let me see it — was, like, Terminator 2. For whatever reason she never let me watch The Simpsons but was okay with me watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day (SANDY laughs) [5:00]. Which, whatever, ‘cause I actually look back on Terminator and it’s — it’s not as bad as it could be. Anyway, that’s what Batman: Animated Series felt like. It felt like something — as much as they say, like, it was kind of for adults — even watching it this time, I was like, “This is for adults.” There’s that — very rarely would was I — see something where I was like, “Oh, that’s, like, a joyful thing for a kid.” And I was trying to look to see if — if I could find anything in particular, but the one thing that I did see that really stuck out to me is that most cartoons are drawn on white paper and then colored in, but this show was drawn on dark paper and then had white highlights added to it, which is — you’re like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense,” and then, like, you know, I watched, like, seven of ‘em, and — I mean, I’ve seen all of them, but this past run I watched like seven — and I was like, “Does the whole show take place at night?”

SANDY ALLEN: Yeah, basically.

YASSIR: Like, I truly could not find one shot (SANDY laughs) where they had the sun. I was just like, this feels wild. 

SANDY: I think there’s one episode where, like, all of the bad guys go to the desert, and a psychiatrist is, like, auctioning off the identity of Bruce Wayne —


DR. STRANGE: (clears throat) I have here incontestable proof of Batman’s secret identity. Now gentlemen: how much am I bid?

SANDY: — and I feel like there’s daylight. And it honestly feels startling. They’re like where the Road Runner would be. So did you, like, watch the show? ‘Cause it would come on — I mean, I think it was, like, a Saturday morning, right?

YASSIR: It was, so I watched it — like, again, just, you know, the quintessential child. The Saturday morning cartoons, the cereal, you know what I mean? So I watched it religiously.

SANDY: Imbibing your advertisements. Imbibing sugar.

YASSIR: (laughing) Yes, exactly. Exactly.

SANDY: As we were all supposed to do. Let’s talk about Batman, and just, like, the ways in which I think he — I mean, he’s a — he’s a kinda heavy dude, you know? 

YASSIR: Well and here’s the thing. Inherently, you know, Batman’s backstory — which I believe was added ten years after the creation of the character, I can’t quite remember. 

SANDY: Oh, interesting.

YASSIR: But — but if — if I’m remembering correctly, the — the parents dying thing kind of comes later. And there’s even evidence that the character of Batman itself is stolen from, like, a — a novel written ten years before the first publication of Batman. 

SANDY: Oh, wow.

YASSIR: Like, yeah. It — it — his history is deep as — as it is complicated. But that being said, again, the greatest thing about Batman, I think — it is an interesting character, but Batman’s greatest strength is that he exists in a universe with Superman. Because Batman in Marvel, I believe, would do well as a character, I think people would really dig him, but the fact that DC’s leading character was just this golden boy, you know, and you had Wonder Woman, who’s this golden girl, you know, like, and then to all the sudden — he is emblematic, weirdly, I think, of the — the true psyche of America at the time in which he was introduced, you know?

SANDY: How do you mean?

YASSIR: I say that because — the reason I think people hooked into him is because they were sick of pretending everything was fine a la Superman or a la Wonder Woman. I think that so much of our culture, I think so much of this country’s identity is based in the lie that — and, like, you know, I’m not gonna use — I mean to use the phrase against what it means — but the Make America Great Again of it all is so interesting to me because it not only, you know — not only does it wipe out the rights of, you know, three-fourths of the population of the United States when people say that, but the idea is that we were happier, the idea is that Americans were happier. And Americans have never been happy. 

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: They just never have. So I think that’s why just the antihero in — in pop culture always is — is so gravitated towards, but I think especially with Batman because a — he existed in a time where we didn’t talk about that stuff. Even, like, your pulp — pulp novels of the time, it’s like, the — you know, the detective would maybe drink and maybe have a smoke and, you know call someone —

SANDY: Right. He clearly has some shit, but he’s not gonna —

YASSIR: Right, but it’s not, like, he was abused, you know?

SANDY: Right! Or he had some great trauma that he’s kind of recovering from.

YASSIR: Right. Exactly.

SANDY: Or — and I mean it seems like Batman: The Animated Series, the sort of like, I don’t know what we would call this — the cerebral or kind of the psychological element of this character has been really amped up. 


SANDY: Like, there’s — and it seems in general kind of all of the mental healthy stuff [10:00] in his story and then in his nemeses’ stories has all been kind of, like, played up.

YASSIR: Right.

SANDY: And, like, with Batman, in particular, you’ve got the — the sort of story of his parents being murdered and the way that it follows him and shapes him kind of constantly being returned to in this series.

YASSIR: Yeah yeah.

SANDY: And there’s even the one part where he goes to their graves at the end of an episode and he’s, like, wearing sunglasses, but it’s implied that he could even cry.


SANDY: Which felt pretty major because, you know, men don’t cry.

YASSIR: Right. Well not me. I actually had my tear ducts soldered shut.

SANDY: That’s so cool, congrats.

YASSIR: So I just sweat.


YASSIR: If I get sad, I just sweat really heavy.

SANDY: That’s great. But yeah, no, great — that’s great that you’re strong, you know? And so I think that, like, with Batman himself, though, he’s sort of this leaden presence. Like, everybody else around him even kind of makes fun of him. Like, even Alfred makes fun of him, like, for not having a sense of humor. 


ALFRED: Well, you’ll be happy to know I’ve drawn you a bath. Whenever you’re ready.

BATMAN: What’s the deal, Alfred? 

ALFRED: I said I drew you a bath, sir. April Fools! 

BATMAN: Very funny, Alfred. I guess I’ll just take a shower. 

ALFRED: Not a funny bone in his entire body.

SANDY: What do you make of that? What do you make of the sort of, like, depressing dude at the center of the story?

YASSIR: Can I — and this is actually just an internal conversation I have a lot, but that is always so interesting to me because the implication is then that Bruce Wayne is the facade and the only real person is Batman.

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: Which is either not true or that they’ve never given thought to the idea that maybe Bruce Wayne is the real (SANDY laughs) — the real person —

SANDY: Yeah! Like, this is all he is.

YASSIR: — and that he flips a switch. And I say that because Batman didn’t suffer the trauma, Bruce Wayne did. And because of that, I — even if we want to go to the metaphor of like, you know, wearing the mask and all that stuff — you wear a mask to protect yourself, you know? Or to protect your identity, right? 

SANDY: Yeah. When you do vigilante work. 

YASSIR: When you do your vigilante work.

SANDY: As one does.

YASSIR: You know, when you go out and patrol the streets —

SANDY: No, you can’t have people knowing. You’re, like, a billionaire. You can’t —

YASSIR: Right, exactly. Like hey, the billionaire’s swinging from the building —

SANDY: Oh, he’s doing vigilante work. No, you’ve gotta be anonymous.

YASSIR: Which by the way, I will say this. If that were — if that happened in real life and it were Tom Cruise, we’d all be like, “Yeah,” you know what I mean?

SANDY: Yeah. Or Elon Musk. If that dude just started wearing like a half face mask and, like, trying to put, like, you know, quote “mentally ill” people in — in asylums, we would be like, “Right on, yeah, sounds about right.”

YASSIR: Yeah, exactly. I don’t think — especially when you just, like, sit and read it or watch it or whatever — the amount of joy Bruce Wayne would have to pretend to have seems, I don’t know — it seems nearly impossible. I know people do it all the time, so I’m not — I’m not trying to disregard it. But I do think a little bit that we’re, like, this, you know — the real Bat — Batman is the — the truth, he’s the — the anchor in the foundation, Bruce Wayne’s just a goofy billionaire, you know? Like, ‘cause you always see that scene in the movies, you always see it in the cartoon, you always see it in the comics, where it’s just like, “Ugh, I gotta go to a party tonight, I guess I’ll find two models and go with them.” (SANDY laughs). It’s like, you — there’s no way you’re not enjoying — just go to the party alone if you don’t care.

SANDY: Well, there’s one way he’s not enjoying it which is he’s gay and this is a show about a couple, Robin and, you know, Bruce, who live together and, you know, and they — and they have a secret that they each are in on the secret, and when they’re out in their costumes, they feel fully themselves (YASSIR laughs). I mean, I only watched this series as a gay analogy. I have no other ability to watch this series.

YASSIR: I mean, I will say it is weird, just as an adult, you, like, go back and watch things, and then it’s like, you know, we’re gonna get into it more regarding the — the mental health aspects of the show. But there are so many other things where you’re just like, “Wow, they really flood kids with just any sort of sex talk the moment they can.”

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: And any — if you watch cartoons now, it’s still just like someone being like, “I don’t know what’s happening in my pants, but I can’t blah blah blah”, and you’re like, okay, this is my niece watching this (SANDY laughs), so maybe not?

SANDY: I mean, but Batman himself — I mean other than all, like, the sort of, like, sex energy between him and Robin, and sex energy between him and Joker, in my opinion.

YASSIR: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah.

SANDY: — other than that, Batman is pretty chaste. Even though he often has, like, a model or, like, a model-type person who he’s, like, quote “engaged” to for, like, an episode or whatever. I mean, he never is, like — he’s not like the kind of cartoon who’s like, “Awoooga!” [15:00] Like, he’s not, like, going after the ladies ever, like he — he seems to have, like, implicit game because he’s, like, very square-jawed and — and wealthy.

YASSIR: I was gonna say, I — I — we could even take out the square jaw thing, I mean he’s a billionaire. (SANDY laughs). There’s — you don’t — game does not factor in after, I feel like, 25 million dollars.

SANDY: That’s fair.

YASSIR: I feel like — I feel like if you’re ugly —

SANDY: Less in the ‘90s.


SANDY: Yeah. With Batman — I mean, so, like, the Joker is often kind of, like, the — the — the first named nemesis, he’s like the arch nemesis. And, like, the defining characteristic of the Joker is he is crazy.

YASSIR: Right.

SANDY: Right? Like, that’s the thing about him. So yeah, let’s get into it. Like, what in hindsight about the Joker maybe doesn’t look as fun or funny as it did back when?

YASSIR: There’s the version of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series which is actually closer to, like, the original versions of the Joker, right? And they did all of these things — again, not thinking of backstory, that’s another reason why the Joker doesn’t really have one. The definitive Joker backstory is a — a graphic novel written by Alan Moore called Batman: The Killing Joke. That’s, like, the best version of a Joker story you’ll ever see. And it’s kind of the one, even now, even, like, in Nolan’s and, you know, all these versions of the Joker that are kind of pulling —

SANDY: Aren’t we gonna get this — this Joker movie? Like, actually when this is releasing it’ll be coming out in like a week, with Joaquin Phoenix. 

YASSIR: Yeah yeah yeah.

SANDY: Which is gonna apparently be a whole Joker backstory. I mean, the first shot of that trailer is a hospital. 

YASSIR: I know.

SANDY: So I was like, okay, here we are.

YASSIR: But I — I just — I gotta say, like, and I feel so — this is — this is gonna sound terrible, and this is speaking purely cinematically — that the version of — this version of the Joker that they’re releasing is just a different version of the Michael Douglas movie Falling Down. It’s the exact same movie to the point where I was just, like, I mean I guess it’ll be interesting to see him be in the ‘70s, but like, I just — anyway. So, back to the original original point.

SANDY: So this — this Joker on the animated — you were saying, the one on the animated series in the ‘90s —

YASSIR: — is closer —

SANDY: — closer to sort of the original Joker.

YASSIR: — to, like, the ‘40s, ‘50s version. No —

SANDY: In what sense?

YASSIR: Well there’s — he’s a goofball. Yes, he’s a terrorist, but he’s goofy first.


JOKER: So, which of your tedious copyright forms do I fill out first? You may speak now.

FRANCIS: No one can copyright fish. They’re a natural resource.

JOKER: But they share my unique face! Colonel what’s-his-name has chickens, and they don’t even have mustaches.

YASSIR: If these things are supposed to be for kids, the problem is that we then — we all grew up, and we kept making them for us, right? So it’s like, we started reading them at eight years old when the Joker was a goofball, and then someone was just like, “Well I’m 20, I want to see a different version of the Joker”, and they’re like, “Well, what if we made him this,” you know? And so we do all these things and we have to keep amping it up and amping it up and amping it up. The problem is that, like, there’s no consideration taken into, like, what that actually looks like, because it has to be hyperreality because it’s a comic book. So like, the hyperreality of someone who does suffer from X has to then be, you know, multiplied by ten because he is fighting someone who is dressed like a bat, you know what I mean?

SANDY: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah.

YASSIR: And so like, and then I guess the second part of that statement is that they don’t ever try to address the second issue, you know what I mean? Like they never, like — if we’re just talking about Batman or the Joker for a moment, no one’s ever, like, “Hey, do you wanna, like, go to therapy?” 

SANDY: No. That’s never shown.

YASSIR: Or like, you know, try medication, or like — you know what I’m saying? 

SANDY: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah.

YASSIR: Like, they’re just like, throw ‘em in the loony bin with a — you know, with a guy who’s also an alligator (SANDY laughs), and you’re like, “All right, but maybe he was just going through something.” You know what I mean?

SANDY: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

YASSIR: Like, so I don’t know. I find it all to be very — especially, like, the — the Christopher Nolan version of it, like, which again, I enjoyed the movies ‘cause I just see them as movies. The problem is then — and this is where I think the — the scarier issue is — is that people are identifying with it because they’re identifying with the illness of it, but because there’s no back-end in talking about the illness, people just latch on to — like, you know, like — you know, I’m not trying to be too dark, but it’s like, there’s, like, been multiple mass shooters who paint their face like the Joker and then go kill people, you know what I’m saying? Or dress like Bane, or whatever, you know what I’m saying? So it’s like, it’s clearly — there is a touchstone, there is an anchor in — in whatever this character is that resonates with people that are going through something or feel something, but because there’s no discussion on the back-end [20:00] of, like, what’s happening, those people who are even experiencing the same things don’t even know where to look or go or whatever.

SANDY: Yeah. Or who feel at odds with society or feel outcast or — I mean, you get a sense — it’s interesting how the Joker, as you say, he doesn’t have that same sort of, like, really dimensional backstory offered to us in the show the way that — even in the animated series, like, a lot of the characters — and we’ll talk about Two-Face next — but, like, a lot of the characters have these really, like, carefully drawn out story arcs: Poison Ivy or Mr. Freeze, like, we get a big old backstory, a lot of emotion. And with the Joker there’s, like, reference made on the “Christmas with the Joker” one.


JOKER: (singing) Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The Batmobile lost a wheel so the Joker got away! (Explosion, followed by Joker’s laughter)

SANDY: He’s, like, kind of just, like, vying for Batman’s attention on Christmas Eve, and he has a moment where he’s like: 


JOKER: Rumor has it Christmas is a time to share with family (crowd cheers). And since I don’t have one of my own (crowd moans in sympathy) I decided to steal one (crowd cheers). 

SANDY: “I don’t have a family.” And that’s just sort of, like, dropped in there. And it’s sad. Like, it’s — it’s dark, you know? But it’s not, like — it’s not very dimensionalized, like, there’s not a sense of, like, what happened to this guy that he’s ended up in this position. But yeah, I mean, he’s — in a weird way, the Joker is easier to identify with on Batman than Batman.


SANDY: I think, when you watch him kind of go after Bat — even in this ‘90s animated version, that is very, like, silly, slapstick. Let’s, like, talk about how Arkham Asylum is figured on this series, like, what it looks like. What’s the vision of, like, mental healthcare, so to speak, that’s, like, kind of shown on this show?

YASSIR: Well but see, that’s — that’s the issue, right, is that it’s not addressed, right, you know what I mean? It’s actually devoid of any sort of, like — and here’s the thing — and — ’cause I think some credit needs to be given to what the show is, right, like — like, if this — if this — if this were an HBO drama, then I’d be like, “They failed!” You know, but like —

SANDY: Yeah! Yeah yeah yeah. It’s a cartoon. 

YASSIR: — it was a Saturday morning cartoon. 

SANDY: Exactly. Exactly.

YASSIR: But the problem is that they — the problem is that they used words that we used for — that we used for people who are dealing with any sort of mental illness, right? So —

SANDY: I think they took up the subject matter. You know, like whether or not — you’re right, they didn’t do anything interesting with it per se, but it’s like, they drew an asylum, they could’ve drawn a prison. 

YASSIR: That’s what I was gonna say, that’s exactly my point, is that there’s other words to use, you know what I’m saying? But when you attach those things, you know, it’s like when you hear, like, as an adult now it’s like when you hear about, like, Bellevue or something you’re like, “Ugh.” 


SANDY: Hey, let me save you a Google. Yassir just mentioned Bellevue. Bellevue is a real hospital in New York City, as you may know. It has had a psychiatric facility since the late nineteenth century, but it is the oldest public hospital in the U.S. in general. For whatever reason, Bellevue has become something of a synonym for any psych hospital, so “somebody going to Bellevue” means they’ve gone crazy in the lexicon. Kind of similar to how Bethlem, which is another psych hospital in the U.K. — it’s actually the oldest mental healthcare facility in the world — Bethlem itself has become something of a synonym for madness.


YASSIR: And — and I see that to say you link those things. You don’t even realize you’re doing it until it happens, you’re like, “Oh man.” Like, when I think of Bellevue or whatever, I’m thinking of literally Arkham Asylum, which is so wild, you know, like —

SANDY: Well and the one — the one way that the hospital is sort of shown to us over and over and over in the cartoon is that initial shot of the outside of the asylum. 

YASSIR: Is it — if I remember it correctly, isn’t it on top of a mountain?

SANDY: It’s on the top of a hill, it’s always a shot where you can see these really, like, kind of scary-looking iron “Arkham Asylum” over a gate, and then you see a big old driveway going up to a very old-school asylum. And I mean, just, like, for me, historically, like, the — this sort of asylum — by the early ‘90s, this sort of asylum has been decommissioned for 20 years.

YASSIR: Right.

SANDY: So this is a fiction, like, it’s not — it’s showing us a version of mental healthcare that I think Americans have in our minds from history, and from stuff like Cuckoo’s Nest — it’s taking that up and it’s making it — yeah, the place where bad guys go, right? And so whether or not it intends to do it, like, it makes bad guy, it makes evil, it makes villain equal to lunatic, insane, you know, mental patient, whatever you want to call it, psych patient, you know, like, we’d call it this — these days. [25:00] Like, there’s sort of this — there is an equivalency that’s being drawn there, like, whether or not the creators were like, “Oh, I hope we — I hope we stigmatize mental illness with our — with our Saturday morning cartoon.”

YASSIR: Right. That’s the other part of the, you know, the bigger issue is that because the show is so stylized in a way that clearly we all love — that’s what we were just talking about — because it’s so stylized, it’s weird because they do — when they choose to, they get really good insight on — on the characters and the things that they say and their beliefs, like you were saying with Two-Face and Mr. Freeze and all these people. Like, I actually think the Joker, on this show, makes complete sense with the introduction of Harley Quinn.


HARLEY QUINN: (laughing) That’s a real gasser, huh, Mr. J? (gasps)

JOKER: I give the punchlines around here, got it?


YASSIR: I think before it’s, like, the goofiness of it blah blah blah, and then, like, if — if, you know — if we’re going to be using the terms, then with the introduction of Harley Quinn you just go, like, “Oh, this is just, like, what codependency looks like.” You know what I mean?

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: Like, it’s just a version of it that, like, you know, that isn’t — that isn’t two people, you know, fighting and throwing their clothes everywhere and then, like, being like, “But baby, I love you,” blah blah blah. And I, you know — I say that as someone who, like, had to learn about all that stuff in therapy, and yada yada. But back to the Arkham thing of it, it’s — because the show’s so stylized, they had to — had to choose which things they were gonna go deep on and which things they weren’t, you know what I’m saying? I do think for the sake of storytelling, it, you know — I think that had they shown, like, a pleasant —


YASSIR: — mental health institution, everyone would be like, “All right, well, why are the bad guys there?” You know what I mean? Like —

SANDY: It wouldn’t work. 

YASSIR: Yeah yeah yeah.

SANDY: It’s — and it’s interesting to me, ‘cause I was noticing, like, it’s not simply that, like, mental patients are stigmatized, right? Like, they’re just, like — the — the few moments where you see a group of people in — in Arkham, so like the “Christmas with the Joker,” there’s like you can see the patients, one of them looks like Charles Manson, there’s, like, groups of patients in the “Trial” one who are basically just these, like, kind of nameless, faceless, like, shouting, you know, background figures. So they’re — they’re very non-human, unless they are, like, a crocodile person, right? Like, unless they’re one of the actual, like, bad guys, they’re not actually — and then the way that Arkham looks on the inside changes a bunch of times. Like, it looks like a prison always, it looks very institutional, it looks very, like, they’ll be wearing kind of, like, you know, hospital-y clothes. But then sometimes, like, there will be shots of, you know, Batman walking through Arkham and he’ll pass, you know, Poison Ivy and she’s tending her plant, and the Joker has his cards. And so there’s like, clearly, like, some lax dress code stuff going on (YASSIR laughs), like, which — I don’t know. And then the fact of, like, yeah, the doctors themselves are almost non-characters. Like, there’s almost no, “Oh, you’re in treatment.” Or — and — and yet, you mentioned Harley Quinn, and let’s talk about her, because there is this episode where she is, like, released, where they start it with, like:


DR. LELAND: You’ve made wonderful progress, Harley. You’ve passed your competency hearing, and tomorrow you’ll be released, mentally sane and sound. 

HARLEY QUINN: Wee! Wahoo! Whoopee! Yay! Yay! Yay!! Uh, I mean, thank you Doctor Leland. 

DR. LELAND: That’s okay. You have every reason to be proud of yourself. 

SANDY: Which I thought was fascinating, ‘cause I was like, what did she do? Did she sit in this jail and then you released her? (YASSIR laughs) Like, I — like, did she go to, like, an arts and crafts or did she have, like, a therapy group — which is a thing that happens a few times, but it’s always, like, a character is, like, let out, and they’re gonna get to go straight, which — what happens? You know, like, they are immediately back in Arkham. Like, she’s — she is, like, let go and she’s declared sane, and she is back in that harlequin outfit within, like, a few minutes basically. Like, it is really sad. It’s a really pessimistic vision of, like, what, you know, “recovery” quote unquote is.

YASSIR: Okay, yes, but to push back, if we did Sandy Allen’s version (SANDY laughs) of Batman —

SANDY: Oh no.

YASSIR: — it would be over in nine episodes. People would be rehabilitated and then just, like, make the world a better place, and then Batman would be like, “I literally have nothing to do.”

SANDY: Batman could come out. He could live his life with Robin — oh my god, the one where it’s, like, Christmas and the two of them are wearing their sweaters, like, sitting side by side, I was like, this is a lovely gay couple at their home celebrating the holidays, like, there’s no other read on that.

YASSIR: I will say, it’s so funny — that in particular — because I was watching that episode, because that’s — that is “Christmas with the Joker,” they’re like:


ROBIN: Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. If we go on patrol and Gotham is quiet with no sign of the Joker, we come back here, have Christmas dinner, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

BATMAN: You know, I’ve never seen that. [30:00] I could never get past the title.

YASSIR: They have to, like, borrow a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life from Commissioner Gordon, which is even crazier to be, like, “Hey man, do you have that copy of that movie so I can watch it with this boy?” (SANDY laughs) But, I will say —

SANDY: Yeah, he’s just my ward.

YASSIR: — I immediately, as it was, like, starting, I was like, “Oh, this is how Michael Jackson got away with it.” When you’re just like, oh yeah, I’ll just have a boy here and say we’re watching a movie.

SANDY: Yeah, with the Robin whole backstory, it’s like, Bruce happens to be there when Robin’s parents die, and then he’s, like, “Whoa, do you want me to take this boy?” And they’re like, “Yeah. That sounds good. You’re rich.” And he just takes him away up to his, like, gigantic house forever. I was like, this is awful.

YASSIR: I mean it’s kind of — it’s kind of a version of Great Expectations (SANDY laughs). 


SANDY: Hey listeners, I wanted to remind you that our second Mad Chat Book Club is coming up next Thursday, October 3rd, at 8:30PM Eastern on the Mad Chat Show Instagram Live. I’m gonna be talking about Robert Whitaker’s Mad In America, which is a book that really transformed my thinking in this space, and I hope you check it out if you never have. If you have read it before, come, let’s talk about it. I’m really excited to get into it with whoever shows up. Send questions ahead of time if you want — you can DM us, or you can send an email to All right, I hope to see you next Thursday to talk about Robert Whitaker’s Mad In America.


SANDY: In terms of what’s thought to be palatable for children in the early ‘90s, right? We can show fighting, we can show falling, we can show explosions, we can show car chases. We can’t show actual mental healthcare. Like — right, and you get it’s not interesting. But it’s — it’s interesting —

YASSIR: But — but — but here’s the thing, I weirdly — it’s weird. I’m kind of switching on my own argument midway through, and turning against you. 


YASSIR: But here’s why that’s —

SANDY: Two-faced.

YASSIR: — not — but into the — I feel like that’s a good transition into Two-Face of it. Two-Face’s — Harvey Dent’s — episode starts with him, like, flipping out.



HARVEY DENT: You little weasel! I’ll tear you apart!

FRANKIE: Help! Get him off! He’s crazy! Someone get him off me!

YASSIR: Batman literally saying:


BATMAN: Don’t be embarrassed. Lots of people see psychiatrists, Harv.

YASSIR: And he goes:


HARVEY DENT: Not when they’re running for public office. You know how some voters feel about shrinks.

YASSIR: Then they show him in an appointment with his psychiatrist, who’s hypnotizing him, which again, like, kind of conflates a few things, but for the sake of the dynamics of a cartoon, you gotta let it go, you know what I’m saying?

SANDY: Yeah, like a psychiatrist is a hypnotist. 


PSYCHIATRIST: You are now in a deep sleep. Can you hear me?


SANDY: Okay.


SANDY: I mean if I were seven I would not question that, right?

YASSIR: Right, exactly. Yeah.

SANDY: I mean, and it’s interesting ‘cause Harvey Dent — because, I mean, he’s ostensibly wealthy, so it’s, like, the psychiatrist’s office that we see him at is not Arkham Asylum, right? 

YASSIR: Yeah, no. It’s — yeah. Very nice, it’s on the 50th floor. Yeah yeah.

SANDY: It’s like she’s — she’s got this big, pretty office. Yeah, exactly. So she hypnotizes him.

YASSIR: Right. She hypnotizes him. He’s been having bursts, outbursts. So he’s been, like, threatening, like, his own, like, assistant, or, you know, trying to fight a mobster on the street. Just little things like that where he’s known for being cool, calm, and collected. By the way, they do a really interesting thing in drawing him where they don’t make him black but they don’t make him white, and I can’t figure out why. Anyway, I say all that to say, when they need to, when it’s the basis of a story, they absolutely dive in — ’cause I’ll say, it’s interesting, when I went back and watched these, I was like, “Oh yeah, I remember all of this.” And I was like, that was my introduction to the word psychiatry, it was my introduction into therapy, and I, you know — and I’m not gonna put it on blast too much, but I remember when my mom started going to therapy when I was younger, I most likely knew what it was because of that cartoon. Outside of the hypnosis — and even then, if you want to use the hypnosis of it — I actually thought, as an adult watching it, they did a good job. She’s there, she’s talking to him, she’s talking to him about his feelings.


PSYCHIATRIST: Everyone feels anger, and it does no harm. As long as it doesn’t result in bad behavior

YASSIR: It actually weirdly is handled with such care and, like, such — I don’t know, it’s clearly not one hundred percent, but you can tell someone on staff knew what it was and what to talk about. Does that make sense.

SANDY: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I was gonna go there, ‘cause I was, like, I was fascinated with the Two-Face plotline, that we actually got to see him, versus, you said, experiencing, like, the fear of being, you know, someone running for office and having his mental health issues exposed. [35:00] Like, I was like, wow, this is a children’s cartoon. Like, that’s a really big issue to — I mean, like, I don’t think I would’ve understood what running for DA was, right? Like, it’s wild. 

YASSIR: Yeah yeah, exactly. I barely know what a DA is now. 

SANDY: Exactly. Who knows that?

YASSIR: I know that Kamala was one, apparently.

SANDY: And now she’s president. 

YASSIR: Yeah, apparently she loves pork chops and being president. (BOTH laugh) That’s all I know!

SANDY: Oh boy. But you know, so that — that, like — the fact of that was — kind of blew my mind. And then so that scene itself what she does is, she hypnotizes him to then talk to his second personality. 


PSYCHIATRIST: It appears you and Harvey are having trouble again. 

HARVEY DENT: The guy’s a wimp. 

PSYCHIATRIST: Well, Harvey has special problems. When he was young, he felt very guilty about his angry feelings. So guilty that he hid them deep inside until they became an illness. You, Big Bad Harv, represent these angry feelings. 

SANDY: So there is this portrayal — actually, there’s a few characters on this show who have what would’ve probably, in the pop culture then, more been called Multiple Personality Disorder. Now it’s officially called Dissociative Identity Disorder. But, you know, the idea of someone having multiple personalities feels very rich in this show. Like, there’s a bunch of different points at which they really, like, lean on that. And actually, there’s no other, like, actual — I was — I was, like, noticing, like, no other diagnosis gets alluded to explicitly. Like, only multiple personalities is sort of the one. And I was like, there’s something about that that feels kind of, like, childish, right? And so — and it’s of course a really pop culture, like, one-dimensional kind of, like, uneducated portrayal of what that looks like, i.e., you have to hypnotize him to talk to his, like, other, and he’s got a lower voice, and he’s really mean, and then he kind of snaps back to reality and all that. And then eventually as the character unfolds, and this is kind of his creation myth, is, you know, he falls into this vat of bad stuff and he becomes half disfigured. And so his twoness becomes kind of doubled. 


TWO-FACE: My name is Two-Face now.

GRACE: No, Harvey!

TWO-FACE: This is my world now. A dichotomy of order and chaos, just like me. Chance, Grace. Chance is everything. Whether you’re born or not. Whether you live or die. Whether you’re good or bad. 

SANDY: He’s got two personalities and he’s now got a split face, so he’s got, like, a mental illness or, you know, he’s got a mental — like a psychiatric disability and a physical disability, which is horrifying to the show. I mean, his physical monstrosity is the, like, real reason that he becomes a full-blown villain Which, you know, in hindsight: that’s not great. (YASSIR laughs). Like, that’s — that’s — that’s not a great thing to do, right?

YASSIR: Oh, god.

SANDY: And physical monstrosity and villainy are often tied together on this show. Like, when someone becomes, like — especially with Dent. I mean, he’s this, like, handsome man, and then he’s no longer handsome, and that — and that it is his reason for kind of turning to — or I guess becoming more full-time his, like, second evil half. 

YASSIR: But you know what’s interesting, they actually do buy themselves back a little bit, because in the second episode of “Two-Face: Part II,” Grace is like: 


GRACE: You don’t ever need to hide from me. I love you. 

TWO-FACE: Grace.

YASSIR: They both start crying, and then — and then Rupert Thorne, the mobster, comes in because he had put a trace on her, blah blah blah. So that’s what ruins it. But there — but that’s what I’m saying is, like, again they knew what to do, you know, ‘cause they did tell a good story. They knew — they told it, I think, for the most part, outside, again, of the, you know, the hyperreality of what a man with a split face would do, like, in terms of, like, robbing banks and getting revenge and all of these things and — half of his suit is a, like, black tuxedo, then the other half of the suit, on his monstrosity side, is the inverse. So it’s the tie is white, the shirt is black, the blazer is white. And, like, it feels like — who’s he going to to get this done? I know you could say that about any superhero.

SANDY: And quickly. I mean, ‘cause he’s — he’s changed into that thing really —

YASSIR: Immediately. 

SANDY: Yeah. I know.

YASSIR: Immediately. To the point where you’re like, did he fall in bleach? (SANDY laughs) Did he fall in reverse bleach?

SANDY: Reverse fashion bleach? (YASSIR laughs) I mean it’s an iconic look, you know? And I think that, like, that’s part of what’s sad about — he’s so upset, but I’m like, you look great. Like —

YASSIR: Yeah, you’re truly —

SANDY: Like, now you’re a legend. Like, before you were just, like, kind of a —

YASSIR: That is a Met Gala unto itself.

SANDY: Yeah! Like, you were like a Bruce Wayne, like, kinda Mr. Pibb. Now you’re like a — you’re the real deal. No, the — the — the part of the Harvey Dent plot [40:00] that I think I — if I had understood it when I was little — and I should say, if I watched Batman when it — I definitely watched the show when I was a kid, but I think I was little enough that I have no, like, real memories of, like — I vaguely remembered a lot of it, but I don’t think I understood any of the plots, I don’t think I had a real grasp on any of the sort of adult whatever it was that was overlaid on the show. 

YASSIR: I mean, the show is so weirdly dark where they’re like, “So-and-so had a miscarriage,”  (SANDY laughs) and you’re like, “Wait, why are we talking about this?” 

SANDY: The — there’s this — so I didn’t understand, or at least I didn’t remember that Bruce and — and Harvey — so Two-Face before Two-Face — are, like, buddies in life. 


SANDY: But almost earlier on in the show, Batman has been, like, you know, basically, like, Harvey Dent wants to come after Batman. So there’s this — already there’s this tension between, like, Bruce’s friendship with Harvey vs. Harvey’s, like, sense that he’d like to lock Batman up, and Bruce’s big secret is he’s Batman. So Harvey, you know — one of the things that I found fascinating was the extent to which Bruce slash Batman really takes on the kind of, like, struggle that Harvey’s, you know — like, there’s all this language, like, you know, kind of that “You need help, friend” language that’s in especially the first half of these two — these two episodes, which also also struck me as, like, wow, this is like — it’s not just a portrayal of what happens to Dent. It’s a portrayal of what happens to a friend of somebody who feels like they’re losing someone to a mental illness. There’s that dream sequence that’s really intense. 

YASSIR: Yeah, where Batman’s dreaming about Two-Face and he falls off the wooden ladder bridge and he’s like: 


TWO-FACE: I thought you were my friend! You should have been able to help me! But you didn’t! Now look at me.

BATMAN: But I tried, Harvey. I — Harvey!

TWO-FACE: Why couldn’t you save me?!

YASSIR: And then Bruce’s parents are at the bottom saying, like, “You didn’t save us.” It was —

SANDY: They’re always showing up and, like, shitting on his day. Yeah.

YASSIR: Truly to a point where I was just like, it feels like if you’re Batman (SANDY laughs), the first thing, after, like, these dreams have happened three times in a week, it’s like, I gotta — I gotta get this checked out.

SANDY: Yeah, I gotta stop listening to this, like, ghost version of my dad that keeps following me around and being, like —

YASSIR: Yeah, in fire.

SANDY: — you’re shameful. In fire. Mostly in fire. 

YASSIR: He shows up in fire a lot. 


THOMAS WAYNE: You are a disgrace. 

BATMAN: No. No. You are not my father! I am not a disgrace. I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!

SANDY: But I like the — the scene where Batman is, like, investigating Dent. Basically he’s, like, stayed up all night, and it has this really funny shot where it, like, pans over Batman’s desk and he’s got, like, Psychology Today and Psychology and American Psychology and, you know, papers about Two-Face, and five personalities, and, you know, and then, like, there’s this, like, monologue where he’s like: 


BATMAN: So what are you dreaming tonight, Harvey? Peaceful dreams? Nightmares? Maybe both at once? Sleep well, my friend. Wherever you are, whatever you’ve become, I will save you. I swear.

YASSIR: Then he peels a little picture of Harvey off of his desk (SANDY laughs) and picks it up, I remember it —

SANDY: And it cross-fades into his fiancé crying on a photo of Dent, it’s just like, man, the show is so sappy. 

YASSIR: It — it is, but like, also, I — I truly mean this — that, like, if you don’t go to that place, the show isn’t as artistic as it is, you know? And I — ’cause it’s not the — the most wonderful thing about that show, I think, is that being sappy like that, or, like, dealing with emotion, be it good or bad or whatever, keeps it from being, like, a pretentious piece of trash that a lot of people want it to be. So if you talk to a lot of people our age, they’re just like, you know, they’ll talk about Paul Dini, the creator, and they’ll talk about the art deco styles that they build —

SANDY: You’re much older than me, first of all. That’s a callback.

YASSIR: Okay, number one, I’m 75 years old, and I’m turning 76 tomorrow. 

SANDY: But I feel like — happy birthday — the — the — the show has heart, you know? Like it really commits to its own feelings. It’s in its feelings a lot of the time.

YASSIR: Absolutely, but I think — and I mean this sincerely — I think being in your feelings, or being emotional to the point of being sappy, or even melodramatic, is what makes great art, because I think when you are devoid of that or, like, the idea that you’re so [45:00] in touch with emotion that, like, you’re not even gonna address it, that’s where pretentiousness comes from. And I think that, like, the idea that they juxtapose this kind of sappiness with a man sitting in a, you know, like — every — every background is so beautifully painted, every title card is so stunning, like —

SANDY: Yeah, those are gorgeous.

YASSIR: They make so many beautiful detailed decisions on that show that it could’ve just fallen away into just a stylized piece of trash a la the — the complaints that people have about the DC movies now. They go, “It’s — it’s just Zack Snyder just showing us this, and showing us this.” But I promise you if those movies had a little bit more heart, people wouldn’t have those issues, you know? And I think that’s why the show works so well, is that they do have these moments of emotion.

SANDY: Absolutely, and I think with Batman in particular because he’s — I think we’re always kind of wanting to know, like, what does he actually care about, or like, you know, we know that he feels upset about his parents, but it’s like, when we watch him lose Two-Face it’s like we watch him suffer sort of, like, further injury. And then Two-Face kind of just becomes one of these other people who he’s, like, involved in this kind of, like, freelance, I guess, unpaid, you know, capacity in kind of, like, throwing people back into Arkham, which just needs better security of some kind.

YASSIR: I mean, literally anything. A fence.

SANDY: Like, stop letting the Joker build rockets, right? Like — 

YASSIR: If he — if Joker’s ordering rocket supplies, don’t get ‘em. 

SANDY: Exactly, don’t — don’t hand him his mail. 

YASSIR: Just, like, why do you need a big cylinder and a big pyramid to put on top of it?

SANDY: You need the rocket the size of a Christmas tree? Oh, we’re not gonna let you have that in this mental hospital.

YASSIR: You know what? It’s Christmas. (SANDY laughs) You can’t — you can’t have — how about we get you some sugarplums?

SANDY: I want to talk about Harley Quinn, because her backstory — I actually did not realize what her — what her deal was. So she was initially Joker’s psychiatrist, and then fell under his sway somehow, and has become this vision of codependence that she is now. 


JOKER: You know, sweets, I like what I’ve heard about you. Especially the name: Harleen Quinzel. Rework it a bit and you get Harley Quinn.

Harley Quinn: Like the clown character harlequin. I know.

SANDY: What do you make of this character and kind of, like, how does she age, I guess, as you — as you look back at — at this — at these story lines?

YASSIR: Harley Quinn was created for the show — she didn’t exist in the comics at all.

SANDY: Yeah yeah yeah — for this — for the animated series, they, like, drew this clown sidekick.

YASSIR: Yeah yeah. I would almost argue that every manic pixie dream girl is just her —

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: — that everyone has just done a version of her since her introduction. And I’m sure the character, or those — that that trope or archetype exists before her, but I think for every nerd who’s writing indie movies right now, every, you know, like, just tiny little dweeb with their tiny little dweeb Warby Parker glasses just typing away about some girl who danced naked at night, that changed their life — they’re all probably thinking of Harley Quinn (BOTH laugh). 

SANDY: She’s a fascinating character to me because she doesn’t read like a psychiatrist at all. There’s a — there’s a real suspension of disbelief whenever she’s like, “I used to be a doctor!” You’re like, really, did you?

YASSIR: Yeah. 

SANDY: You were a doctor when?

YASSIR: Right. 

SANDY: You went to medical school, ma’am?

YASSIR: Like it is — it’s so funny, ‘cause like, when you’re watching a cartoon, you don’t think about anything else. You’re just watching the cartoon.


BATMAN: I need help.

HARLEY QUINN: Well, you’ve come to the right person. I recommend a lobotomy. 

YASSIR: But like, the idea of someone, like, repeating back a story from a cartoon — like you just did — to be, like, “Oh yeah, no, she was a psychiatrist to a man who’s a clown. He turned her out, and now she’s a clown, also, and she goes on bad adventures with him with a giant mallet,” you’d be like, “I’m sorry, does entertainment exist still, or should we burn our TVs?”

SANDY: (laughing) These are the plot lines we come up with? She’s — she is — there’s this sense that she’s under his spell, and there’s even like this, you know, moment where, like, there’s kind of a — a moment that Batman looks at her and is, like: 


BATMAN: What’s the attraction, Quinn? This sick infatuation with the Joker.

HARLEY QUINN: Look, Bats. When I was a doctor I was always listening to other people’s problems. Then I met Mr. J, who listened to me for a change, and made everything fun.

SANDY: Which I was like, again, Batman is gay. No man would ever be, like, “Hey, haven’t you considered that the man you’re dating is trash?” Like, only a gay man would think to do that.

YASSIR: Can I — can I say something to that point real quick?


YASSIR: I actually have a theory that Batman doesn’t exist — hear me out — it’s a — it’s a fantasy created by a young Bruce Wayne [50:00] the moment his parents died. It’s all, like — I — I know we hate “everything was just a dream,” but I truly believe that’s what Batman is.

SANDY: All right.

YASSIR: I think that it’s him manifesting a revenge tale as it —

SANDY: You’ve gotta write this down and send it to Mr. DC —

YASSIR: I will!

SANDY: — ‘cause this is exciting. 

YASSIR: As a child — hence why there’s, like, villains in colorful costumes, ‘cause — so you think about it — nothing exists, there were no villains of this sort until the rise of Batman. So you could also argue it’s like the thing with like, what, the four-minute mile or whatever, that until — it had never been broken, and once one person broke it, like, six people broke it within three months. Like, it’s just certain things as humans, we — once it’s in the collective consciousness, we do it.

SANDY: So once we start putting on costumes and —

YASSIR: But it’s happening. Isn’t that, but I mean, like, it’s starting to happen.

SANDY: Well, and — and that is intense. And I think, like, there’s a lot going on there. And I do think that one thing that, you know, if we’re gonna get real, and I mean I think that the — the constant pop culture leaning on the stereotype that people who’ve got mental illness are the villains, and they’re the ones who need to be locked up, and that that locked up means nothing else, that there’s no actual care on offer. I mean I think, like, that’s an example of the kind of thing that I wish we would think about when instead I think it’s easy to focus on — I don’t know, if someone does something sensational, or they have — or they have a diagnosis, that can become what eclipses everything, you know? Like, we’re really — I think we’re hungry for those narratives. I think we are hungry for, like, the idea that madness equals villainy. 

YASSIR: Right. But to me, the evil person is Jeff Bezos, you know what I mean? Like, how can you have that much —

SANDY: Yeah. It’s Bruce Wayne.

YASSIR: Yeah. Exactly. But it’s Bruce Wayne — but it’s Bruce Wayne who does nothing. At least Bruce Wayne in the show has endowments and, like, you know what I mean?

SANDY: He seems to be trying a little bit. But you also are — you made this point, and I think there’s that — there’s the episode called “Trial” that is actually about this, which is, like, which comes first, the, like, vigilante wearing the cape or, like, the villains who are wearing costumes? Like, which inspires which?


JOKER: Well done, counselor. You’ve proven that Batman didn’t create us, that we in fact messed up our own rotten lives. And as we are so rotten, vial, and depraved, we’re going to waste you anyway. (Booing)

SANDY: I mean I think that’s one of the things that the show is playing with a lot, right? Like, is Batman really the more sane individual here?

YASSIR: Right. Well I mean, here’s the thing — we’ve had more time with Batman. So that’s really what it is. I think that if you were to watch both — if both were introduced at the same time, and you — you saw it run concurrently, you’d have more of the struggle, right? Because that — that’s usually what it is is just, like, which — which thing are you viewing first, which thing are you experiencing first? You have more of a history with Batman, so you know that, like, he stops the Joker and blah blah blah. You know what I’m saying? But there — there is no difference, truly, like — what would — what would your argument be?

SANDY: I think that it’s one of those things where I think it’s interesting to look at the extent to which class here is so big, and what — what — what becomes a pathology versus what becomes an eccentricity versus what becomes — apparently saving the world has a lot to do with your bank account. Like, you know, like if you’re — if you’re someone like Batman, you’re, like, full-blown eccentricity — which it’s really big. Like, the scene where he’s, like, driving Robin home and he’s, like, kind of deciding to come out to him as Batman, and they, like, drive into the Bat Cave and it’s like: 


ROBIN: Man oh man! Is this where you live?

BATMAN: This is where I work. You’re the first — correction, second person to see it.

ROBIN: What do you mean? Who are you? (Gasps)

SANDY: I mean, goodness, like, imagine being that boy, like — (laughs) you gotta live with this dude now? Like —

YASSIR: But here’s the — here’s why that’s so messed up, because what other option does that boy have?

SANDY: He has no option.

YASSIR: ‘Cause it’s not like he’s gonna be like, well I don’t want to be a sidekick to you because you’re obsessed with bats and you’re a man and I don’t want to live with, like — if I were Robin, I’d be like, “I have an aunt,” and then, like — ’cause it’s not like he’s gonna be like, “Okay, well I’m gonna get out of here,” and Batman’s like, “You know what? You know my biggest secret, and that’s a-okay! You can go.” (SANDY laughs) Like, you know what I mean?

SANDY: No, you’ve gotta do this forever now.

YASSIR: Forever! You’re stuck.

SANDY: You’re in the game.

YASSIR: So you know what? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Batman is the main persona, ‘cause that’s evil.

SANDY: And then he kinda grooms him into his sidekick. And I don’t know, I think it’s, like — and — and the — just, [55:00] the show is always kind of asking us basically, like, is Batman a bigger problem than — like, you know, ‘cause like, always the detectives, there’s a lot of ambivalence, you know, around how he’s taking evidence, or you’re, you know, like — there’s always, like, a — a kind of — a debate about whether Batman should even exist.

YASSIR: Well see and that’s the thing, and weirdly they do a good job of that, though they make him, like — they use him as the comic relief ‘cause he’s like fat and his hair is messy, but Detective Bullock. 

SANDY: Yeah.


DETECTIVE BULLOCK: Whaddya got there, vigilante? Looks like police evidence. Give it up. Now! 

YASSIR: He’s always just like, “We’ll see about that!” And then Batman just takes the thing and he’s like, “Agh!” (SANDY laughs) Like, every episode is just Batman being like, “I’m gonna take that,” and Bullock being like, “Not if I have my say,” and then Batman just takes it and he’s like, “And then he took it!” And then Commissioner Gordon’s like, “That’s fine with me.” 

SANDY: Yeah. I’d watch the Office Space about that guy. Like, just —

YASSIR: In a heartbeat. Like, just show me Bullock waking up in the morning and just 24 hours of Bullock. I would be —

SANDY: That dude hates his life. 

YASSIR: — so excited.

SANDY: He hates his life so much. And he hates Batman so much.

YASSIR: He hates him so much. And it — again, they use him as the relief, which is great to see. ‘Cause like, you would — there — it feels like every cop would go like, “Oh god,” you know? But instead like, the lead — the commissioner is just like, “No, I trust him.”

SANDY: Oh, the commissioner is just, like, siding with Batman left and right. Like, he doesn’t care at all about — I’m just, like, on some level, like, what is happening with this organization that they’re like, “You know what? We’re kind of out of options. We got this billionaire, he likes wearing capes. Go for it.” Chemicals are so big on this show. Like, chemicals are coming up constantly. Chemicals is what creates Two-Face, Poison Ivy’s using chemicals all the time. And — and the Joker uses chemicals a bunch of times, specifically to spread insanity, which I thought was really interesting. 

YASSIR: And Scarecrow.

SANDY: And Scarecrow! Yeah, this whole notion of, like, insanity can be spread using chemicals. Or it’s like a pathogen. Basically, like, insanity can spread through the city. It comes up again and again and again. 


NEWS REPORTER: At this hour, Gotham City is in the grip of insanity. Everywhere people are turning into lunatics. The latest reports say that the wave of foolish hysteria is moving down 7th Avenue towards — towards the Financial District. (Starts laughing wildly)

SANDY: And it’s, like, kind of like with the image of mental healthcare with Arkham, which is just so frightening, right? Like that’s the thing about it, it’s like, the lunatics are frightening, but so is the asylum — like both — and then the doctors just seem incompetent, you know, like, they have a pessimistic attitude and they’re never gonna help anybody or something. Like it’s, you know, they’re not very important. But anyway, that sense that, like, lunacy itself can be spread through the city using a big barge of trash, or using, you know, this or that chemical, or — yeah, like, let’s talk about the Scarecrow, who I think is one of the most cerebral and kind of, like, terrifying villains on the show. 


GUARD: What are you? Stop! What the — no! No spiders! Get them off of me! No! No! Ahh!

NIGEL: What did you do to him, boss?

SCARECROW: I merely helped him visualize his innermost terror, which is obviously arachnophobia. 

YASSIR: It’s so interesting, ‘cause like, when you go through the Rogues Gallery, especially in season one, all of them are — and, like, this is again why I think it’s all part of Batman’s revenge fantasies, because all of them are based in the idea of a brain, you know? The — the — the — the idea of the Joker is that his brain is, you know, slightly tilted, and the idea of the Scarecrow is that he was obsessed with what makes you afraid — he was afraid — he was literally studying, like, the causes of fear, right? 


SCARECROW: I was a professor of psychology, specializing in phobias. Inducing terror has always intrigued me. Even as a boy I loved to frighten things. People, animals — it was all the same. I became obsessed with fear’s crippling power. 

SANDY: And he was bullied as a little kid, and — and now he’s got, yeah.

YASSIR: And now he’s getting his revenge by spooking people. 

SANDY: That — that Scarecrow episode, when I saw it as a little kid, was the scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It gave me nightmares. 

YASSIR: Well I mean, because they do that interesting thing — and they did it in Batman Begins as well, if I remember correctly — but there’s nothing scarier than the idea that your brain is playing a trick on you, right? Like, that’s why — and I mean this sincerely, like, I didn’t — I didn’t find out ‘til I was 31 [1:00:00] that what I was experiencing had the name sleep paralysis. Growing up, I legit, like — my — my grandfather was a pastor, he would, like, come in and, like, spray the place with, like, holy water and holy oil, ‘cause I was like, “I’m seeing” — I would tell him and my mom, like, “I’m seeing demons, I’m seeing full-on demons in the doorway.” And now when it happens I know, like, okay, either this is sleep paralysis, or someone’s watching me. Either way, I need to, like, calm down to, like, be able to get out of this. So I say all that to say that, like, with Scarecrow, the reason I feel like that got to you so much is — is that idea that, like, your brain is more powerful than your — your, you know — your biceps, your pecs, than anything. I don’t care what anyone says.

SANDY: My pecs are powerful.

YASSIR: I know. And I bet your brain is more powerful!

SANDY: You know the — yeah, and I think the — the sense of — and I think that’s actually a lot of the kind of — the inquiry of this show, or, you know, when it does play on fear, it’s often that. And I think a lot of the Batman plot lines are also that, you know, like, that sense of, like — with Harvey’s downfall, I think part of why it affects Bruce so much is, like, Harvey’s like Bruce, you know? And I think there’s always that sense of, like, what actually separates Batman from those people who he’s tossing back into Arkham. And — and there’s even that episode where Batman is drugged and then ends up in Arkham, and he’s, you know, the — the — the script has been flipped, and he’s now, you know — he’s now the one who’s, like, being treated like, you know, some lunatic because he’s behind bars. 


BATMAN: Some thought I’d gone mad. Others thought I always had been. And so they put me where they thought I belonged.

DOCTOR: Not yet. His mask is at the root of his delusional fixation. To take it off, I’d plunge him into a catatonic state.

SANDY: You know, it is always asking us basically, like, what separates this guy from — from the rest. And it seems like one of the answers is a lot of money. Like, he’s — he’s got a lot of money, and so he doesn’t have to be in that same position as them.

YASSIR: Well but I just think that it’s even just the role of a, you know, the writer or whoever, because you can tell, even if it’s not the most detailed backstory, the backstory always illuminates the “villain” quote unquote in a way that makes you go, at least I know why they’re doing this, you know? And I think that the question you’re saying or posing, I actually weirdly think, though it’s not the headline, I do think it’s — it’s simmering in every episode. I really do. Especially — I feel like the Mr. Freeze one is the quintessential, “Is Batman right in this episode?”

SANDY: Yeah. Because it’s a really complicated almost moral question that I feel like is posed to us with the — with the Mr. Freeze plot lines. As he’s — I mean, I think also, like, he’s another example of, like, a man whose tragic backstory we’re allowed to see, and therefore his grief is contextualized, like, therefore his emotions are contextualized.

YASSIR: Right. ‘Cause I remember specifically Mr. Freeze crying about his wife, you know what I’m saying? Like, that — I’ll always remember that as a thing.


MR. FREEZE: I failed you. I wish there were another way for me to say it. But I cannot. I can only beg your forgiveness, and pray you hear me somehow, someplace.

YASSIR: Regardless of how young I was and how much younger you were than me when it happened —

SANDY: I was very young.

YASSIR: You were very young. You were six months and I was 23 years old when this show came out (BOTH laugh). But like, the idea of like, oh, like, partners, like, genuinely love each other, you know?

SANDY: Yeah. Throughout this conversation I’ve just been thinking about how the function of a show like this, it does seem to some extent, is to allow boys, specifically, I think, to see feelings, you know, that there’s a lot of, like — there’s a lot of stuff about feelings on this show, like, as much as there’s also, like, punching and kicking and cars. But like, maybe that’s one of the reasons that it stuck out, you know, was because it had so much emotional discussion, you know. And — and also, yeah, these portraits of what can happen to a person, you know, when you — when — when something major happens to you that you don’t see coming. Like, it seems like in a sense the show has a very cartoonish portrait of some parts of, like, mental healthcare, for example, but on the other hand, yeah, I think it was showing, like, an incredibly complex kind of psychological portrait of these cartoons, which is wild, ‘cause it was 1992 and, like, it doesn’t seem like they needed to be doing that, like, we would’ve just kept watching Tiny Toons Adventures I’m pretty sure (BOTH laugh). 

YASSIR: Which is, I mean, number one, they did have the easter egg of one of the [1:05:00] — the — yeah. 

SANDY: The Tiny Tunes Adventures, like, comic book right at the beginning, which was obvious and why and who’s this for —

YASSIR: I know.

SANDY: — and like, we know that you made — anyway. 

YASSIR: But — but to your — to your grander point, I will say the show, weirdly — it’s like the more you talk about it — is so much about love.

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: It’s about Bruce’s love for his parents, it’s about, you know — it’s about Two-Face’s love for Grace, it’s about Mr. Freeze’s love for —

SANDY: Joker’s love for Batman.

YASSIR: Joker’s — but that — but sincerely, you know?

SANDY: Yeah.

YASSIR: And I also think that, again, to the theory of it all, I think that’s why Batman could never kill the Joker. I think once that happens, the fantasy ends.

SANDY: And it’s interesting to me, I guess, I was thinking about how these more modern versions of the Joker, like the Heath Ledger one, or this Joaquin Phoenix one that’s coming up, they don’t seem as kind of queer-coded.

YASSIR: Oh, you know what’s funny is that I would argue that — I would argue that the —

SANDY: Oh no, the nurse scene. I’m remembering the nurse scene in the Heath Ledger one.

YASSIR: The Heath Ledger one, I was gonna say, actually does feel — like, and maybe it’s just an actor’s thing.

SANDY: Or it’s ‘cause Brokeback Mountain made him super gay in our hearts.

YASSIR: Yeah yeah yeah. Well, ‘cause the thing is once — you play a gay person once, you actually turn gay forever. 

SANDY: Everyone knows.

YASSIR: Yeah, everyone knows that. 

SANDY: Everyone’s like —

YASSIR: That’s why I refuse! The Heath Ledger version definitely does feel like there’s a lot of, like, embracing his body and, like, you know what I’m saying? Like, there’s things that he does that are quote unquote “feminine.” But this new Joaquin Phoenix version — and I mean, I’ve just been on a tirade as is — to me, like, it just feels like such a MAGA, like, “We’ve taken it for too long and now we’re gonna get —”, you know, like, I’m just like — all I’ll say is that, like, I definitely believe that there’s some of that in the Heath Ledger version, but as you pointed out in Batman: The Animated Series, can’t you also argue that’s the trope that when we think things are funny it’s, like, “Look at that man not acting like a man. That’s funny,” you know?

SANDY: Yeah. Yeah. The Joker — the Joker, in a lot of respects, appears to be someone who does not conform to social norms, and it seems like that’s kind of what makes him dangerous, and, yeah, he’s out here murdering people, that’s for sure, like, a problem. He gets an atomic bomb at one point, which I was like, wow, that’s really — that’s a move.


SANDY: Our last segment on Mad Chat is called what’s helping today. And so we’ll just each share something big or small that is helping us get through the day. Doesn’t need to be today, per se, but something that’s been helping you lately. Do you want to go first?

YASSIR: Okay, yeah. I’ll go first.

SANDY: What’s helping today?

YASSIR: I was raised very Christian and I’ll say that a) I very much believe in God, I just, I need — whether you call it God, the universe, whether you call it collective consciousness, I very much believe —

SANDY: I call it Batman.

YASSIR: Okay (laughs). Okay. Sandy calls it Batman.

SANDY: Yeah. I believe in Batman. (YASSIR laughs) Sorry. I was like — I was like, oh god, this got serious, and I was like, “I’m gonna say a joke!” 

YASSIR: Oh no! It’s gonna — I promise it loops back around. So whatever it is that you — or if you believe in nothing, that’s fine — but also keep in mind that the idea of nothingness is also infinity, they are one in the same, and people need to — anyway. I say all of that to say that —

SANDY: Now all my listeners are converted, we’re good. Next. (laughs)

YASSIR: (laughing) Yeah, they’re just crying. That I have tried to explore, spiritually, other things, ‘cause it’s like, everything have been perverted to the point of, like — and also, my sister is gay, I love her very much, I love her wife very much. And I remember — and this is pre any, this is before I knew my sister was gay, before she’d come out — just as a teenager in Georgia we were going to this very Baptist church at the time — this wasn’t my grandfather’s, he was in Oakland — and the pastor was giving a sermon and somehow Ellen Degeneres came up, and he says, “You know, like, those Hollywood types, like Ellen Degenerate — whoops, I meant to say Degeneres,” and everyone was like, “Pastor is hilarious!” (SANDY laughs) And I was like, “I’m never coming back to this church.” So anyway, I say all that to say that, like, it’s hard ‘cause you’re raised a certain way and it’s hard to break your belief system, so I’ve been trying to, like, explore and blah blah blah. So I say all that to say that there’s a store here in Los Angeles called — there’s two of them — called House of Intuition that sells, you know, your crystals, your beads, your bracelets, all that stuff. So I bought three little bead bracelets, one is for creativity, [1:10:00] and another one is for chakra aligning, which is mostly dealing with not getting angry, which your boy has problems with, and then the third one is for a higher connection to the universe or a universal power. Here’s the thing: I’m very, very aware of the fact that if these things really worked that they wouldn’t be eight dollars off of Melrose Avenue (laughs).

SANDY: Right. And yet, and yet, it’s like —

YASSIR: And yet, I do believe in the idea of, like, sigils, and holding something to you that you’re being the transferrent of that energy. So I’ve been doing just, like — just knowing they’re on me feels really good. And secondly, I’ve decided that I’m done with caffeine, I don’t know for how long, but I’m now — I feel like caffeine is the antithesis to peace. I believe that nothing — I believe it gives you energy, I believe it can — it can make you do things, but the things that it’s making you do are not peaceful, and the things that it’s making you do are not focused, no matter how much you think they are. And until I find myself at a constant peace, I’m taking it out.

SANDY: Right on. Those are good ones. I have a lot of internal debate about caffeine and whether I need to remove it from my life, and I think it’s one of those things where it’s, like, I’ve quit cigarettes before, I’ve quit alcohol before, I, like, know that I could do it, but it’s gonna be a matter of really, like, getting it going. That’s — that’s wonderful. Thank you. I — I think that, like, the bracelets, like, I think that that feeling of, like — I mean, I remember when I first quit drinking, I — I had bought — I was out in L.A., and I had bought a stone that was some — it was a like a sobriety, you know, was one of the words on the card or whatever, Or, you know, something like that. And I remember having this little green rock, I’m sure there’s a better name for what it is, and I would have it. And I would have it with me. And I think especially for those first few months, it was something that reminded me, like, oh, you’re doing this, this is a commitment you’ve made to yourself. And because it’s, like, it’s on you, you’ve tied something to you, it’s like, you’re gonna see that down the line, you know? It’s like, you’re gonna run into that. And I think that’s beautiful. What’s helping today? I’m gonna say the sun, because we’re in Los Angeles — the sun is here, unlike in Batman: The Animated Series (YASSIR laughs), where there’s zero sun. I feel like you’d be so sad if you didn’t have any sunshine at any point.

YASSIR: But everyone should be as pale as the Joker. Just, everyone should be that pale.

SANDY: This is also true, yeah. So, yeah, I think that — but just a shout-out to the sun, I feel like I’ve been in L.A. the last several days and, like, of — of course I’ve enjoyed many a fine smoke, many a fine food. But I have truly just enjoyed being in this — this warm, big sunlight out here, you know, and just all these citrus trees and cactuses and succulents that are all enjoying it, and just that feeling of, like, being able to go outside and it’s like, “Whoa, I’m in a sauna.” I don’t know. I don’t live somewhere where the sun gets this big. And I don’t know, it’s like sometimes there will be days of my life where I will forget to go outside, you know, and like, I think it is — it is just so nice to remember, like, something as simple as going outside and sitting in the sun for a few minutes, if you happen to be somewhere where there’s a big old sun in the sky, like, how that can actually change an afternoon. Yassir, thank you so much for doing this.

YASSIR: Can I say something?


YASSIR: All right. For those of you that don’t know, me and Sandy met doing Pop-Up Magazine shows together. What we — did we do seven shows together? Six or seven shows?

SANDY: Yeah, something like that.

YASSIR: And we, like, immediately hit it off, but then, like, we couldn’t do anything. It was just like, we both had to fly back to our respective homes and then, like, we were living on different coasts. So, I mean this with all my heart, you are truly, though the time spent together has been limited, you are truly one of my favorite humans, just interacting with you, be it in an email or online or whatever — I love you dearly, this has been the best, we need to see each other more.

SANDY: Ah, I love you, too! Now I have feelings! Thank you. I really appreciate — I mean, I think for me, as well, it’s good to have someone — I wanted to do a Batman convo, but I needed a real nerd. Like, I needed someone who’d be able to come in here and —

YASSIR: Okay. Okay, wait a second, I’m actually a cool guy.

SANDY: Yeah. (Playfully imitating Yassir) “Well, actually, so this character is — this character appears for…”

YASSIR: Actually I love guitars and shooting guns!


SANDY: Mad Chat is produced by Lee Mengistu. Theme music by Lee Mengistu and Ruthie Williams. Our Social Media and Community Manager is Rachel Charlene Lewis. Join Rachel online, we’re @madchatshow [1:15:00] on Instagram and Twitter. Tell us what you thought of this episode, tell us what you’d like us to chat about on future episodes, tell us #whatshelpingtoday and illustrator Chris Ritter might draw it. She also designed our logo. Our episodes are transcribed by Alex Cornacchia; find those transcriptions at our website,, and you can also find resources and recommendations from me related to today’s episode. Thanks today to Nick Sylvester and godmode, and to my unpaid intern Rob Dubbin. I am Sandy Allen, author of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise; more about me and my work at This is Mad Chat. Thanks for listening. Chat with you again in three weeks.



JOKER: (singing) Don thee now thou gay apparel, fa-la-la, la-la-la, la la la! (Laughs wildly)