The Joker's still getting away… How 'Jingle Bells, Batman Smells' became the ultimate holiday spoof
You can keep your eggnog, roasting chestnuts, and tidings of comfort and joy. For our inner 10-year-old, nothing says Christmas like Robin’s flatulence.
Every time we hear “Jingle Bells” streaming at home, muzaking away at the mall, or crooned by carolers, our mind immediately goes to the unauthorized version:
Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The Batmobile lost a wheel, And the Joker got away!
And, with Batman celebrating his 80th birthday in 2019, we thought we dig into the history of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”
Why did “Jingle Bells” get this particular spoof? By the mid-’60s, the song had proven to be one of the most durable holiday tunes, having been recorded by more than 100 artists, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and even the Beatles. Ubiquity led to parody; Spike Jones’s uptempo romp, Yogi Yorgesson (“Yingle Bells“) and the Three Stooges (“Jingle Bells Drag“) showed that “Jingle Bells” could be played for broader comedic effect. As writer Rob Weir documents on his blog, children began applying funny lyrics to the song’s simple rhymes and familiar melody at least as early as the 1950s, while wildly racist versions sprung up in the South in the 1950s and 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.
Based on some pretty convincing evidence, the Joker first got away to the jaunty tune shortly after the launch of the Adam West Batman series in September 1966. The show pulled such huge ratings that ABC aired two episodes a week, and Batman loomed large in the zeitgeist, dominating schoolyard discourse. A deep-dive investigation by Weir and editor Robert Evans of Cracked.com traces the provenance of the “Batman Smells” parody to Southern California. “Jingle Bells” was a perfect fit for Caped Crusader-obsessed kids, and the first version of Bat lyrics surfaced in the 1966 Christmas season. The authors found anecdotes suggesting the song was disseminated quickly via the large number of military families that passed through Southern California in the 1960s.
With Batman remaining a top comic character from the 1960s through the Super Friends-saturated 1970s into the 1980s Tim Burton blockbuster era, “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” has endured. Just some examples:
“Batman Smells” was glorified by Bart on the first episode of The Simpsons, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” a.k.a. “The Simpsons Christmas Special,” in December 1989.
The song was cheekily crooned by the Joker himself (Mark Hamill, in fine voice) in the opening moments of “Christmas With the Joker,” a 1992 episode of the seminal Batman: The Animated Series.
DC Comics got in the joke in 2005, playing the lyrics for laughs in a story called “Batman Smells,” written by Patton Oswalt for the anthology Bizarro World.
More recently, in a sweet moment in the decidedly unfunny 2013 Hugh Jackman-Jake Gyllenhaal kidnapping drama Prisoners, two little girls belt out “Batman Smells” — the tune is later reprised by a suspect in their disappearance.
That brings us to the present day. We recently asked Tom King, the current writer for DC’s Batman, how he would play the Christmas classic in his comic book, and he did not disappoint.
“It’s obviously a panel description for an opening splash in a comic,” he says, setting the scene.
The Batmobile lays wasted at the side of the road, Batman unconscious, bleeding at the wheel, Robin crying over the Dark Knight’s body, begging forgiveness even as he’s repulsed by the very smell he caused, the laid-egg that took Batman’s eyes off the road, that crashed the car and thus freed the monster they were delivering to Arkham.
And as his laughter snakes around the scene, the Joker flees into the horizon, a lonely, ripped tire rolling after him.
“I mean, c’mon. Try not to turn the page after that.”
[The original version of this story was published in December 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”]
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