By Chris Cummins
Acting isn’t all about trying to save Darfur or flashing your lack of panties to the TMZ cameras. Pretending for a living is like, really hard work. Some people go into acting because they were inspired by the greats: Olivier, Gielgud, Shatner. Others aspire to be thespians with hopes of becoming rich and famous and then dying in embarrassing ways. No matter why people choose to act, it’s fair to say that nobody dreams of being typecast. Typecasting is a nasty side effect of fame. On one hand it means that you have embodied a role so iconic that is clicked with audiences. But it also means that said audiences will never allow you to portray any other character for the remainder of what is likely to be your miserable life. This is the type of shit Adam West has been dealing with for decades. He became typecast after starring as the Caped Crusader in the 1960s Batman series. But he’s better than most mere mortals. Following a string of largely forgettable post-Batman parts, he made the brilliant move of embracing the role that made him a household name — and he’s never looked back. Here’s a look at eight ways in which he has continued to work steadily thanks to his carefully crafted public image as Adam West, Former TV Batman.
8) Batman Garage Sale
Filmed outside of the Bronson Caves in Los Angeles where the Batcave sequences for the Batman series were shot, this Funny or Die video has Adam West selling his prized bat-longings after falling for Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. (Proving yet again that Madoff is way more of a villain than Cesar Romero’s Joker ever was). Wisely, West takes his earnings over to Arby’s and drowns his sorrows in a Big Beef and Cheddar sandwich. I think we’ve all been there.
7) Return to the Batcave
Burt Ward has the biggest schlong in Hollywood since Uncle Miltie. Or so he says. Constantly. But don’t let the former Robin’s endless anecdotes about his massive manhood dissuade you from the fun of this 2003 CBS TV movie. Loosely based on West and Ward’s autobiographies, the film has the pair searching for the stolen Batmobile and reflecting upon their televised crime-fighting adventures. Along the way, they encounter former co-stars and take swipes at the campiness of the show and their own larger-than-life personalities. Trivia: the Batusi remains the greatest choreographed dance ever. Bite it, moonwalk.
6) Holy Batman Cartoon Voiceover, Batman!
Since Batman left the airwaves in 1968, Adam West has gone on to lend his voice to every noteworthy cartoon featuring the Dark Knight that has been produced. This is an impressive feat rivaled only by Bob Denver’s voiceover work on the two Gilligan’s Island animated spin-offs. But those were shite, so who really cares? From the crappy, Batmite-infested Filmation toon to a supporting role as Mayor Grange in The Batman, West’s participation gives these shows an air of class and validation. Although he has yet to work on Batman: The Brave and the Bold — arguably the greatest superhero cartoon ever — you can bet that when he finally does it will be a watershed moment in contemporary animation.
5) Batman vs. Jerry Lawler
Adam West seems to be a fun-loving guy, and is by all accounts great to his fans. So to see him slumming it at some mid-1980s wrestling gig in Memphis while wearing a bastardized (and therefore not copyright-infringing) Batsuit really bummed me out. But then Jerry Lawler appeared wearing a lame Superman costume and the whole affair took on the air of a drunken nerd hallucination. Spidey baby? What the hell is West talking about here? The more I think about this, the more I became convinced that Andy Kaufman staged this West/Lawler confrontation. Dead, schmed. There’s no other possible explanation for this kind of awesome insanity.
4) Zombie Nightmare
One of the reasons I admire West so much is that he makes no bones about the fact that he has starred in some shit projects in order to pay the bills. Zombie Nightmare is shit indeed. The episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 devoted to this craptastic horror classic has recently been released on DVD, and that’s really the only way you should watch it. (The above clip serves as a sampler of the Satellite of Love crew’s skewering of the flick). For fans of heavy metal, zombie revenge, borderline jailbait Tia Carrere and Adam West emoting as a gruff cop, it’s essential viewing.
3) Uncle Batman
There was something about the release of Tim Burton’s Batman that made people lose their fucking minds. Seemingly normal folk were walking around getting the Batman insignia carved into their heads or convincing themselves that “Batdance” was a really good song. Amazingly enough, until the release of The Dark Knight, some moviegoers were actually convinced that Jack Nicholson did a good job as The Joker. This phenomenon hit Hollywood especially hard. In a shithouse bonkers appearance on The Joan Rivers Show, Sean Young pranced around in a homemade Catwoman outfit with hopes of getting producers to cast her in Batman Returns. Better still was Adam West’s frequent comments about how he should have been cast as “Uncle Batman” in Burton’s flick. As the clip above shows, West does seem to have some indignation about not being given a cameo in the film. But the “Uncle Batman” shtick was really just a well-crafted bit that West knew would generate press and capture the public’s imagination. (Read one of his many uses of this tale here). Ever the raconteur, West is now going around saying that he’d like to show up in one of Nolan’s Batfilms as Thomas Wayne to dole out crime fighting advice to Christian Bale. Wonderful.
2) Cameos Ahoy
Years before Neil Patrick Harris portrayed an exaggerated version of himself in the Harold and Kumar films, West perfected the act in countless self-deprecating TV cameos. In recent years, he has been portraying Mayor West in a recurring role on Family Guy. But let’s not hold that against him, as he has also turned up on The Simpsons and 30 Rock. He even hosted Comedy Central’s MST3K Turkey Day marathon, so obviously he wasn’t pissed about the whole Zombie Nightmare thing. Hands down his best cameo was on an episode of Newsradio in which he revealed himself to be legendary skyjacker D.B. Cooper when WNYX owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root) was on trial for the crime. This appearance was a high point during the series’ final season as it floundered to adjust to Phil Hartman’s murder. What a bummer to end on.
Thanks to showings on the sorely missed Trio channel a few years ago, Lookwell now has the dubious honor of being the most popular failed pilot ever made. Written by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel and aired on NBC in 1991, the show stars Adam West as former TV detective Ty Lookwell. Addled from years of performing criminal investigations on TV, he becomes determined that he can help police solve real cases. In between auditioning for a Happy Days remake — in which he shows up with the most ridiculous greaser’s pompadour this side of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — and being a nuisance to local cops, he attempts to teach acting to some would-be thespians. Sadly, this never got picked up and we are left wondering about the laughs that could have been. Another bummer. Whoops.