Review: The People’s Joker


The People’s Joker is an oddity of a movie. At times it feels like a chaotic, artistic expression of several ideas that come across as taboo in modern society. Sure, criticisms of comedy and the patriarchy may be common, but when they’re wrapped up in a story that also explores gender dysphoria, trans-identity, and is a parody of the Batman franchise, then you have something that captures my attention.

I’ve actually been aware of this film for years. Filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it eventually made its premiere in 2022 during TIFF and then had all subsequent screenings and festival appearances canceled due to possible copyright infringement, though it was never confirmed who sent those cease and desist letters (most likely it was Warner Bros. Discovery). Still, the film was able to find a limited theatrical release and I knew I wanted to see it. It was just too interesting of a film for me to ignore. For as much as I respect it and what it attempts and what it tried to do, the end result is a bit of a mess. A deeply personal and very affecting mess, but a mess nonetheless.

The People's Joker - Trailer (In Theaters April 5th!)


The People’s Joker
Director: Vera Drew
Release Date: April 5, 2024 (Limited Theatrical)

Joker (Vera Drew) is a woman who lives in Gotham City and wants nothing more than to be a comedian. As a child, she grew up watching UBC, which isn’t dissimilar from how Saturday Night Live functions, and wanted to be on the show so badly. Her mom, played by Lynn Downey, wanted her to have nothing to do with UBC but is even more upset that as a child, Joker questioned her gender identity. After forcibly getting her daughter addicted to Smylex, a synthetic drug used to suppress her gender dysphoria and make her appear happy, Joker lives a depressing life where she’s unable to reach her goal of being on UBC. She does meet another comedian named Mr. J (Kane Distler), who encourages her to accept who she is and stick it to society, ultimately helping Joker step into herself and finally appear on UBC.

I think it’s important first to talk about how The People’s Joker, right from the very start, is a deeply personal film for Drew. Not only did she direct, write, edit, and star in this film, but she has openly said how elements of the film are almost like a documentary of her own life. We hear about how Joker, and by proxy Drew, struggled with her gender identity for most of her life as we see her try and grapple with discovering who she really is. These moments usually come from Joker speaking directly to the camera or very intimate scenes where she confides in people like Mr. J or Oswald Cobblepot (Nathan Faustyn). They all feel honest and behind the glitzy and garish presentation of the film, these scenes are where The People’s Joker really shines. 

It’s just a shame that the presentation actively hampers the strong trans-narrative being crafted here. It doesn’t ruin these segments, but when a key moment is just shown with action figures wiggling around and the climax is a poorly animated flash sequence ripped straight from the early 2000s, I can’t help but say it looks ugly. Sometimes the animation is used to great effect, like when Joker confides in Mr. J about how she used to call up suicide hotlines in an attempt to ground herself and as a method of reaching back home as depicted by her staring at a starry midwest sky. Again, there’s something to be said about the DIY and scrappy nature of trying to make things work when there’s virtually no budget, which Drew directly related back to her experiences working on short films, but the end result has to look good, and not make me think of pre-Youtube animation.

Our hero and Mr. J in bed together.

From Altered Innocence.

Because that’s the real sticking point of the movie; I understand that this movie was made under COVID restrictions and had to have numerous elements of its production crowdfunded, but the final product looks cheap. I’m all about supporting independent films and filmmakers, but at the same time, I can’t ignore when something I’m watching just aesthetically doesn’t look good. With nearly every scene in the film shot on a green screen, it makes The People’s Joker look like one of the anniversary films that used to be made at Channel Awesome before that site imploded on itself.

Like Channel Awesome, funnily enough, the reason that Drew was able to make a film as bold and audacious as this is because of Fair Use. The title card makes it very clear that this is a parody of DC Comics and is a transformative piece, and I have to commend Drew for not shying away from being an overt and bold parody of everything Batman-related. Sometimes the jokes are pretty low-hanging fruit, like making the Batmobile look like a penis, but then there are more subtle references and jokes, primarily in reverence to the Joel Schumacher era of Batman films. Again, I respect the film for sticking it to the man and punching up at a world and corporation that feels like it wants to silence not only trans-visibility but also parody and Fair Use, but again, it needs to handle those parody elements well. Needless to say, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

Outside of directly spoofing a lot of Jokerrandom references to the Batman mythos are kind of haphazardly thrown in because… why not? Why not put all of Batman’s rouges’ gallery together and have them frequent Joker’s underground comedy club? Why not have Mr. J actually be two iconic characters associated with the franchise? Why not make Ra’s al Ghul an integral supporting character despite having literally nothing to do with the character he’s parodying? It just comes across as random and without the audience being aware of the joke. Hell, I actively read Batman comics and I couldn’t tell you where the basis of some of these jokes came from.

Vera Drew onstage as Joker the Harlequin.

From Altered Innocence.

There is one running joke throughout the film that does come across in poor taste, and that’s the direct comparisons the film makes to UBC and Saturday Night Live. Now look, I’m not the biggest fan of SNL anymore, although I did watch it a lot in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but Drew seems strangely obsessed with making everyone aware of how bad Saturday Night Live is. When Joker initially auditions for UBC, she’s told that you don’t even need to be funny to be on it, you just need to fit a certain demographic. Lorne Michaels is an actual character in the film and is presented as a gibbering manchild who makes his final appearance running away from Joker naked as the day he was born.  It comes across much in the same way Sam Levinson self-inserts nearly all of his personal gripes into his movies to an uncomfortable degree. The criticisms seem to begin and end with “SNL is bad” without offering up any real reason as to why that is.

After seeing The People’s Joker, I reached out to Sophia, who had also seen the film and has a much more developed and refined perspective on trans-cinema and a lot of their thoughts echoed mine. We talked about how the story centering on Joker finding herself worked despite being a bit hokey at times and how the parody elements were very hit-or-miss. They praised the fact that the film had a trans director and offers a nuanced journey of gender identity that doesn’t strictly cater to cis-gendered people, which is indeed good, as well as the word of mouth the film has received over social media, but we both agreed the biggest thing holding back The People’s Joker is it looks cheap.

I don’t regret seeing The People’s Joker and I think when it wants to be a story about a trans woman finding herself, it works pretty dang well. But it tries to do way more than it can handle. Trying to make a film on a small budget that wants to have elaborate set pieces, parodies Batman, and offers biting criticism of Saturday Night Live is too much, and that’s without even addressing the fact that those parts are inconsistent at best. Ultimately, I can respect everything that The People’s Joker represents and I think it’s a film that should exist in more ways than one, but as a movie, as something that is meant to provide quality entertainment and do so effectively, your results with this film may vary. Then again, that may be very fitting for a movie as chaotic and unconventional as The People’s Joker.




The People's Joker is a movie about chaos. Strong trans themes fight constantly with inconsistent parody elements, a low budget, and weird personal gripes to make a movie that some people will love, but others will hate, just as the Joker intended.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.