Michael Keaton is having a moment right now. His new movie Birdman hasn’t even opened yet, and there’s already talk of an Oscar nomination. It’s a pretty huge accomplishment for a guy whose recent onscreen work includes Need for Speed, RoboCop and lesser-known films like The Merry Gentleman and Post Grad.
All this is making us think back to the 1980s, when Keaton killed it in movies like Mr. Mom, Gung Ho and Beetlejuice. It was an amazing decade for the actor, but it didn’t start off so strong. When 1980 hit he had a few episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Hour and Working Stiffs under his belt, but not much else. He also did stand-up comedy at clubs to supplement his income, but as you can see from this clip he just wasn’t every good at it. He has a decent presence, but his jokes about James Cagney, John Garfield, Albert Einstein and Bazooka Joe Gum weren’t exactly cutting edge.
Strangely enough, he’s delivering this set at the Gotham Comedy Club. He couldn’t have begun to imagine that before the decade was over, he’d re-enter Gotham as the star of a Tim Burton movie about a super-wealthy guy that fights crime while dressed in a leather bat outfit. Some in Hollywood thought it was nuts to cast the scrawny guy from Mr. Mom as the caped crusader, but the public disagreed and the film was a huge hit. It proved a tough act to follow, but spoofing the whole thing in the brilliant, bizarre Birdman was a very clever way to do just that.