Kevin Conroy Had To Unlearn Adam West's Version Of Batman

The late, great Kevin Conroy provided the voice of Batman for over 30 years, and many (myself included) consider his performance to be the definitive portrayal of Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight. Batman and the comic book world of Gotham have varied in popularity since the character came to prominence in the 1940s, but as a child, the version of Batman Conroy grew up watching looked, acted, and certainly sounded a lot different than the character he would later bring to life. In an interview with DC Comics, Conroy confessed that his feelings about the character have changed dramatically since he first auditioned for the role.

"I'm not as much of a comic book and animation maven as most of the audience is," he said. "I didn't have comic books as a kid." Conroy grew up in a traditional Irish-Catholic home, and his only real exposure to Batman was the 1960s TV show version, played famously by Adam West. "When I went into the audition they asked me if I had any questions, and I said something about how I assumed they were doing the show like the 1960s Adam West 'Batman' series," he said. "Of course, the response was something like, 'No, no! That's not it at all!'"

Conroy said that he learned pretty quickly that while West's take on Batman is campy, delicious cheese, it wasn't really accurate to the comic book. "But that was the only impression I had of Batman," he said. "I had to learn about the Dark Knight and the whole legacy behind the character." 

Wait, are you trying to say there isn't an entire comic book issue of Batman running around and trying to get rid of a bomb? Color me shocked.

No need for the shark-repellent Batspray

Kevin Conroy expanded upon the story for Vulture, when he contributed to the complete oral history of "Batman: The Animated Series." He admitted to having no preconceptions about the character, as West was his only real knowledge of the character. As he recalled, showrunner Bruce Timm told him "Forget that!" and gave him a crash course in the caped crusader. "He's avenging his parents' deaths and he's got these dual identities," he learned. "You're describing an archetypal hero, almost like a Hamlet character," Conroy said.

In order to wipe away the influence of West's performance, Conroy began comparing the Batman character to stage roles that he was familiar with. "I let my imagination go and I just went to [in Batman voice] the darkest, most painful place in my voice, [returns to normal voice] and it just came out. I saw them get very excited in the booth." Conroy would confess earlier this year that the inspiration for his take on Batman's voice was rooted in his own, personal pain and that voicing Batman was a way for him to work through those feelings.

It certainly sounds a lot more productive than trying to imitate the sound of Adam West waving to Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr., or Bruce Lee through a window.