By Jackie Hong
Toronto Batman’s a little disgruntled after a girl he posed with for a photo drops a quarter into his tip jar.
“Oh yes, I can go buy bubble gum, thank you! Being sarcastic, by the way,” he mutters, not quite under his breath.
Chances are, if you’ve wandered through Toronto’s Dundas Square recently, you’ve passed by the caped crusader – he’s been a steady fixture there since 2012. And like his Gotham equivalent, Toronto Batman’s tight-lipped about his identity behind the mask, letting only a few details slip past: when he’s not Batman, he’s a server; his suit, which weighs about 30lbs, costs two grand; a few of his friends and family know about his alter-ego but he doesn’t ask what they make of it; and age-wise, he’s “up there.” He also makes occasional appearances around the Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre, runs a YouTube channel and has a fairly popular Facebook page (almost 18,000 likes), but manages to remain mostly a mystery. The only behind-the-scenes topic he seems sort of eager to breach is his workout routine – at his peak this winter, he benched 170lbs, could squat 250lbs and leg-press 550lbs, and ate eight to 10 meals a day for two months so he could bulk up for the summer.
“It’s funny, you hear a lot of different stories about me,” he said when I chatted with him one July morning. His voice isn’t quite as raspy as Christian Bale’s lawn-mower-in-throat version of the Dark Knight, but it’s about as deep without the throat cancer.
“People create their own stories about my identity, one person was like ‘Yeah he does sound at the Sound Academy.’ I was thinking in my head, ‘Uh, no I don’t.’ I’ve heard different things, like I’m a wrestler, I do meth, I do makeup. It’s kind of interesting because it makes it more mythical. It’s kinda funny at the same time.”
Chintzy tips appear to be Toronto Batman’s greatest nemesis.
“If I lift someone and they give me a quarter, it’s like, ‘What does it take to impress you?’ Yeah, it’s not juggling but I’m holding 190lbs,” he said. Later, he told me that he doesn’t dwell on the tips as much as he used to and he’s realized that in the end they usually even out.
“I used to be like that, but then (fellow performer) Spiderman was like ‘Chill the fuck out.’ And I was like, ‘Alright,’ and I chilled the fuck out, and it’s a lot easier that way… I’d rather sleep at night knowing I wasn’t a piece of shit that day.”
Quarters aside, Toronto Batman is otherwise seemingly happy with his title. He said he was mainly inspired to take on the role by Hollywood’s recent portrayals of the superhero, and the job has grown on him.
“It’s a lot of fun… I think a lot of people like to see me, I get to lift people and see them smile,” he said, “[I’m] getting a good workout here, I don’t mind making extra tips and stuff, a lot of international people to meet… I like being outside and I like being considered Batman for once.”
He’s become excellent at banter with strangers, often calling out to random passers-by during slow periods (“Hi, I’m Toronto Batman! You have nice arm tattoos!”), and added that he and the other buskers usually get along and watch out for each other (the fundamentalist group distributing literature on Islam, another Dundas Square fixture, even bought him donuts once).
Besides the occupational hazard of working in a public space downtown (“Crazy people, they like to fight”), the only other downside of being Toronto Batman is the minor physical toll that comes with constantly swinging people over his shoulder.
“Last year I tore my left arm near the elbow, just very slightly, lifting someone. I remember this guy was like, ‘I know you’re hurt, could you still lift my daughter?’ and I still did it somehow…. It’s not too bad, just the odd muscle strain,” he said.
“That’s about all I can take, I think,” he said. “Two more years. Just keep telling myself that. Two more years, two more years.”
Two little boys in baseball caps timidly walk up and ask if they can take a picture with him.
“Of course!” Toronto Batman yells. “Here, put your arms behind my neck.”
In one swift motion, he hoists the kids up off the ground. They squeal with glee while their mom snaps a photo with her phone. She puts a $5 bill into the tip jar.