An otherwise unspectacular and once humble staircase sandwiched between apartment buildings that connects Shakespeare and Anderson Avenues has become an unmistakable tourist attraction in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. Officially known as “step streets”, stairs connecting a lower to a higher street are not entirely uncommon throughout Upper Manhattan and the Bronx and were created for exclusively pedestrian use. Now known as the Joker Stairs, the step street at West 167th Street, served as one of the most important filming locations in the 2019 film Joker.
In the film, the main character Arthur Fleck walks up and down the stairs as part of his daily commute until the point in time that his mental facilities begin to fail him and insanity slowly takes over. He is then seen dancing down the stairs, in full clown makeup and wearing his bright red suit. As frustration and infuriation with society is growing, and his transformation into the Joker is becoming complete, the stair also transform from being part of the daily grind of life to a playground where nothing and no one matters.
Director Todd Phillips was looking for a grimy outdoor staircase to film in the movie and originally planned for the South Bronx stairs used in the 2007 biographical crime film American Gangster. Unfortunately, when they were scouted for the scene they were in the middle of renovations and had been repaved. The neighborhood improvement proved too much and the once dilapidated stairs had been beautified too much to fit in with the aesthetics of Joker.
In traditional New York fashion, people that live in the Highbridge neighborhood still see the steps are little more than the quickest way to get up the steep hill from the 4 train stop.
Joker Stairs Facts
- The Joker Stairs are near the 167th Street station on the New York City Subway’s 4 train.
- The staircase is made of 132 steps.
- In a promotional poster for the film, Joaquin Phoenix is photographed as the Joker in the middle of his dance scene roughly halfway up the stairs.
- The Joker dances down the stairs to Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”.
- Many visitors do their best to reenact the scene from the film, sometimes in full Joker costumes.
- Location scout Aaron Hurvitz was responsible for finding the gritty Bronx stairs for the scene after the original planned stairs proved too beautiful.