Sesame Saturday: “True Blue Miracle”

Friends, this evening I witnessed something truly inspiring, and I wanted to share it with you.¬† A family of four came into the store where I work part-time and purchased nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of toys to donate to the less fortunate.

And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, I don’t know what one is.

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Sesame Saturday: All About Ernie

Not counting Kermit, who appeared on Sesame Street but wasn’t created specifically for it, Ernie is probably my favorite Sesame Street character of all time, although it is hard for me to choose between him and Bert (they’re always at their best when they’re together). ¬†If you were to ask former classmates of mine whether I was more like Ernie or Bert in school, most of them would probably say Bert. ¬†But in my own mind, I always identified with Ernie. ¬†Certainly, Ernie is everything that I would like to be: clever, funny, easygoing, with an infectious laugh and a perpetual smile on his face.

And yet, I said before that, of all of the Muppet (and non-Muppet) characters that Jim Henson created, Kermit the Frog is the most “real” to me. ¬†So when Sesame Workshop recast Ernie in 2014, my reaction was one of mild annoyance rather than panic.

It was the episode in which Bert learns to ride his bike without training wheels (clip). ¬†At first, I was happy to see a street story featuring Bert and Ernie because that hadn’t happened since who knows when. ¬†Then Ernie opened his mouth to speak and I said to myself, “Is Ernie going through puberty? ¬†Because his voice seems to have changed.”

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Sesame Saturday: The Curious Case of Herry Monster’s Legs

And now for something completely different.

Today I was in the early stages of thinking about a new “Salient Themes” post which, if it makes it to the publication stage, will involve Herry Monster, that gruff but lovable stalwart of ’80s Sesame Street. ¬†

That reminded me that I recently read that Funko had released a Herry Monster toy (it happened almost six months ago, but I only read it recently). ¬†Which is very cool even though, like most Funko Pop figures, it has black, soulless eyes that look ready to swallow you whole. ¬†But still, Herry needs more merchandising love, so let’s take what we can get.

I sneaked a quick peek at the responses on the forum, and they were talking about Herry’s pink-striped pants and whether we actually ever got to see them on the show itself. ¬†And that reminded me: not only does Herry not wear pants on the show (as far as I know), but sometimes Herry doesn’t even have legs.

Look at this sketch in which Herry is sitting and talking with Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) in her gigantic chair:

You could assume that he is kneeling on the chair, with his legs tucked under him (that’s probably how I interpreted it when I was a kid), but in that case, wouldn’t he have …I don’t know…knees?

In this one, Herry plays a butterfly in the school pageant about the lepidopteran life-cycle, and at the end he is  hoisted into the air on a fly system, and it is readily apparent that he does not have any legs:

Didn’t they know ahead of time that Herry was going to be flying? ¬†Why didn’t anyone think to build him any legs? ¬†This is what happens when you let someone other than Prairie Dawn run the school pageant.

So I started getting quasi-philosophical about all this, and I thought, “Well, Sesame has always been good about including people/characters with disabilities; maybe from that we’re just supposed to assume that Herry just doesn’t have any legs, and they never bring it up because it’s not a big deal.”

But then I remembered the Monsterpiece Theatre sketch “Chariots of Fur,” in which Herry and Grover run down the beach together to awesomely inspirational music. ¬†Running typically requires legs, and in this instance Herry does have them, and we get several close-ups of them:

So has Herry been to a prosthetist since the butterfly pageant? ¬†Or maybe Herry doesn’t have legs, but the character he’s playing in “Chariots of Fur” does have legs, and Herry is just that good an actor!

I just blew your minds, didn’t I? ¬†ūüėČ

 

I wonder…

I wonder what would have happened if no one had asked Disney about Steve Whitmire’s status with the Muppets.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not making a value judgment either way. ¬†But I just wonder what would be different now. ¬†Would Steve have started his blog? ¬†Would the Vogel!Kermit (henceforward to be known as “simula-Kerm”) video have dropped in July without fanfare?

That’s one thing that’s been gnawing at me all these almost two months, and nobody else seems to think that it is as significant as I do: when the news first broke back in July, Disney promised a “Muppet Thought of the Week” video with Matt Vogel as Kermit the following week. ¬†The fact that they claimed to have it cued up and ready to go, and yet didn’t make an announcement regarding the recast until specifically asked about it, implies to me that they intended to just release the simula-Kerm video on the world without comment, to try to sneak it past us and hope that we wouldn’t notice.

It’s frankly insulting. ¬†We’re Muppet fans, dammit! ¬†We notice tiny details; what makes you think we aren’t going to notice a seismic shift in the Muppet universe? ¬†We get pissed off when Fozzie wears the wrong color tie; what makes you think we’re going to let the end of the Second Muppet Era pass by without comment? ¬†What have we been doing for the past 27 years but analyzing Kermit’s voice? ¬†Of COURSE we were going to notice! ¬†We were always going to notice!

Then the whole thing became a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. ¬†Steve took a Harry Potter-like stand by starting his blog to tell the world the truth of what had gone on at Disney. ¬†In response, Disney took a…well, to be fair, a relatively mild Dolores Umbridge-like stance and started trying to discredit Steve in the press. ¬†And a sizable chunk of the Muppet fandom started taking an Dumbledore-specific-to-OotP-like stance and started ignoring Steve just when Steve needed them the most. ¬†This was a rare miscalculation on Dumbledore’s part, but at least he had good intentions behind it. ¬†Perhaps the fans that have turned away from Steve have good intentions as well; history will be the judge. ¬†But I digress.

Amidst the fallout from all that, the simula-Kerm video drop was delayed by over a month.

This, I think, was a diabolically clever move by Disney.  It gave people the opportunity to get used to the idea of Matt performing Kermit, to convince themselves that even a simulacrum of Kermit is better than no Kermit at all.  (On which issue, by the way, I am still undecided.)

If, on the other hand, Disney had released its simula-Kerm video in July with no fanfare, the way it seems to have wanted to in the first place, not only would there have been confusion and uproar, but it would have demonstrated dramatically how little respect Disney has for us Muppet fans: the insult of thinking they could recast Kermit without our noticing or caring, added to the injury of ripping away the soul of our beloved froggy friend.

Then again, maybe it would all have come to the same pass anyway. ¬†Forced to do damage control, maybe Disney would have still released their same statement about Steve’s “unacceptable business conduct” and the Hensons’ support of their decision, and maybe the Hensons would have chimed right in on cue with the Steve-bashing, and maybe that same contingent of Muppet fans would have been convinced that they are right.

I don’t fault the guys at ToughPigs or The Muppet Mindset for investigating and publishing their findings; if anything, I wish they had been willing to do more investigating, to use the unique resources available to them to uncover the truth of the matter. In any case, what had seemed initially to have been an embarrassing inconvenience for Disney actually ended up playing right into their hands. ¬†Disney, with its Machiavellian efficiency, managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

On the other hand, it also led to Steve starting his Muppet Pundit blog, which has become a joy and a blessing in my life, so I’m grateful for that. ¬†Nothing is so evil that good cannot come out of it, one way or another.

 

Sesame Saturday: Ernie’s Word (and drum) Games

First, Bert and Ernie play a rhyming game:

This is probably a stupid question, but instead of Bert telling Ernie that he doesn’t want to play, why doesn’t he just stop talking?

For the longest time, I used to confuse the preceding clip with the following clip, in which Bert and Ernie play an “echo game” with the drums. ¬†I was confused when I watched the rhyming game sketch as an adult and found no mention of “A Tale of Two Breakfasts”:

I’ve said before that Bert and Ernie remind me of myself and my older sister when we were young, but this is a sketch that I specifically remember re-creating with her when I was a kid. ¬†She thought it was really funny. ¬†She’s also a percussionist, so maybe it resonated with her in that respect.

Fast forward 15-20 years, and Ernie plays a game which involves both rhyming and the drums, as well as alliteration.

You know, I just have to say, one thing I really admire about Steve Whitmire is his perfect Ernie laugh. ¬†I’ve been working on my Ernie laugh for about 35 years, and I still haven’t gotten it right.

Sesame Saturday: Ernie’s new job

The Count hires Ernie to answer his phone. ¬†It’s not as easy as it seems.

For nearly the past seven years, I worked as a medical transcriptionist for a local orthopedics clinic. ¬†Then, unfortunately, that particular job ceased to exist. ¬†(And then it sort of came back, and then it went away again. ¬†It’s a long story.) ¬†

Then I got a new job with a nationwide transcription company. ¬†Suddenly I’m processing reports in from all over the country, in all different specialties. ¬†It’s a bit like having spent seven years wading in a kiddie pool, and then suddenly being thrown into the deep end. It’s exciting, it’s frightening, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, it’s exhilarating, and it’s bewildering, all at the same time.

It can be a bit like trying to answer the Count’s phone. ¬†But whatever else it may be, it is certainly not boring.

Sesame Saturday: Ernie prepares for a possible flood

The weatherman on the radio predicts a chance of rain.  Ernie starts by grabbing an umbrella to take to the library, but then gets carried away:

This is a somewhat unusual sketch in that usually the camera stays static during Bert and Ernie sketches, but in this one it pans along with Ernie.

The thing that makes this sketch for me is the sound of Ernie’s galoshes. ¬†Whether that was foley work or Jim Henson just literally put on a pair of galoshes, I don’t know, but the sound is hilarious.

There was once a young man of my acquaintance who went through a growth spurt and all his pant legs (trouser legs, if you prefer) were suddenly three inches too short. ¬†His classmates made fun of him and asked him if he was expecting a flood. ¬†He told me about it and I said, “Just say, ‘Yes, and when the flood comes, I will be ready and you will not, and I will laugh in your homely faces! ¬†HA, ha ha ha!'” ¬†He thought that was funny but, as it happens, schoolyard taunts go in and out of fashion like most things, and he never got to use it. ¬†So I’m using it here instead, because I thought it was a pretty good comeback, if I do say so myself.

This is all in good fun, but I see that they are having literal flooding in Oklahoma right now, and that’s no laughing matter. ¬†Stay safe, everyone. ¬†My thoughts and prayers are with you.

 

Thank You and Welcome

Before I forget, I want to be sure and say “thank you” to Jarrod Fairclough for featuring my article “30 Years Late to the Fraggle Party” on The Muppet Mindset. ¬†I’ve been a fan of the Mindset for some time and even contributed some articles in the past. ¬†Thank you for your support, Jarrod; I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach out to more Muppet fans!

To those of you who may have surfed over from the Mindset, welcome!  Consider yourself at home.  Let me show you around a little and point out some features of interest:

For an introduction to this site and an in-depth explanation of what I hope to accomplish, click here.

For more detailed, and somewhat random, biographical information about me, click here.

For my policy on comments, either scroll down to the widget at the bottom of the page, or click here.

To watch Bert and Ernie make comments as they watch an aquarium filled with goldfish that go “mulm-mulm-mulm,” click here.

 

Talking to my ten-year-old self

Lately I’ve found myself with not so much ¬†a writer’s block but with sort of a writer’s log jam. ¬†There are so many things that I want to say; it’s all sort of jamming together in my brain, all trying to get out at the same time. ¬†I’m just trying to prioritize and try to figure out what is most important. ¬†Also, some of the stuff has to go in a particular order or it won’t make sense. ¬†So I’m just kind of trying to sort out the chaos in my head.

To further complicate matters, my life outside my head is also about to get kind of chaotic for a while. ¬†I’m starting a new job next week, and also my parents are coming this Friday for a “surprise” visit, and I kind of need to make the place presentable for them. ¬†(At the very least, I need to set up the bed where they’re going to sleep.) ¬†So if my posts get sporadic over the next couple of weeks, that’s why.

But I want to take a moment and revisit an idea that I talked about last Wednesday and Thursday, about the wish that I’d had in 2012 that I could go back in time to reassure my grieving ten-year-old self that the Muppets would go on without Jim Henson, and Kermit would still be Kermit, and everything would be fine. ¬†Looking back on that wish from five years in the future, it seems horribly ironic.

And yet, I do still kind of want to go back in time and talk to my ten-year-old self. ¬†I don’t want to tell her–or me…maybe “me/her”–about the Schism; I remember the anxiety I/she felt back then when Jim Henson died, and I wouldn’t want to add to my/her anxiety by burdening me/her with troubles that I/she can’t to anything about.

(You know what? ¬†This is getting too confusing with all the “me/her” stuff. ¬†I’m just going to use “her” to refer to my ten-year-old self, and you’re just going to have to figure it out as we go along.)

But I would like to tell her about how I connected with Steve Whitmire last week. ¬†That would be difficult to do–quite apart from trying to avoid the Schism, I’d have to explain to her what the Internet is. ¬†I think I’d just say to her, “I can promise you that someday you will talk to Kermit the Frog, but it won’t be in a way that you might expect.”

That experience was really meaningful to me. ¬†I love all the Muppets, but I’ve always considered a special few–specifically Kermit, Bert and Ernie–to be friends that I could turn to for comfort in times of trouble.

And I’ve seen troubles; I had a terrible time as a teaching assistant in grad school, and then after that, I had a job for four years that made my teaching assistantship seem like a picnic. ¬†I can’t go into a lot of details there, but suffice it to say that I was in a very vulnerable position and, despite the best efforts of management, I endured a lot of verbal abuse that tore me down to the foundation of my being. ¬†It completely destroyed my sense of self. ¬†While working through the trauma of that experience, watching Steve’s work with the Muppets (pre- and post-1990) helped me to heal and to rebuild my self-concept.

It goes without saying that Steve went through a trauma back in October, and although I can’t say from first-hand experience, I imagine that being summarily dismissed from a job that one loves–not just a job, but a vocation–after nearly 40 years would be a major blow to one’s self-image. ¬†In any case, the pain that Steve feels is palpable when he writes about it on his blog. ¬†I’ve tried to make comments of support and appreciation on every post, with the hope that he will read them and smile, that they’ll help him to feel even just a tiny bit better, but not necessarily expecting him to acknowledge them in any way. ¬†You could think of it as being like Johnny Appleseed; I planted the seeds in the hopes that they would grow, but without knowing whether I’d get to see any of them bear fruit.

So it was both very gratifying and very humbling when he quoted a comment I had made and said, “This post made my day!” ¬†To know that I made a tiny difference in his life, even if it’s just momentary…to be able to ease his pain even just slightly…to be able to pay back the smallest portion of the joy and comfort that he’s given me over the years…that’s a treasure that I will carry with me forever…and one that I really want to share.

 

 

Sesame Saturday: Rebuilding my Bert and Ernie archive, one week at a time

Sesame Street is special to me. ¬†Way back in the day, before the capability to call up virtually every Muppet performance ever done with the click of a mouse, Sesame Street was the most reliable–and sometimes only–source of Muppet content available to me. ¬†Even after I learned to read and count, I continued watching it when I could–i.e., whenever I wasn’t in school–for several years.

In fact, there was a brief span of time when I had started school but my younger brother hadn’t yet–he is two and a half years younger than me–and he would watch Sesame Street while I was at school and then report to me what had happened when I got home. I don’t think I asked him to do that either; he just knew I would be interested. ¬†I remember him singing me a song that Don Music had apparently sung that day, of which the title and only lyric seemed to be “You’ll be so flabbergasted!” ¬†

(Since the advent of YouTube, I’ve been looking for that clip ever since, to no avail. ¬†I don’t suppose anyone out there has access to it, do you? ¬†If someone could get it to me, I’d be eternally grateful–just so I know that I didn’t dream it.) ¬†Thank you to reader/commenter Mike, who was able to find the clip on YouTube and was gracious enough to share it. ¬†Check it out below:

It’s always interesting to me to find out what other people’s favorite Muppet/Sesame Street characters are, and why. ¬†I think it oftentimes reveals a lot about the person because we tend to project our own characteristics and traits onto the Muppets with which we identify. ¬†For example, Street Gang author Michael Davis sees Grover as a middle child because Davis, himself, is a middle child and identified Grover’s…persistence as an expression of the middle child’s desperation for parental attention. ¬†That raises the question of who/where Grover’s other siblings are, but it doesn’t really matter; Davis needs Grover to be a middle child, and so Grover is a middle child for him. ¬†The Muppets are kind of like Batman in that respect; they can be whatever we need them to be.

As for me, my favorite Sesame Street characters are Bert and Ernie, because they remind me so much of myself and my older sister.  

For nine years, my sister was sort of in the catbird seat in our family; being the youngest child and the only girl, she had the privilege of having a bedroom all to herself, whereas the two boys had to share.  

Then I came along and ruined all that.

Not that she ever put it to me that way, but I think that may have been in her mind on occasion. ¬† Now she was no longer the only girl and had to share her bedroom. ¬†And even though she was (usually) accommodating and solicitous of me, I think she resented her loss of privacy–understandably so, I should say. ¬†Not only that, but a couple years later when my younger brother was born, my sister became the middle child. ¬†It was sort of a double-whammy.

Anyway, when I was five and my sister was fourteen, the dynamic between us could be very similar to the character dynamic between Bert and Ernie. ¬†I never meant to be obnoxious, but I hero-worshipped my three older siblings so much that I wanted to spend all my time around them, doing what they did, which wasn’t always convenient for them. ¬†To be fair, for the most part the three of them were very indulgent with me and didn’t mind me tagging along, but my sister’s patience with me would usually wear out right around bedtime. ¬†Much like in Bert and Ernie sketches, I’d be all tucked into my bed, and some sort of profoundly philosophical, preschooler sort of thought would come into my head, and I’d want to talk to her about it, and–just like Bert–she would say, “Mary, go to sleeeeep!”

I’ve felt for years now that Bert and Ernie’s comedy stylings are underappreciated, so in 2013 I embarked on an endeavor to celebrate their comedic chops by posting at least one Bert and Ernie sketch in my old blog every weekday for one year. ¬†I made a very conscientious decision to use clips from the official Sesame Street website or YouTube channel whenever possible, out of respect for their copyrights. ¬†

Well, no good deed goes unpunished, as it turns out, because sometime in the intervening four years, the official website has been revamped and all of the links I made to their website are now dead. ¬†So now I’m on a mission to find those clips on YouTube–whether they’re on the official Sesame Street channel or wherever they may be–and post them again.

In today’s selections, the comedy stems directly from the fact that Bert and Ernie are puppets:

ASIDE: ¬†While on the Sesame Street YouTube channel, I took a look at the Season 47 sizzle reel. ¬†About 30 seconds in, Grover appears to cause a snowstorm by means of a magical sneeze and says, “Snow in the fall? ¬†How is this possible?” ¬†It made me laugh out loud; clearly Grover has never been to South Dakota, where we routinely incorporate snow boots into our Halloween costumes.

Things I’ve Learned from Jim Henson

(What follows is an adapted version of a post I wrote on my poor old LiveJournal in 2012.  Oh, what an innocent time it seems in retrospect!)

Like most people, I knew Jim Henson primarily through the Muppets. I never even knew what he looked like until he made a cameo appearance in A Muppet Family Christmas in 1987. Nevertheless, I–along with many others of my generation–can count him as one of my first teachers because of his involvement in¬†Sesame Street, which was part of my daily routine for as far back as I can remember until I started school. This makes me a very small part of his legacy, a thought that makes me feel simultaneously honored and humbled.

From the research that I’ve done, the impression that I get of Jim Henson is that–in a gentle, optimistic way–he expected the best from everyone around him. He led by example, inspiring those around him to give their best by always giving the best of himself. He didn’t play to the lowest common denominator. When he was working on something like¬†Sesame Street, for which the primary audience was children, it wasn’t simplistic or banal, and when he was working on something like¬†The Muppet Show, which was targeted more to adults, it wasn’t rude or crude or nasty. The Muppets’ material works on multiple levels; to paraphrase Anthony Minghella, it doesn’t exclude children and doesn’t insult adults, or vice versa. In a world where entertainment, and particularly puppet acts, are almost exclusively for children or exclusively for adults, the Muppets are unique because they appeal to everyone and therefore have the power to bring people together.

In my case, the Muppets are one of the bonds that connects my family. I am the fourth of five children. My three older siblings were teenagers when my younger brother and I were preschoolers. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my older siblings sing songs from¬†The Muppet Movie; I think I knew all the words to “The Rainbow Connection” before I ever knew that there WAS a¬†Muppet Movie. My older siblings had all grown up watching¬†Sesame Street¬†and they would happily watch it with my younger brother and me when they were able. More than that, they were always enthusiastic about singing¬†Sesame Street¬†songs with us or joining us in recreating¬†Sesame Street¬†skits (well, except at bedtime–although my sister and I sometimes inadvertently acted out quasi Bert-and-Ernie sketches when I would want to talk to her at night, and she would tell me to go to sleep). And it wasn’t just a matter of them humoring the little kids: my sister and my middlemost brother once performed¬†a¬†Sesame Street¬†sketch¬†for the annual high school talent show. To this day, some of my fondest family memories involve the Muppets, and most of my fondest Muppet memories involve my family. ¬†In May 2017, we were able to bring things full circle when the five of us siblings, plus my sister’s three kids, performed a rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” at our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party to honor the ways in which Jim Henson’s work has brought us together as a family and given us so much joy.

In all of Jim Henson’s work, but particularly with the Muppets, he fostered imagination. In a way, he gave the entire world license to make believe.¬†

Somebody once said, “Jim always had respect for children, and so his characters never talked down to them.” Even as a little kid watching¬†Sesame Street, I always had a sense of this respect. As a child, I had very little patience with kids’ shows that I found condescending.¬†Sesame Street¬†was never condescending. This is another case of Jim Henson’s teaching by example: by showing respect for children, he taught children to have respect for themselves.

When Jim Henson died, I learned about genuine heartbreak. I was very nearly ten years old, and it was one of my first significant experiences with death. ¬†You sometimes hear people refer to significant (usually negative and often traumatic) events in their lives as “the end of my childhood.” I wouldn’t say that Jim Henson’s death marked the end of my childhood, but I think it was the beginning of the end. When you’re a kid (or, at least, this was my experience) there’s a wide gap between what you know and what you believe. You know about mortality; you know that you, and everybody you know, and everybody you don’t know, is going to die sometime in the murky, abstract, indetermine reaches of the future, but you try not to think too much about it. You believe in the permanence of the routine fixtures in your life and you take for granted that your heroes are invulnerable. Jim Henson was (and still is) one of my heroes, so when he died, it changed my perception of the world; it narrowed that gap between what I knew and what I believed. Death became less of an abstract concept and more of an unescapable reality.

One of the things I remember most significantly about the immediate aftermath of his death is that everyone around me, all my family, was just as devastated about it as I was. I don’t specifically remember this part, but my mom has said since then that Jim Henson’s death is one of few celebrity deaths that she has ever cried about. It was as though we had lost a close family friend…from a certain point of view, we had.

About six months after Jim Henson died, there was a TV special called “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”. Toward the end of that special, once the Muppets understand the terrible truth, Gonzo says, “Jim died? But we were just starting to get to know him!” And that’s exactly the way that I felt when he died, that I was just starting to get to know him as the man behind (and beneath) the Muppets. Nevertheless, I’m very grateful to be old enough and lucky enough to remember him. I’m even grateful for the sorrow that I experienced at his death because it allows me to appreciate the joy of life–represented in so many ways by the Muppets–much more deeply than I would otherwise.

Jim Henson once said, “My hope is still to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.” Even though he left the world far too soon, under bewilderingly tragic circumstances, he achieved that hope. I say that with absolute confidence because my own life has been so enriched by his having been a part of it, however indirectly. I have the love of music that I do in part because of Jim Henson. I have the love of literature/films/theatre that I do in large part because of Jim Henson. ¬†I learned about cooperation from Jim Henson, and because of him, I always want to call it “Shirley,” which is to say that I have the sense of humor that I do in part because of Jim Henson.¬†

The foundation of love on which I have constructed and reconstructed my self-concept was built in part by Jim Henson.