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.
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.
(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.