Saturday, March 31, 2012

Our First Muppeteer Interview - And BOY, Is This Huge and a Major Coup! [From the Archives: 4-1-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on April 1, 2009]

Nearly ten years ago, i was blessed to have contributed the very first "celebrity interview" (Jerry Juhl) to Well, after having only been online with this new venture for a mere couple of weeks, i've landed a HUGE interview for this site. I mean we're talking as big as big wigs come! Jim Lewis? Bigger! Stevie "Wonder" Whitmire? Even better! Kirk Thatcher? Lyelle Brier? Frank Oz? Brian Henson? Drew Massey even?

No! This is as major as it gets. My very first interview for Muppet Freak is with the big guy himself...Jim Henson!

I can hear everyone stammering in front of their screens now..."But...but...he's dead! Jim? How?"

Two words: "Ouija Board"!

So Jim, how do you feel Steve Whitmire's been handling the passing on of Kermit and Ernie?

After a pause, board reads..."jgifbn8w"

Okay - two better words: Madame Olga.

Now being the financially challenged guy i am, i couldn't afford her standard fee, but after i told her this would no doubt be read by legions of Henson's fans worldwide on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what he has to say after anyone's heard from him for nearly two decades, she wanted me to pass on to all you legions that Madame Olga in Phoenix Arizona is the one to turn to for all your extra special seance needs!

Now that our advertising is out of the way, here's what Jim has to say:

d.w.: So Jim, being that this is my first time ever using this medium (no pun intended) to communicate, i don't know what kind of time or connection we're working with, so let's get right to the questions on most people's minds. How well do you feel Kermit's been performed since the torch was passed?

Jim: Well of course it's not the same, it could never be the same. But Brian's done an absolutely amazing job with...

d.w.: Uh, excuse me, Mr. Henson, but you said "Brian". You are aware that Steve Whitmire is the one who's been playing Kermit aren't you?

Jim: Really? Little Stevie? No, I always heard Brian was doing my characters! We don't get all the most reliable sources up here - we sometimes get some crazy rumors.

d.w.: You don't have the internet?

Jim: Actually we do. That's part of the problem.

d.w.: Ah, i see.

Jim: Course it is a bit minimal - being that Bill Gates is one of the tools of the devil, that does put a bit of a damper on a lot of stuff available to us up here.

d.w.: Well anyway, getting back on track, Steve has indeed been the only one performing Kermit since we lost you.

Jim: Ah well, Brian's still made me very proud with how he's done Ernie...

d.w.: Uh, still Steve...

Jim: Stevie again? Gee whiz. Does Brian do ANY of my characters or has Steve just been doing nothing but riding on my coattails since 1990?

d.w.: No, your characters have been played by various people...and Steve does a wonderful job playing his own characters as well. But as far as Brian goes, the only one of your characters he's ever performed was The Newsman. And he was one of a few different people. Interestingly enough, Brian actually became more of a replacement performer for Richard Hunt's characters for a while, taking up Scooter and Janice for a time.

Jim: Mmmmm.

d.w.: Indeed, "mmmmm" (Now i KNOW this is Jim i'm talking with if i had any doubts.)

Jim: So does he have his own characters?

d.w.: He hasn't done as much Muppeteering the last few years since the Disney sale but he's the one who performs Sal and Phil Van Neuter...

Jim: That's Brian huh? Holy guacamole! I don't believe it!

d.w.: What?

Jim: His voice hasn't changed since he was a teenager! No wonder he's not doing Kermit!

d.w.: Anyway, since Richard Hunt's name came up, do you see your old friends who have passed on frequently? Do you party with or work on new projects or have adventures with Richard, Jerry Juhl, and Don Sahlin for example?

Jim: Nah. I never get to talk with Richard. He has his whole posse he hangs out with - Oscar Wilde, Sal Mineo, Noel Coward, James Dean...they're like the "happening kids in the schoolyard" as it were...

d.w.: Too bad. I mean i'm happy for Richard but it just seems like you'd be together more.

Jim: As for Jerry and Don, I have no contact with them at all since they're um..."downstairs" shall we say?

d.w.: Neither Jerry or Don got into Heaven?!

Jim: No no, they got in. But not too long after they were both here together, they teamed up to play a gag on The Big Boss by arranging a million ping pong balls to fall on God's head. They were quickly relocated to a lower floor. Despite popular belief, The Boss does not have that big a sense of humor!

d.w.: Wow. I always thought any supreme being that would give the male gender BOTH Adam's Apples and the need to shave one's neck would have a wicked sense of humor...

Jim: No, no. That's just wickedness period. Humor has nothing to do with it.

d.w.: I notice you tend to refer to God as "The Boss". Does that mean he's actually kind of close to how he was represented in "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie"?

Jim: Remarkably close actually! But obviously God's not Whoopi Goldberg.

d.w.: I wouldn't think so, even though that was some inspired casting for the movie. Um...i know you probably can't say much, but no harm in asking...are you able to comment or even give any hints as to who or what God is exactly?

Jim: Yoko Ono.

d.w.: That's a hint?

Jim: No, that's actually who God is. Yoko Ono!

d.w.: That actually would explain a lot if that were actually true...but how could that be? Yoko's alive and well here on Earth - she's not even dead or anything yet!

Jim: You obviously haven't followed her career for a long long time have you?

d.w.: Point taken. Wow. That's a real mind blower - are you actually allowed to make such a huge revelation to us all like that? Would you face any repercussions for breaking that news to us?

Jim: No no, on the contrary it's good for people to finally know that. You see, it will help with your prayers. Whenever you pray or meditate, if you continually chant Yoko Ono's name backwards, this greatly increases your chances of being heard and answered.

d.w.: So..."Onookoy"?

Jim: "Onookoy!" Try it! It works!

d.w.: Okay, i think i've filled my "Answering the Mysteries of Life" quota. Back to the stuff Muppet fans are thing that we recently learned on the bonus features for the Fraggle Rock dvd's...

Jim: ...By the way, fans can rest assured that the "good folks" at HIT Entertainment and Lionsgate have essentially written their names in Hell's address book for pulling that garbage with releasing season four as part of a complete series only, making fans pay twice for the other seasons they bought!

d.w.: Oh my - that IS marvelous news. But at any rate, many of us were surprised that you were initially against the idea of wrapping up the series in the way it wound up! How did you initially envision Fraggle Rock ending?

Jim: Fraggle Rock would have been completely destroyed by the Gorgs. There would have been no survivors among the Fraggles, Doozers, or any of the other various creatures that live in the Rock.

d.w.: Oh my gosh! I never would have thought you'd do something like that! Do the Gorgs face any consequences?

Jim: They then all get crushed by a huge Monty Python style foot.

d.w.: No way!

Jim: But don't feel bad for any of them. After all that happens, we learn that the whole series was actually nothing more than a dream of Ned Shimmelfinny's. Doc wakes him up from his dream and we see that the "real" Doc actually pretty shockingly resembles a human version of Boober.

d.w.: No offense, but i think i like the way the series actually ended better.

Jim: Yeah, Jerry was always better at that kind of ending stuff than I was.

d.w.: One theme that was very much a part of Fraggle Rock and really most of the Jim Henson Company's works, especially during your last decade among us has been the need for humans to take care of the environment. As you can probably sadly tell, as a species, we've really failed to heed those messages.

Jim: #$@* George Bush! Both of them!

d.w.: WHOA!! You know, Mr. Henson, not that i don't totally agree with that sentiment but...well two things: (1) Even though my site is geared towards adult Muppet/Henson fans, i try to keep the language clean so i'll have to censor that sentence a little, i'm afraid. Second and more importantly, i'm really flabbergasted to hear such a strong statement coming from you! I mean, for someone who has this almost Zen-like reputation for rarely getting angry or saying negative things about others, to hear that coming from you is a real shocker!

Jim: Well, you know that whole mythos about my never getting angry or speaking ill was really all a huge p.r. legend that continues to this day.


Jim: Think about it - where ELSE do you think Frank Oz picked up that "sailor's mouth" of his?

d.w.: Let's change the subject. Going on twenty years after your passing, you're still recognized as one of our greatest modern geniuses...

Jim: Oh, "genius schmenius!" Look, people go on and on about how I recognized that you didn't need to show a puppet stage when shooting puppets on television because the very outline of the screen could serve as that border. I mean COME ON! ANYONE could see that! I just happened to be the first person who DID something about that. If it wasn't me, it soon would have been someone else. Things like that happen in your world all the time! Little stuff that doesn't make sense that everyone can see is silly but no one ever does anything about correcting it. Like how the Circle K's put the darn teabags on the opposite side of the store from the hot water and cups!

d.w.: I see what you mean. We are indeed "Silly Creatures" aren't we?

Jim: Well, let me put it this way. God may not have a huge sense of humor but she does laugh at you folks an awful lot!

d.w.: Since your death, not only have The Muppets lived on, but the Jim Henson Company has continued your legacy of innovation in television and film. Most notably, Farscape. I imagine you must be very proud of how hard Brian fought for years to bring something like that to the screen, showcasing years of progress made by the Creature Shop as well as advances in makeup, CGI, and sci-fi storytelling. As Farscape celebrates its tenth anniversary and continues to be regarded as one of the best sci-fi series of all time, i imagine you must have much to say about all of its success...

Jim: They should never have killed off the hot blue bald chick in season three!

d.w.: Um...yeah! Well, back to the Muppets! Right now it looks like Jason Segel's film script is essentially greenlit from Disney. Will it indeed live up to its proposed title of "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made"?

Jim: Yes and no. It will surpass the ones that came before. However there will ultimately be a Muppet film in 2024 that would really have to be considered the greatest of all time.

d.w.: Does Segel write that one too?

Jim: Nope. Doogie Howser.

d.w.: NEIL PATRICK HARRIS? I knew he was also a huge Muppet Freak (and frelling cute too!), but that's pretty amazing that the two greatest Muppet films of all time are both written by actors who are Muppet fans as opposed to the regular Muppet writers or anyone like that!

Jim: No no, Doogie Howser will be the name of one of the Muppet writing staff at that time. That's his actual name, he has nothing to do with Neil Patrick Harris other than the fact his tv-obsessed parents named their son after the character.

d.w.: Wow, i'm really learning a lot! But now let's really up the stakes. Give us one humungous scoop! Tell us some previously unrevealed secret about the Muppets or the Jim Henson Company that's gonna make all our heads spin.

Jim: Oh, I have something juicy alright - but do you really think you can handle it?

d.w.: After learning about Yoko Ono, i think we can take anything else you throw at us by now.

Jim: Okay, brace yourselves. I shall now reveal the biggest secret about the Jim Henson Company and the Muppets. It's about Eric Jacobson.

d.w.: The amazing performer who's taken on most of Frank Oz's characters? Go on!

Jim: He's not real. He's a top secret experiment between JHC and the US government combining the pinnacle of research in the fields of genetic cloning and animatronics. It's all very complex but it's really very simple.

d.w.: Wow...that's just such another very "Jim" thing to say! Please continue!

Jim: He's basically a created creature put together by the Creature Shop and given artificial intelligence provided by genetic samplings of Frank Oz's old chewed up pencils and "inside Cookie Monster puppet sweat" or to use our own internal slang, "Foggy Fozz"!

d.w.: My readers will never forgive me if i fail to ask this. What are your true feelings about the sale of the Muppets to Disney; both the sale itself and the way Disney has handled them?

Jim: I'm cool with it.

d.w.: That's all you have to say?

Jim: Well, of course they REALLY need to stop using that "kissing his fingers" Swedish Chef photo in the merchandise all the froggin' time!

d.w.: Amen! But i mean, surely you can elaborate - there must be a lot more you can say about how you feel about Disney's ownership?

Jim: Actually, no - not really.

d.w.: That's all, huh? How come?

Jim: Well...let's just say the immense powers and wrath of the Walt Disney Company have extended its claws into my realm as well. I can reveal that God is Yoko Ono, but if I say anything too bad about Disney, I'm just asking for trouble!

d.w.: Okay, then let's wrap this up with three questions i've saved for last. First up; your death occurred before the explosion of the internet and online fandom. What are your thoughts on the scale and intensity of the Muppet/Henson fan community?

Jim: Listen very closely. YOU GEEKS NEED TO GET A BLOODY LIFE! I mean, gee whiz! Obsessing over what the real name of a Muppet Monster puppet is? They're just puppets - their names change all the time! We could change Animal's name at any time to Uffaflugg just because we can! And what is all this with living and breathing how many Sesame Street episodes (and which ones) were brought to you by the letter "H"?! Not only is that just scary, but THAT DOESN'T EVEN HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ME!

d.w.: Alright, more specifically, how do you feel about my blog? I mean i know it's pretty new and all but am i on the right track; off to a good start?

Jim: Well, ther's a litttle too many tipos, As far as content, there's stuff that's right on and other stuff I don't agree with. You nailed how Bert & Ernie Sing Along is the COOLEST Sesame Street Album EVER (and you haven't even heard the outtakes!) However you were way too hard on the Muppet Babies and the Posers in your article on The Two Worst Things to Ever Happen to the Muppets.

d.w.: Well then straight from the horse's mouth as it were - what would YOU say is the worst thing to ever happen to the Muppets?

Jim: Muppet Baby Posers. Skeeter just should never be seen in three dimensions.

d.w.: My final question. Do you have any messages for any of us still on Earth? Fans? Former colleagues/friends?

Jim: Stand back, sonny! I've got SEVERAL!...

Karen Prell: Stop pulling that whole "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM" attitude/routine at Home Depot. The poor salesclerks DON'T know who you are, nor does hardly anyone else. They just know you as the very mean lady with the swelled head that tries to get all these insane freebies.

Bill Baretta, Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid, Ricky Boyd, and Kevin Clash: As tempted as you may be to turn down Playgirl Magazine's offer to do a "Nothing Up Their Sleeves (Or Anywhere Else!)" photo spread, for Ono's Sake, DO IT! You think the funds from Tickle Me Elmo saved Sesame Workshop? That's nothing compared to the money you'll bring in to the Muppets if you do that photo session! Big Daddy Jim has spoken so now you have no excuse!

Oh, and Kevin, while i've got your ear - that whole Elmo thing? You're currently at a "9", we need you more at a "3"!

Matt Vogel: Please stop hoarding chicken wings in the Big Bird suit. That's just WRONG on so many levels! I mean, the worst thing Carroll Spinney ever did was slip in some porno flicks on the monitor strapped to his chest and only during downtime!

Dave Goelz: Eat more lime jello. I can't reveal why, just trust me on this one!

Kirk Thatcher: Wear less Hawaiian shirts and more black. Not only is it slimming but it makes you incredibly sultry looking!

Marty Robinson: Please stop eating the puppets! Not only is it very bad for your health but you know how the current economy has taken its toll on Sesame Workshop as it is without having to rebuild all the characters you're snacking on! Why do you think they had to switch to that Mini-Zoe?

Muppet Builders: Take my word on this: despite the expense, go on and rebuild the Thog costume. Do it and he'll end up becoming an even greater breakout star than Pepe and Elmo combined! After all, the money from that Playgirl shoot, while substantial, won't last forever!

And finally, to my five children who I dearly love endlessly to a degree that your Earthly languages can't express (and yes, John, that includes you despite your guilt over how I might feel about your forsaking the family fortune and becoming a professional pudding wrestler. Not only am I perfectly fine with it, but you look much hotter in a speedo covered head to toe with chocolate than you ever did in the Sweetums costume), as much as I hold you all in the highest regard and feel you could never do any wrong...PLEASE PLEASE _*PLEASE*_ don't name any of my grandchildren Kermit, Oscar, Crazy Harry, Froggie Baby, Doglion, or Doogie.

And finally to all Muppet fans young and old who's ever found enjoyment in my work, HAPPY APRIL FOOL'S DAY!
[Since this was originally posted on April Fool's Day three years ago, i wanted to wait until this year's April 1st to add the repost.  This was a huge labor of love with lots of great, fun Easter Eggs within and i hope Henson fans and Muppet Freaks enjoy reading it.
On its original run, it took awhile for the feedback from those who "got it" to chime in, but the very first couple of comments i got regarding it were from people who were SHOCKED and APPALLED.  Not over the concept per se, but over the fact that i DARED to write something with the words "Ouija board" in it (despite the fact that in the context of the fiction, the Ouija board didn't actually work and was a piece of junk - one would think they would have been pleased that i helped further the idea of Ouija boards being a waste of time that one should stay away from, but irrational prejudices aren't known for being, well.. rational.)

Like a lot of the sillier stuff i tend to do, the genesis for this April Fool's post came from some serious musings.  It had struck me that Jim passed away a few years before the internet really caught on and missed out on how an artist's fans could now have a more intimate and immediate relationship with the people who created the work they admire - Jim didn't get to see the initial newsgroups, the fansites, the forums and by extension, fans never really got to see how Jim would have interacted with the online fanbase.  So thinking about what an fansite interview with Jim talking about fandom would have been like seemed like a fun idea to explore.  I was also poking fun at the fact that Muppet Freak was a new site at the time and didn't have the kind of inside sources from Henson, Disney, and such that some other sites that existed at the time did - so again this was fun to snark on and turn on its head.

Oh - and HEY!  Jim was RIGHT about rebuilding Thog!  One of the best things Disney's done!

Hope you had fun reading this.  Remember this was still when Muppet Freak wasn't even a month old yet, so this was just the beginning of wild and fun stuff to come.  Stay tuned as we continue to get the original archives back up along with new content...there's still a very important post coming up this week exploring a major issue currently confronting the Muppet Fan Community.  Check back often and spread the word to other Muppet/Henson fans that we're here, back, and at this new address.] 

Friday, March 30, 2012

All Muppets Fans Are Not Created Equal

Since Muppet Freak had been on what had seemed at the time like a permanent hiatus during the latter half of 2011, i've got a lot of catching up to do - not just in terms of getting all the archives from the old server back online, but also topics having to do with "The Muppets".  This of course was The Big One We've Been Waiting For - the Muppets' glorious return back on top of popular culture where they belonged!  Most of us will never forget our experiences seeing it for the first time...maybe you saw it along with a group of fellow fans or maybe you even managed to see it in Los Angeles at the official premiere.  Here's my story.

2011 wasn't a very good year for me.  For that matter, the whole decade basically sucked.  I had lost so much and hit rock bottom with very little money, no car, no hope of being able to escape my rut, nothing left to live for, no chance of any dreams i may have had once upon a time to ever come true.  Nothing in my life was right, every day was a living nightmare i just wanted to wake up from and the only source of joy or happiness left came only from my objects of fandom.

I knew pretty much since the beginning of the year - since most of 2010 actually - that 2011 would be the year i finally felt my release.  A decade prior as i was approaching my 30th birthday, i made a pact with myself that if there didn't seem to be any real indication that my then-already-quite-unfabulous life wasn't going to be any better, i would end it all before suffering the indignity of turning 30.  Looking back, it was really only one thing that kept me from going through with it:  it just so happened that the day of my 30th birthday just ended up happening to be the same weekend as the first (and to date only) official Muppet Fan Convention, MuppetFest.  MuppetFest literally saved my life.

...Though it turns out, it wasn't worth saving.  Essentially the entire next decade would be one of tragedy after loss after crushing blow...capped off with being thrown out of my family's house for being gay along with the loss of a longtime job also due to being gay.  A healthy savings account would end up depleted as expensive car repairs mounted, jobs came and went - companies closed (in one case owing employees three months of backpay).  My singing ability was ruined by chronic bronchitis.  I developed a theory that i was actually already dead and in Hell.  Everything that could go wrong did; if any kind of slight blessing looked to be coming up, it was either a false alarm or a prelude to something worse.  If i had any way of knowing what 2002-2011 held in store, there's no way i would have chosen beforehand to experience it; i would have ended it all after MuppetFest and died happy.

So after ten very long torturous years, here i was now in 2011 completely beaten up by life, continually amazed at how there were maybe only about two good days out of the entire decade and how there never seemed to be any break in the storm...ten years straight of rain and curses.  My 40th birthday would be at the end of the year and just like a decade earlier, i knew the time had come to admit defeat and bring my life to an end before that date.  I'd done lots more research during the past decade as to methods and knew precisely what i would do when the time was right.  Unlike ten years ago, i had nothing left to hope for - everything good in my life had been lost, all dreams and chances at happiness destroyed so "To Be or Not to Be" wasn't even a question; the choice was obvious.  I made peace with the idea and was fully ready to finally escape the eternal torment once and for all.  It was time and i was at complete acceptance of that fact.

But there was one other thing that was to define the year 2011:  it was The Year of the Muppet.  On Thanksgiving Day, the first Muppet theatrical film in 12 years would hit theatres with the full marketing muscle and financial support of Disney behind it.  The new Muppet film was to be the one we had all awaited for so long.  If nothing else, i had to suffer through each day for no other reason to at least get to that point.  It wasn't at all easy and there was many a time i didn't think i'd make it but all the personal hell was going to finally be worth it once that day arrived.  I'd have my Happy Ending - my one day of total bliss and limitless joy before bowing out.  Seeing "The Muppets" was the thing i held onto when all else was unbearable darkness.

Now before i go on, let me tell you something about being a Muppet fan in Phoenix Arizona.  It's lonely.  There aren't a lot of Muppet Freaks in my neck of civilization.  I would constantly be in envy of places like the Northeast where so many Muppet Freaks knew each other and frequently got together for Muppet-lovin' activities.  Actually, that's pretty much what it's like to be a fan of ANYTHING in matter what kind of stuff i loved, i could connect with other likeminded fans online all over the world but finding anyone local would usually prove fruitless.  Maybe it's the geography of the city - for one of the nation's largest cities, it's very spread out, everything's walled in and the heat keeps people indoors and away from others.

But even if people were staying inside their respective habitats in the comfort of their air conditioning, surely fans of (whatever) would go online and join the respective fan communities, right?  Apparently not.  Whether it be Muppets/Henson, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Shakespears Sister, One Life to Live, or any of my other major areas of fandom, i never seemed to ever find local fans of my favorite things in any of the online fan communities.  So if there were local Muppet (or other) fellow fans here, they're not active online.

So this was one thing in particular i was especially excited about concerning the release of "The Muppets":  seeing it in a theatre with fellow fans!  It would be the time where these "hidden fans" would come out of hiding and be at the same place at the same time just waiting for us all to discover each other...the debut showing of the movie would be where i'd be able to experience the excitement and joy of being surrounded by fellow Muppet Freaks - maybe i'd make a whole bunch of cool new friends!  I knew immediately that i would be attending the first screening of the film here - even if i had to miss work...hopefully there would be a midnight showing so that wouldn't be an issue - my job doesn't have sick hours/vacation time and missing any time is very hard on the wallet since i can barely get by as it is with my normal hours.

I can't even count the number of times i'd go to bed after yet another hard day filled with hours of wishing-i-were-dead and just dream about what it would finally be like seeing the film...and seeing it with other fans!  Given my financial status, even if another MuppetFest were to ever happen, i wouldn't be able to attend - there would be no way i could afford the ticket, the travel, or the time off work.  If i was going to experience anything again resembling a Muppet fan event, the debut showing of "The Muppets" was going to be it.

I got to thinking about how other Muppet Freaks all over the world were in similar situations:  desperate to connect with other local fans and anxiously awaiting the chance to meet them as they went into their local theatres to see "The Muppets".  I got to thinking, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if we could come up with a way for the most hardcore of the fans to recognize each other?"  Maybe if one of the fans with artistic talent were to design an awesome shirt and sold them on the major fansites and/or made the design available for download to put on a shirt yourself?  When someone would go in a theatre (especially if it wasn't the debut showing) and see someone else in this special shirt, they'd instantly know they were in the presence of a Major Muppet Freak and they would have to introduce themselves. 

I had already closed up the original Muppet Freak and said my goodbyes at that point so i started to throw out the idea on fan forums...though it turned out some other people were also thinking heavily about Muppet t-shirts...if not necessarily for the specific purposes of Muppet Freak Identifiers.  Not one, but TWO online companies held contests for Muppet T-shirt designs.  I won't comment too much on The Great Muppet T Shirt Contest Explosion of 2011 since that's a whole other entry for another time, but suffice to say Muppet Freaks had a lot of great T-shirts available to choose from for movie-goin'-wearin'!  I had some favorites of my own i would have loved to buy and wear ... but the whole struggling-financially-to-get-by thing got in the way and i just didn't have the chance to afford ordering any of these before the movie (still don't own that should be a note to jot down in your "holiday gift shopping gift for a Muppet freak ideas" notebook)  An already existing Muppet shirt in my closet would have to suffice.

Of course, confronted with the first dose of reality in the form of not being able to afford a new Muppet shirt, the concepts of "Ideal vs Reality" was starting to sink in.  "Oh no - what if after all this time of holding on waiting for this precise moment, it doesn't happen?  What if i can't even afford a ticket?"  (Which was likely.)  "What if there's not a debut showing i can get to by bus or foot close enough to me?"  Panic started to set in because this was exactly the way my life has worked for the last decade...the promise of anything slightly good being ruined.

Even though i already was living very leanly and got used to such nutritional habits such as the 39 cent Del Taco and the loaf of bread and all the free condiment packages i could grab at Circle K making up my weekly diet plan, i cut back even more in the weeks leading up to the film - starving myself so i could at least be able to have a ticket!  I obsessively scanned several online listings sites for information on where there would be local midnight debut screenings...hoping that the one at Metrocenter would be included since getting there and home would be no problem since it's close and in walking distance if i couldn't get a ride.  Of course, given the curse my life tends to be under, day after day it still wasn't showing up and time was running out!

Of the theatres being announced, there were a few i may be able to get to on time by bus after i got off work...but no way to get back home.  (Phoenix bus service is the pits.)  There was no way i could even think of being able to afford a taxi.  Time was running out and desperation sinking in so i started posting like mad on fan forums for any Phoenix fans who've been in lurkdom to come out and placing "Obsessed Muppet fan needs ride to debut screening" ads on Craigslist and Backpage.

For a brief moment it looked like i might have a ride with a fan from Tuscon, but that fell through.  The occasional response from Craigslist would come in...and be from some illiterate creep who somehow managed to interpret needing a ride to a Muppet movie as being a sex invite.  At least one response seemed legit and we started making arrangements...until all of a sudden the emails started taking on a scarier homophobic tone signalling this wasn't going to work either.

The last possible moment i could check for updates of screenings or email responses for rides came...and - big surprise - still no luck.  Of course.  All i ever wanted was just one day out of a freakin' DECADE where i could be happy and have a good time for just a few hours and of course it wasn't looking good.  So out of time and options limited, i devised my emergency plan of action...i'd take the bus from work to the nearest theatre doing a midnight showing and wear a sign on my back saying "Need ride home (19th Ave/Cactus)"  Sure, it would be very humiliating and all that would be missing would be a giant L tattooed on my forehead, but that's what it had come down to.  As for my shirt, i had been thinking of wearing my Kermit head tan shirt since it was extremely similar to the one Walter wears in the movie, but at the last minute decided to go with an Electric Mayhem shirt since it was slightly cooler and more unique - i needed the strength of any possible conversation pieces to more easily get a ride home.  My walkman tape player was loaded up with Muppet tracks for the bus ride!  This was it - by hook or crook i was seeing the debut screening with local fans and who knew what might come out of it?!

All day i was very worried and unable to concentrate at work...i was so scared i'd end up being the only one at the theatre which would be really horrible on so many levels:  (a) if no one else was there, i'd have no way home (b) there really would be NO Muppet fans at all where i live (c) how horrible would that be for The Muppets - no one going to see the film?!  I thought such a scenario might actually play out since the newspaper didn't have any info on the midnight showings - one would only know about them if they sought out the info online...and maybe Phoenix wasn't that much of a "checking for online movie screening info" kind of place...after all, Phoenix online Muppet fans sure weren't making their presence known after a decade and a half of being online.

Thankfully, it looked like the turnout would be a good one - the people kept coming through the door and the seats were getting filled!  The bulk of the attendees seemed to be late teens/early twenties - a good demographic signal of the film's opening week success!  Not very many people seemed to be there on their own; it seemed like a lot of the people there were part of some large group of friends or another.  Even though i'd hear the occasional conversation snatch of "I've been waiting soooo long to see this movie", i wasn't seeing very many people dressed Muppety.  In fact the only person i spotted wearing any "Muppet" articles of clothing was someone wearing a SESAME STREET (Oscar) shirt.

The crowd was lively and into it even before the film started...with the place going wild when the Muppet AMC theatre etiquette promo ran!  Although there were a few minor flaws with editing/story construction, the movie itself was almost everything i could want from a Muppet movie (a movie review would be a whole other article so i won't expand on that here.)  It was very heartwarming to see the audience laughing along and loving it.  I still didn't have a ride home lined up but it would surely come after the movie - after all this was not only a healthy sized crowd, but a crowd of MUPPET FANS - people who had the whole Henson/Muppet mentality and values.  People who believed in sharing, making sure people in need were helped, valuing each and every fellow man and doing the right thing.

Guess again.

The walk home was five hours.  Five painful hours.  Five tears-wouldn't-stop-gushing hours.  Even the tape full of Muppet music in my Walkman couldn't keep my spirits up as i kept flipping it over and over again to listen to the same 45 minutes per side YET AGAIN.  I was very thankful that after not really eating the week beforehand that i at least had enough for a popcorn and soda for the movie because i needed some kind of food in my system to endure it (and also thankful i remembered to use the bathroom before starting the trek.)

I continued to wear my "Need ride home" sign on my back for about the first half hour up until i was starting to see how most of the traffic was turning out to be police cars, so i didn't need something else ruining the night even more.

When you're forced to walk home late at night for who knows how long it will end up being, fearing for your life of being mugged and raped, having to walk over bridges when you have a fear of heights and a slight spell of dizziness when you're on one, a lot of thoughts go through your head.  For at least the first hour, most of the thoughts are still with the movie; remembering the best parts, further analyzing the weaknesses and how it could have been improved.  But soon that buzz wears off and the reality of the situation sinks in.  All you ever wanted - all you kept holding onto each day you wanted to die was just ONE night where you could be happy and things could go right.  And once again, you were robbed.  Someone up there REALLY REALLY hates you.

I couldn't think of which was worse; the fact that once again i was the most pathetic loser who never should have been born, the idea that what was supposed to be the happiest night of my decade...was yet another living nightmare come true and that all this time when i wanted with every fiber of my being to not live anymore i kept myself going on just to go through this, or the thought that not one person in a good sized crowd of what was supposed to be MUPPET FANS  could be bothered to give an obviously pathetic guy who humiliated himself wearing a sign on his back a ride home...even just partway.

That last thought disturbed me the most.  What kind of Muppet Fan is that?  That went completely against any image i had of a Muppet Fan.  Did none of these people know about Jim Henson?  Did they learn nothing from the examples he set in all his works and visions?  This just seemed like the worst kind of betrayal; the thought of being let down by not only Muppet Fans, but a big group of them.  I kept telling myself, they COULDN'T have been real Muppet Fans.  Maybe people who liked the Muppets a little bit or more likely just full-of-themselves college kids who were only just interested in the latest "It" thing moment to moment - but these certainly couldn't have been actual full-fledged MUPPET FANS.  And CERTAINLY not Muppet Freaks.  They wore Sesame shirts to a Classic Muppet movie for frog's sake.  I'll bet not one of them could correctly name over 50% of the Muppets in the poster.  (At least i did get a free poster...but it's not easy for a poster to stay in good condition when being handheld for a five hour walk home.)

I think this is what i cried at the most.  Jim failed.  All his teachings; all the examples he modeled - the people who should mirror his ethics and values are just as shallow and selfcentered and uncaring and unfeeling as everybody else.  It just didn't compute!  Muppet Fans aren't supposed to be anything like that.  But apparently they were.

So not only did i fail to find or connect with any REAL local Muppet fans and discovered that i am indeed truly alone out here but i was betrayed and fed to the wolves by people merely posing as Muppet Fans.  I thought back to the "I've waited so long to see this movie" comments i'd hear before the movie.  Did they really wait months, years to see it or since they left the theatre to see the last fad film?

If any of these posers were indeed really truly "Muppet Fans", it became dishearteningly clear that night that All Muppet Fans Aren't Created Equal.  Some "get" everything the Muppets stood for for half a century and others just think it's cool to sing Mahna Mahna as they vote Tea Party, bully gays, and drive their gas-guzzlers (not bothering to give a fellow fan in desperate need a ride home.)

But there's other ways All Muppet Fans Aren't Created Equal.  Some can love the Muppets like nothing else, absorb everything they can about them, practically eat, sleep, breathe Muppets and they still end up alone, abandoned, unloved, tossed aside to the wolves, blister upon blister on their feet unable to move another step but with no other choice but to keep going if i'm going to make it home in time to shower and change (sleep is already out of the question by now) before work - and others can hob nob in Hollywood with Muppeteers or yuk it up with a huge group of friends and have the whole Muppet Silver Platter fed to them with no worries of how much money they're spending for the rare autographed collectible or owning every teeny tiny little thing with a Muppet on it while others starve themselves just to see a movie they can't even afford a ride home from.  The message was loud and clear and practically flashing from the stars above as if they were neon billboards:  i was nothing but a pathetic Loser and failure as a human being and not even on a Muppet Night like this one, would that change.

Finally there was a point i couldn't take it any more between the physical and mental/emotional pain.  I stopped walking.  Put the things i was holding on the ground.  Went onto the street and just laid down waiting for something to run me over then and there.  The moment i held onto came and went and it ended up being another slap in the face and there was nothing left to keep me going so why wait one more moment?  Why worry about getting to work on time - i won't have any rent or bills to pay that i have to go to work for.  I even had a "last meal" of sorts (movie popcorn).  Not even what was supposed to be a heavenly evening could turn out to be anything other than Hellish so this had to be it.  No more indignity, no more failure, no more pain, just no more!!

Since i wasn't exactly timing myself i don't know exactly how long i was lieing in the street - it was definitely over a minute and probably no more than five but i eventually collected myself and figured i couldn't end it this way.  Too much left to chance...and good fortune wasn't exactly a trademark of my life.  I was depending too much on unplanned random elements instead of the methods i had researched and planned for years on using when the time was right.  Instead of being in control, i was gambling on fate and fate hadn't proven itself to be friendly towards me since the mid 90's.  Too much of a chance, i may get hit but it wouldn't be fatal, or the next vehicle to come by would be a police car or something.

So i got back up, got back on the sidewalk, picked up my belongings, and continued the painful walk.  My time to leave this hell would come soon enough but just not this night this way.

Flashback to ten years ago:  End of MuppetFest.  I had said my goodbyes to everyone i had met before retiring to my hotel room and going to sleep before taking the bus back home tomorrow.  Mental breakdown.  Tears started to well up and kept gushing out.  I made it; i held on, i was now 30 - and MuppetFest was over and i was back to being regular failure-at-everything (except being a Muppet Fan) me again.  Soaking in the bathtub deep in thought contemplating a razor blade.  Not a method i had previously thought or considered but there it was. 

... And then i lost time...

That's NEVER happened to me before or since.  One moment i'm in the bathtub just thinking "this can end right now" and the next moment i'm in bed unharmed.  I know it wasn't a dream - it was real - but i had no recollection or idea how i got from Point A to Point B.  To this day, i still don't.  But just the idea that i had some kind of blackout and had no memory of a significant amount of time just before was probably the most frightening thing that had ever happened to me.

Ten years later.  Still same deathwish.  Still total nervous breakdown where i almost took my life on pure impulse rather than by my longtime well-laid plans.  But this time there was no blackout or lost time.  Too bad in a way - that would have been a moment in time i'd like to not be able to remember.

My 40th birthday wasn't too far away so my window of time left was short if i did indeed follow the plan to take my life before turning 40.  I had been wrestling with the decision to maybe go a little bit beyond it and even a little into 2012 only because there was another (non Muppet) fandom thing i was holding onto that i was thinking of at least waiting to experience.  The rest of the way home, in addition to the "What kind of Muppet Fans WERE these?!" thoughts dominating my head, my other main thread of thought was that however long the rest of my life would end up being, the memory of this horrible night would be linked to this movie.  Every time i saw it again, anytime i heard the soundtrack, anytime i saw the poster, anytime i talked about it with other fans (real ones, online) - i'd involuntarily recall this experience. 

...I already have a severe allergy to Life's a Happy Song.  I can't listen to it without melting down as it's a total lie.  It only works within the context of a Muppet movie; any real world applications are completely false advertising...
So the only way to possibly manage to counter that would be to have a new experience centered around this movie that had good memories attached to it.  Hey, maybe if i managed to hold on long enough to see the dvd release of the movie, that might be the turnaround.  The dvd, after all, should be even MORE awesome.  There was obviously a lot that didn't survive the final cut of the film and even before the movie started filming, it was clear the Muppets were gearing up for the dvd release since they had filmed the first script read through as possible bonus material.  Maybe that might be something worth holding on for and things would be just a little bit more okay again.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Cheeze Pleeze": Rizzo's Favorite Radio Show?

Do you love the Muppets?  (Why am i even asking - of COURSE you do: (a) you're reading a site called Muppet Freak and (b) who doesn't?)  Do you love the Dr. Demento Show and miss being able to listen to it on the radio?  Well at least the good doctor's still online but maybe you're looking for a show that plays mad music that still airs on radio stations?  Or maybe you have a love of warped, crazy, cheesy music...

You need to check out "Cheeze Pleeze".

"Cheeze Pleeze" is a weekly half hour radio show that showcases the wacky, the warped, and the weird.  From celebrity slip-ups to polka music, if it's strange or so-bad-it's-good, they play it.  And Muppets are often a part of the proceedings.

There's been several times when Muppet/Sesame and related songs have been featured and many other episodes where Muppet references pop up in the hosts' banter.

You may want to check out their website at to see if it's on a station in your area...and if it's not, you can still listen to the latest week's episode at the site.  Hopefully you're reading this post pretty recently after i wrote it since this very week is perfect for Muppet Freaks to explore!  The show opens with a couple of Muppet covers - or more specifically a cover of a Muppet song and the original recording of a song made famous by the Muppets:  The Jubilee School Choir's rendition of Rainbow Connection and Piero Umiliani's Mah Na Mah Na.  Plus a section of Mel Blanc tracks, Lurch from the Adams' Family and Disco Garbage!  This is one cool show i always make it a point never to miss each week!

...And oh yeah, speaking of Dr. Demento, does anyone else think that it was some kind of violation of some sort of universal law that after about three months after the release of "The Muppets" no song from the soundtrack had yet received airplay on The Dr. Demento Show?  Well i sure noticed and fearing the consequences of some cosmic monkey wrench in the natural order of things, i requested the good doctor to play The Muppets Barbershop Quartet's rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit ... which got played on the February 11th episode (right after Weird Al's Smells Like Nirvana).  Just doin' my part for Muppet Fandom, Muppet Freaks, The Muppets themselves and the rest of the world restoring order and balance to the universe.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hold on to Your Hat! HAT! HOLD!!!

Well, as i've been adding the old Muppet Freak archives to this new site, i've been placing them up in the same chronological order that they originally appeared in so far.  However the very next archive article due to go up really works best if it adheres to a particular date.  But the good news is, that date is coming up very shortly so i'll hold off about a week before i post it - but it should be worth the's one of my favorites even if some others didn't quite "get it" the first time around.  A very loving tribute to a Muppet Hero and personal inspiration to a lot of people in a very unique context.

But that doesn't mean activity here at Muppet Freak will be on hold since during that time i plan on debuting two brand new articles; one of which has the debut of "The Muppets" in theatres as a backdrop and the other centered around the film's home video release.  One of these will be touching on a very important matter confronting the Muppet fan community and i'm taking a lot of care and time writing it because there's lots to say and i want to be sure it all gets said.

So all in all, even with the small interruption in the archival postings, this should be a very eventful week at Muppet Freak with some very deep content you won't want to miss.  It may even make you both laugh and cry.  You won't see this kind of stuff anywhere else.

Anyone Remember These Five Awesome Puppet Shows? [From the Archives: 3-29-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on March 29, 2009]

The Muppets had a huge impact on my love of puppetry in general. So it probably goes without saying that i would often search out and make it a point to tune in to any other tv shows i came across featuring puppets. None were ever totally as cool as the Muppets, but there were some that came pretty close. Not to mention some that were really horribly bad. Some were well known, others tucked fact some that i have fond recollections of still remain in such obscurity that to this day, i can hardly find anything about them online. Some of them were only in my local market of Cleveland Ohio area programming.

There was a show called "Mindy" (which was a spinoff of an earlier show i don't remember the name of, but there were few real differences between them) which was one of those Sunday morning shows that had some human hosts and a puppet cast (I'm fairly sure one of the main ones was an Italian named Tony Pepperoni) doing comedy bits in between playing Popeye and Warner Bros type cartoons. I barely remember a lot of details, but somehow i clearly remember my joy and feelings of watching it. I was fascinated by their sets since they had a whole bunch of them representing a whole neighborhood. There was a human character called "The Inspector" who did slapstick bits.

This later was replaced with a far inferior show that had a male and female host called "Hickory Hideout" with some squirrel puppets that lived in a tree. Cute concept but bad show. The humans looked and sounded like a human version of Wayne and Wanda.

One advantage of growing up in a small Ohio town right on the lakeshore was that back when most television stations only delivered about a dozen channels, one of those stations was CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I saw a lot of cool shows (puppet and non-puppet) that most people elsewhere wouldn't get to experience. I remember stuff like The Friendly Giant when i was really little. Around 1980 there was this show called Snelgrove Snail that had this cast of underwater creatures with a really catchy theme song (one of the things that still stick in my head) and a lead character that sounded very Jim Henson-esque. I haven't been able to find much about this show in terms of clips, photos, or episode details but i did discover that Dan Redican was among its cast. Dan did some work with the Muppets (most notably on Jim Henson Hour) and is also a member of the great comedy troupe The Frantics. Fans of the Dr. Demento Show know them especially from their classic "Boot to the Head". I got to watch Fraggle Rock even though i didn't have HBO! Best of all, their airings of The Muppet Show often included the UK Sketches. (They didn't show the whole 25.5 minute episode, but they would usually cut out a different act and leave in the UK skit)

There was a wealth of puppet-based or puppet-related shows to check out in my youth. I would like to pay tribute to my five most fondly remembered. See if YOU recognize any of these.


Back in the 70's before schools had vcr's (and often showed film strips or movies from projectors), we would occasionally be treated to any number of made-for-schools shows broadcast weekdays on PBS. One such show that i have fond memories of was The Letter People (now this was the original 70's version. I hear there was an updated 90's version which i've not seen and from what i've heard about it, i really don't care to). The show taught phonics with a cast of characters representing the letters of the alphabet (the consonants were "Letter Boys" and the vowels were "Letter Girls"). Other puppets were included that would interact with them, most notably game show host Monty Swell who discovered the Letter People could combine their sounds and make words and used them on his "Catching Game". There was the first character introduced, the Cookie Monster-esque Mr. M (known for his "Munching Mouth"), Mr. H with his "Horrible Hair", Mr. N with his "Noisy Nose" (a trumpet like protrusion that would sound off when he heard a word starting with the N sound), and my favorites Mr. S (with his Super Socks) and Miss O (an Obstinate Opera Singer) There were even some cartoon inserts that had also been shown on Sesame Street. Although he was uncredited, it was also an early puppetry job for Muppeteer Allan Trautman. Our principal had blown up inflatable dolls of the Letter People and i was really envious of her for having these. If i ever had to stay at home from school due to illness or a snow day, it was always cool to be able to watch The Letter People at home (especially if it was a grade where we weren't watching them) There were 60 15-minute episodes in all, and in the school setting, we never got to see all 60 of them by the end of the school year. In my tape trading, i was able to acquire copies of all of them several years ago. Parts of the show were just as good as i remembered; other parts i found kind of boring while watching as an adult. But still this was an overall really cool show.


If you were both a puppetry lover and a budding gay man, you loved Wayland Flowers and Madame. Frequent game and variety show guests and featured on Solid Gold for a time, this quite borderline-raunchy old lady puppet was in many ways what one could imagine Miss Piggy becoming like in her old age. (When i was in high school, i got to have my picture taken with Arizona governor Rose Mofford and i SWEAR she looked just like a human version of Madame!) She got her own show which aired late nights because of its adult humor(which made it all the more cool because you had to stay up real late to watch it). Among its cast was the then ubiquitous Judy Landers and a young Corey Feldman. The sitcom featured her crazy home life at her mansion and the talk show she hosted (which often had guest appearances from well know stars and up and coming comedians, including a largely then unknown Lay Leno). There was also one of the most catchiest theme song of all time which included lines like

When a young man looks at Madame
She just THROWS herself right at 'em
She's young at heart and still gettin' her kicks.

Someone, anyone - PLEASE get this show out on dvd!


This was so much fun. One of those rare kids' shows that didn't feel like a kids' show. The puppets and the humans were both engaging and fun to watch, had awesome guests and songs and also included Muppeteers Kevin Clash, Jim Martin and John Lovelady. The best part of the show was the segment with Gary Gnu and his "guh-"news broadcasts. Think Muppet Newsflash mixed with Soupy Sales and Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update. If you were fortunate enough to see it, you'll never forget the time Bess Armstrong filled in for Gary Gnu and fell victim to his typical humiliations. This is another show that needs to find modern audiences and old fans via dvd! This ranks up there with Soupy Sales, The Electric Company and You Can't Do That On Television as one of the coolest non-Muppet/Henson live-action kids shows of all time.


Of all the shows on this list, this is the one that no one else seems to have seen or remembers. It was a Christian kids show that was on one of the religious channels, but it was hardly preachy and only a small portion was even Bible/religion oriented. Most of it was just good puppety fun. It had a full-bodied green alligator, a Crazy Harry-esque character named Coma Kaze who instead of causing explosions, would run his airplane all over the place in a crazed fashion. There was even a laugh track! One musical number even had the store bought hand puppets of Oscar and Cookie Monster dancing along (so much for "Thou Shalt Not Engage In Copyright Infringement") Each episode would end with a shot of a bunch of mannequins grouped together being feather dusted by one of the little girl puppets as a voiceover declared "Puppet Tree was shot in front of a studio audience...of DUMMIES" at which point she would accidentally knock them over domino style as she crumpled her face up over this action. I don't think there's ever been a religious show this far out wild and entertaining (with or without puppets) ever. I really wish i could track down clips or information on this show...or even for that matter someone else who saw it!


Now i've mentioned some pretty dang cool shows in this thread, but this one makes all the others look like Polka Party. Just like i had to stay up super late to watch Madame's Place, i had to get up ultra early to watch Hot Fudge on weekend mornings. But it was SO worth it! For the longest time, one could barely find anything about this show on the web (except for other people saying they watched it and it was the coolest thing ever) but over the last year, a handful of rare clips popped up on Youtube, a myspace page, and an official website. I could gush on and on about how awesome this show and its (puppet and human) cast was (actor Ron Coden was so adept at slapstick and physical comedy especially in the "Holy Moley" segments, that he came across like a human Wile E Coyote), but this one was so wicked supercool, i'll invite you to scope it out yourself. There was apparently a recent reunion special from the local Detroit station it originated from and i would be eternally grateful if anyone could manage to track down a copy for me (or any old episodes for that matter). Just like a hot fudge sundae (or any other ice cream based desert), the show was a sweet treat that there's always room for and one can never get enough of it. I miss this show so much it hurts. Hot Fudge was simply the cream of the crop.

[Two years later and there's still NOTHING on the web about Puppet Tree or that local Mindy show that i've been able to dig up either.  With the exception of Letter People, finding clips of the above shows are pretty sparse as well.]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One of the World's Most Creepiest Cartoons.

Reposting the last archive article about Muppet slapstick moments that tend to backfire causing a viewer to feel sorry for the characters rather than laughing at the comedy reminded me of one (non-Muppet) short that i always found really disturbing (funny, but still disturbing) - precisely because it broke some of the standard rules and was especially subversive.

The short in question is the Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker/Chilly Willy/Andy Panda) cartoon, "Sh-h-h-h-h-h" written and directed by Tex Avery.  I remember when i'd see it as a kid, i laughed at it and found it funny, but it also left me feeling a bit uneasy and probably even triggered a nightmare or two.  As a child, i couldn't quite articulate why it was so creepy - but as an adult, i can - and there's basically three reasons why it's so unnerving...

(3) The laughter.  The recording of the trumpet and the laughter actually predates this 1955 cartoon by three decades:  "The Okeh Laughing Record" - and the cartoon seemingly was built around it.  There's a kinkiness about the laughter on its own, and then when used in the context of next-door guests, it creates a feeling of paranoia - like a party one's not invited to or more appropriately to the cartoon, neighbors plotting against you.

(2) The doctor/patient relationship.  Doctors are people we seek out for help - to save us from physical harm and keep us healthy.  To turn that around and to twist it to where the doctor/nurse are the cause of distress - and even laugh hysterically amongst themselves even after the patient's condition became fatal makes this comedy out-creep the scariest episodes of The Twilight Zone.

(1) Sense of Justice (or rather lack of it).  This is the biggie.  Slapstick comedy generally follows a rule:  the person(s) that get picked on usually have it coming - it's typically established that the antagonist is some type of bully or authority figure or causes some kind of harm (or threat of it - such as a hunter like Elmer Fudd potentially causing danger to Bugs Bunny) or discomfort to the protagonist.  But this cartoon reverses the standard formula:  Mr. Twiddle is presumably the good guy; the innocent.  He seeks out his doctor's help and follows his orders to cure his condition.  From his design to his voice, everything about the character suggests meekness.  He's purely a victim of circumstance and from the audience's vantage point, didn't do anything to deserve having all his efforts to quiet his neighbors to majorly backfire.  If he's guilty of anything (aside from perhaps not being the world's best tipper), it's taking matters in his own hands instead of complaining to management and letting them handle the noise...but then there wouldn't be a story.  The message it leaves the viewer is that we can do our best to go along and live our lives - and by random misfortune can suffer at the actions of others who seemingly enter our paths at random.  This is what made me so creeped out by this cartoon as a kid and still causes me to shudder as an adult - even if it still makes me laugh.  This is true Dark Humor...and Tex Avery, being a master of the animated short was probably fully aware that he was breaking the rules and trying something a bit subversive - and so this can best be seen as something original, experimental, innovative and ultimately successful...even despite the effects it may have on the audience.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Three Times I Felt Horribly Sorry for a Muppet [From the Archives: 3-29-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on March 29, 2009]

Pain is a staple of comedy. A lot of comedy (especially slapstick) is built around the pain of other people. But it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes for whatever reason, what should be a comedic moment has the opposite effect and makes one feel sorry for the character on screen.

One reason this may happen is when someone is given way more than they can obviously handle. Bugs Bunny could humiliate and play tricks on Elmer Fudd non-stop but once the moment comes when Elmer actually breaks down and cries, it's time to let up. When you're watching someone continuing to get kicked when they're down, the jokes have gone too far.

Another reason might be in the execution. I could laugh endlessly at the Three Stooges bashing each other over the head with shovels. They could get away with that kind of stuff because they knew how to pull it off so it was funny. If you took away the "coconut" sound effects, the comic reactions, and added more realism where they'd bleed or cry out in anguish, it would be horrifying.

There's a lot of slapstick cartoony violence in Muppet humor. The Classic Muppets just wouldn't be themselves without characters being blown up or eaten. Back in 1958, the commercials for Wilkins Coffee almost always ended up with Wontkins being shot, stabbed, run over by a steamroller, thrown out of planes, etc.

They do this kind of stuff well - like the best slapstick comics, the Muppet performers are masters of the craft. But there were those rare moments when i was supposed to be laughing but felt like crying. When i just felt oddly horribly sorry for the character.


So, it's towards the beginning of the film, and it's off to a wonderfully slapsticky start. Jennifer Saunders is there (and of course one can never go wrong with Jennifer Saunders) and there's lots of great physical comedy going on. It's all starting to climax with a gag involving a leaking barrel of gunpowder which a flame is following. The Muppets are running around in hyper fast motion. Then the big boom happens. And what do we see? Black Dog being blown through the roof letting out this anguished scream of "OWWWW!" It didn't come across as comedic at all. That scream he let out wasn't in any way funny; it truly sounded like he was in massive pain. As a viewer, it pulled me out of the moment. Maybe this was director Brian Henson's intent - to pull the viewer away from laughing and into realizing the horror of the Benbow Inn in flames and the reality of Jim Hawkins, Gonzo, and Rizzo losing a home. But that's giving him an awful lot of credit and leeway. More likely, it was just a bad choice of shot and vocal delivery.


It took awhile for the character of Fozzie to really gel. Which was not a good sign, since he was originally supposed to be the second main character after Kermit. Jim Henson loved the idea of a bear comedian who told bad jokes, but when the idea went from off the page on to tape, it initially wasn't working. He seemed really quite pathetic. It took a while to finetune the character and develop his other traits to make him redeemable.

Eventually the character was fleshed out and the audience was able to find him a lovable sweet character that they could root for. A viewer could want him to succeed but also laugh when he goofed up.

But there was a moment in the show's fourth season that just seemed like it was just a bit too much. It was the episode guest starring Phyllis George where the episode is turned into an awards show. Fozzie hears that the next award to be presented is Best Comedy Performance By a Bear. As the show's resident comedian and one of the few bears featured on the show, he's all set to accept the award. He's right up there by Scooter who's reading the winner, "BILLY THE BEAR!" Fozzie grabs the card from Scooter and reads it over in disbelief. Billy enters. He's one of the more realistic bear puppets that debuted in the third season that would show up in forest animal group scenes and he's dressed in a gawdy suit chuckling and hamming it up for the cameras as he grabs his prize.

In the meantime, Fozzie is walking slowly off stage totally deflated. As is typical, we can't see his feet but it's easy to imagine them shuffling. His balloon is totally burst. But up comes Billy who bumps into him and makes a few jokes at his expense. One can just imagine Fozzie just wanting to get off this stage and be by himself but this other bear is badgering him. Then to show "no hard feelings" he offers Fozzie a cigar...well not exactly offers - he forcefully shoves it in his mouth as Fozzie's protesting "No thank you, I don't..." Of course it turns out to be an exploding cigar. Then as if all that wasn't enough, Billy finishes things off by smashing a pie in Fozzie's face.

I watched this and i really felt like crying for him. This was one of those examples of just continuing to kick someone when they're down that i mentioned earlier. Simply overkill. Fozzie is left there blown up, pied face, blindsided by what just happened after already being completely publicly shown up as the show fades to black into commercial. My heart just bled.

Now let me take a moment to say, not only was this unusual for me to not laugh at Muppet slapstick, but also for me to find a pie in the face gag really unfunny. I'm as big a fan there is of pie in the face humor. I've always found pie throwing funny to the point where i'll tune into a show i might not normally otherwise watch if i know a pie fight's going to be included. There's a reason the pie has become the very symbol of comedy - it hardly ever fails. It's a way a character can strike another without it being violent or painful. It's almost near impossible to keep a straight face when watching it happen. Nothing says "slapstick humor" more than a good pie splat. I've even engaged in a few pie fights myself with friends. So i really can't stress how hard it is to present me with a pie joke that makes me want to cry instead of smile.

In fact to digress just a moment further, there's only one other time i can even think of where i was really unnerved by a pie in the face joke...and it wasn't a cream pie but rather a pizza pie. There was an episode of Diff'rent Strokes where Willis' girlfriend is mad at him, and as she's leaving his place, there's a pizza delivery guy at the door. She takes the pizza and lets him have it in the face. Now because it's the magic of television, it's all done in comedic fun. There's the actor holding his pose for the laugh track to die down. But i'm sitting in front of my screen not laughing, but rather picking my jaw up off the floor since all i can think was that if that was real life, that (freshly delivered) pizza would have been hot and he would have most likely been badly burned. I just couldn't suspend disbelief enough to find it anything other than horrifying and couldn't believe that no one else in that studio audience felt the same way. Now of course since that was a pizza and not really a pie in the traditional sense, that means that somehow the Muppets of all people are the only comedy troupe that so far has ruined a pie gag for me. Dang, that just seems so wrong!


I always loved when Ernie would play jokes on Bert. It was because of this that Ernie was one of my favorite characters.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street began with a really great ice skating sequence featuring the human cast in the roller rink with Ice Capades skaters in full bodied Muppet costumes. There had previously been quite a few Sesame segments showing these special roller skating Muppets. And if i'm not mistaken, these Ice Capades costumes were pretty much the first attempt at taking any of the hand puppet characters and representing them as costumed full-bodied versions. They were actually very well done even if they were never going to fool anyone into thinking they weren't people in suits. As a kid, i was more turned off that their mouths didn't move when they spoke more than the actual look of the costumes.

At any rate, it's a great opening. Lots of fun and even some sweetness as a little girl helps Big Bird to skate. Then we get to some wonderfully comic prankster Ernie fun. He's enlisted some friends to help him carry out his latest joke. As the Count declares "Here comes Bert", Bert chases Ernie and his friends around the rink. The gag is that Ernie's friends are pushing him around the rink as Ernie is supposedly sitting on top of the edge of a barrel. Ernie's actually safely fully inside the barrel with a pair of fake legs hanging over the barrel's edge. It's a funny idea and set-up.

But here's the thing. Bert is running (skating really) all over the place after Ernie yelling out "Ernie, you're going to get hurt! That's dangerous! You're going to get hurt! You're going to get HURT!"

Bert eventually ends up losing control of his skating and slides off screen as Ernie reveals his fake legs and lets out his Ernie laugh. If the scene ended there, it would have been great. But then the camera cuts to Bert crashed against the wall entangled in the Christmas wreath decorations. Ernie asks "Hey, Bert, are you okay?" to which Bert just groans.

Watching as a kid and even now as an adult, i just find that scene horrible. Bert keeps making a big deal about how Ernie is going to end up getting hurt. He was very worried about Ernie's safety. However he's the one who ends up crashing into a wall. Now given how Bert was repeating over and over about how Ernie would get HURT and then to see Bert end up not only in a crash landing but also unable and/or unwilling to respond when Ernie was asking if he was okay, the seemingly obvious conclusion was that Bert was indeed hurt himself and probably quite badly.

During this sequence, we also see a gag where the Muppets play Crack the Whip which ends up with Oscar (skating in his can with his feet sticking out the bottom) ending up flying out of the rink, down stairs and through a wall. But this sequence is directed in such a comedic way, that it's funny. You don't worry about Oscar being harmed in any way even though he was probably put through a worse ordeal than Bert (though protected by his trash can). But Bert's reaction to his crash was just a helpless groan not giving Ernie any reassurance that he was okay and "not hurt". Bert ended up coming across as not only in physical pain but also traumatized. Just wrong on so many levels. And all they had to do was cut the whole routine a shot short and it would have been one of many classic Ernie and Bert moments, not the stuff that nightmares were made of.

[I don't really have anything new to add except that it's fun to talk in red.  I should do that more often.  Actually reposting this article did remind me of something else and it will be the subject of my next new post.]

The Two Worst Things to Ever Happen to the Muppets [From the Archives: 3-28-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on March 28, 2009.]

...and no, "being bought by Disney" is not one of them. Though Disney is not without its faults and parts of it can be downright Eeeevil, i do have a lot of admiration for current Muppets Studio head Lylle Breier and how she's running things. If there's only one bitchslap i would give Disney, it would be their refusal to allow Kermit to appear in the video releases of Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas and The Christmas Toy. That's just the Major Corporate Greed that has become synonymous with the name "Disney" at play. But otherwise i'd consider this one of the most exciting times to be a Muppet fan. You can be sure i'll explore Disney's ownership of the Muppets more in depth in the future.

So what were the two worst things to happen to the Muppets? Both of them were "good ideas at the time" and not that bad on either of their own merits. But both of them set in motion a trend that has haunted the Muppets to this day.

The first big thing to have cursed the Muppets was "Muppet Babies". Like i said, not a bad idea at the time. The genesis of Muppet Babies was as a dream sequence in the film The Muppets Take Manhattan. In fact their musical number, "I'm Gonna Always Love You" was one of the highlights of the movie. It took very little time to realize this was a marketing dream with a Saturday morning cartoon series airing soon afterwards.

As the show itself goes, i don't hate Muppet Babies. Far from it. It was a good show. Funny, original, and all the great stuff one typically associates with Henson. And i always loved every single time Baby Animal was on screen...i know it's weird to talk about an animated character's "acting" but he had this screen presence and energy that always kept my eyes drawn to him. This show was lots of good fun and one of the better cartoon shows to come out of the 80's.

But like Jim Henson once asked Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney in a huge funk, "Why did you have to become so successful?"

It was what Jim fought against early in his career. The Muppets were always aimed more towards adults. When the Muppets became overnight household names due to their work on Sesame Street, Henson found himself facing his worst nightmare; being labeled by the entertainment industry and general public as "kiddie entertainment" The path from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show was a long uphill battle.

Though it never totally reversed the "Sesame Curse", The Muppet Show and the Classic Muppets' success helped Jim get his characters the adult acclaim he wanted. The Muppets had that respect; the characters were cool cultural icons.

Those darn Babies undid all that and put them back to square one.

There were three reasons that happened: (1) at a time when the kids who grew up on the Muppet Show were getting older, the Muppet projects Henson was working on were skewing younger. Fraggle Rock, though far more sophisticated than most television for any audience, was at its heart (and marketing) a "kids show". The Classic Muppet Show characters were basically making once-a-year appearances in tv specials. Then came the Babies. The original Muppet Show fans were growing up and the Muppets were leaving them behind going in the opposite direction. (2) People had finally come to recognize the difference between the "for kids" Sesame Muppets and the "all ages" Classic Muppets (as the Muppet Show cast would come to be known as). Muppet Babies took the cast that was associated with adults and redefined them as kiddie fare. Just look at the title: "Muppet BABIES" (ie "Muppet" = "Babies" or "For Babies") Kids on the schoolyard may have known how cool the show was and watched it without admitting it to their friends but telling your friends you liked watching "the babies show" was to risk your coolness level. (3) It became too successful. The Muppet Show ran five seasons. Muppet Babies lasted eight. In between 1983's "Muppets Take Manhattan" and 1989's "Jim Henson Hour", the Babies had the task of representing the Muppets to the public at large save for those once-a-year primetime specials. A whole bloody generation grew up thinking of the Muppets as infant cartoon characters and not the edgy cool puppet characters they really were.

The Muppets have never totally recovered. You know all the talk over the last two decades of "reviving the Muppet franchise"? It was those blasted babies that caused them to need to be "revised". I normally love Muppet monsters but the Babies were its own kind of "Muppet Monster" that grew too large and ate its own.

Yes, the show itself was good (and probably better than people who hadn't seen it in awhile remember) and it helped bring in money to the Henson Company and keep it afloat, but it was something that might have ultimately done more harm than good.

So what else could possibly be just as bad as the Babies? What else could cause the Muppets to experience such a decline in quality and overall "Muppetness"?

The posers!

Yep, the poser Muppets. Some of you have no idea what that means and those that do probably wonder why i would make such a claim. Read on.

Poser Muppets are full-bodied (ie they have legs!) stuffed dolls of the Muppets used for photo sessions. As Muppet merchansiding was everywhere in the Muppet Show days with countless photos taken of the puppets and more desire to show them head to toe with feet, the idea to make Poser Muppets made sense. Especially after the success of the Miss Piggy calendars and the 1983 debut of Muppet Magazine which would require the Muppets to be photographed heavily each quarterly issue.
[Poser Kermit (aka "Flathead" had this same expression in every single photo.  Ouch.]

Like the Babies, this was a good idea at the time. Looking back one could still say they were a good idea and essential to the growth of the brand especially in terms of merchandising. But also like the Babies, they were a poor substitute for the genuine article!

You see, one of the things that made the Muppets special was that they were designed for the close-up and intimacy of the tv screen. Part of what's considered Jim Henson's genius in their creation was not just his recognition that the borders of the tv set could serve as their stage rather than shoot a camera at a puppet stage, but they were designed to be flexible and have expressions come to life when put on a skilled puppeteer's hand. What makes Kermit such a classic character is that his own design is built around the shape of Henson's hand.

Such intricate movements and positions a puppeter makes in regards to camera angle and hand placement can make a Muppet come to life and go from happy to sad to crazed to ravenous and all the complicated emotions that an actor can play often with shades of several co-existing. You just can't get that out of a stuffed poser. They've done a lot of great stuff with them, but whenever a photo is taken with them, there's just this soullessness, this flatness. Of course this is made all the worse when you take Kermit and design his poser to be more two-dimensional friendly, de-emphasizing the snout that mimics the shape of a hand and flattening it to look more simple head-on. It doesn't improve on the original. Muppet fans have taken to calling Poser Kermit "Flathead".

 [Which looks better:  just one of this...]

 [...compared to ANY of these?]

Can you blame them? Not only should Kermit's real head shape not be so artificially round, but for a puppet who was created to be so flexible in expression shaped by the hand inside, a poser is doomed to fail. I've never seen a Kermit photo done with a Poser that i've liked. Not one. If you're a dedicated Muppet fan and have a copy of the book "Jim Henson: The Works" on your bookshelf or waiting for you anytime you want it at your library, take a look at the cover photos and pictures of Kermit "breaking through the page" displayed on the table of contents pages. Those were done with an actual Kermit PUPPET, one of the rare times they used the puppet itself for a photo session probably because they knew they couldn't get the various expressions needed in that spread from a poser.

[Which one looks more "Muppety" to you?]

Now the posers are not in themselves bad. They allow the Muppets to do things in a medium (still photography) that might be harder to do otherwise. But the company has come to depend on them almost solely for photo shoots instead of as an enhancement. Still photos with actual puppets are an endangered species. This is a crying shame. The posers should be used sparingly, not as the "go to" guys for photo shoots. They look bad. They're like that third face lift a celebrity gets. They think its working wonders and saving their reputation, but they're just being laughed at and felt sorry for behind their backs.

Now what could be worse than over-reliance on Posers? How about using the same handful of photos over and over AND OVER AND OVER again in merchandise? For the last decade, we've seen the exact same photos of the Muppets on merchandise. There's about ten (if even that) pictures of Kermit and Piggy always used and characters like Fozzie and Gonzo are lucky if they have more than five. Floyd and Rowlf have at most two! Disney is guilty of this, but this was a problem with Muppet products before the Disney sale. Heck, the Muppet flathead poser faces have even been SUPERIMPOSED over faces of actual Muppet photo stills such as in the case of the Rocky Mountain Holiday dvd cover and the infamous group shot of the Muppet cast from 1979 originally done to promote The Muppet Movie which almost always now has (what fans have dubbed "Floating Piggy" due to its poor photoshopping placement) a poser Piggy head on the real Miss Piggy's body.

These photos just shout "INFERIORITY" whenever i see them. The concept has been abused. Disney, I implore you to lock the posers in a closet for a few years and bulk up the supply of photos taken with the real Muppet puppets. Take LOTS of them. For every piece of merchandise that comes out with a "peeking over gaudy sunglasses" Piggy, "Home Alone" posed Fozzie, "kissing fingers" Swedish Chef or group shot of Muppets waving to camera that debuted at MuppetFest, you should be forced to scream "WARNER BROTHERS RULE!" at the top of your lungs through megaphones in the nation's busiest streets.

[AAAGGHHH!  Make it STOP!  MAKE IT STO-OPP!  I promise to eat my veggies!  Just no more Muppet poser posters!]

And for the record, pasting a bunch of those same photos used everywhere else into a new "group shot" like the inside audience chairs photo in The Muppet Show Season Three Box Set does NOT count as a "New" photo. Stunts like that should merit a "I Love Pixar" tattoo on your forehead.

Right now Disney is banking on a Jason Segel penned movie literally titled "The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time" to reignite the brand (that WHO ruined and caused it to need reignition? Say it with me: "THE BABIES!") How about promoting it with the Greatest Muppet Photos of least the last two decades, if not all time by photographing the puppets for a change?

Wire hangers are yesterday's battle. From henceforth, NO MORE FLOATING OR FLATHEADS!

[Well...Muppet Studios did get only slightly marginally better at building and photographing posers to promote "The Muppets" - but they're still an eyesore.  They really need to stop the dependence on posers or at least severely limit the frequency of which they're used.

...and turns out we now have a THIRD Worst Thing to Ever Happen to the Muppets...but we'll discuss that in a few days.  You've been scared enough for one day.]