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.] 

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