Sesame Street first premiered on this date in 1969. Happy birthday, Sesame Street! And thanks for all the fun and learning over the years.
The official Sesame Street Twitter account retweeted the following videos as part of a larger thread:
I cannot tell you how delighted I am to see Herry Monster back on the Street again. Of all the Sesame Street monsters, Herry is probably my favorite.
I mean, I love Grover and Cookie Monster, of COURSE I do, and I also have a great deal of affection for the Two-Headed Monster and for Telly…but Herry is something really special to me.
I actually seem to remember being a little scared of Herry when I was quite young. It’s understandable, of course; he had that gruff voice and that gigantic eyebrow, and in the early days, Jim Henson et al. purposely invoked his intimidation factor, only to subvert in the punchline of some of the first inserts to feature Herry. Perhaps some of those early inserts were still in circulation in the early ’80s when I was watching as a very small child.
But no one could ever watch Herry’s interactions with John-John and remain afraid of him. I don’t specifically remember the first time I saw a Herry and John-John insert, but Herry has had a special place in my heart ever since.
Part Two of my two-part celebration of Mr. Caroll Spinney and his two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement, in which I attempt to unravel the fascinating enigma that is Oscar the Grouch.
When I was a kid, I was confused by Oscar the Grouch. While I thought he was funny, I wasn’t quite sure what his purpose was, why there was a character on Sesame Street who was so rude all the time, or whether or not it was okay to laugh at him.
I was an adult before I realized that Oscar represents the dark side of the street. He’s the rain cloud that helps us appreciate the sunshine. He’s the pinch of salt that keeps all the sweetness on Sesame Street from becoming too saccharine.
In anticipation of Steve Whitmire’s 60th birthday next year, I’m celebrating his work and his characters one month at a time in this year-long series, 60 for 60. This month, the spotlight is on Steve’s first major Muppet character, Rizzo the Rat.
Who is Rizzo the Rat? According to TV Tropes, Rizzo is a Big Eater, a Lovable Coward, and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, all of which seems accurate and consistent to me.
Personally, Rizzo strikes me as a savvy, street-wise opportunist with a talent for self-preservation. However, he has standards, and even though he was born in the sewers, there are depths to which he will not sink. For example, he’s not above taking advantage of his friends, but he’ll never sell them out completely, and he’ll always be there for them in the clinch.
When Steve appeared at the Florida Supercon, I received a Google alert regarding video of a Q&A that he did there. Since Raleigh Supercon is run by the same organization, I was expecting another Google alert regarding Steve’s appearance(s) that weekend.
Unfortunately, that Google alert never came, but over the weekend, as I was watching some of his other comic con appearances, YouTube noticed and helpfully suggested this video of a Q&A out of Raleigh as something I might like. I had been looking for something like this through most of the month of August, but apparently it hadn’t been uploaded until the middle of September.
The same moderator from the Florida Supercon is back again, although he only interviews Steve for about 10 minutes before opening it up for questions, approximately half the time that he spent on the interview portion at Florida Supercon.
This is Part One of a two-part series celebrating Caroll Spinney’s two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement.
There’s something magical and miraculous about the mundanity of Big Bird. He does things that other birds do, such as eating birdseed and preening his feathers. He also does things that kids do, like roller skating or playing hide-and-seek.
Unlike most Muppets, there’s no need for Big Bird to hide behind a low wall or a counter or inside a giant bathtub. There are no telltale cables trailing off him, and he is unfettered by marionette strings and arm rods. Big Bird walks freely among us, as an equal.
I watched this video originally when it first came out in 2012. At that time, I hadn’t seen any Fraggle Rock, except for that one episode that I happened to catch at a friend’s house approximately 25 years prior, and I wasn’t a particular fan of Ben Folds Five either. So when I read on the Muppet fan sites that the Fraggles and Ben Folds Five had made a music video, I was initially underwhelmed: “Oh, two entities with which I am vaguely familiar sang a song together. Neat.”
Then I watched the video and it completely blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to be so affected by it. Whether it was the music or the Fraggles or the combination of the two that touched my heart, I still don’t know.
Remember my review of Phantom of the Opera, the first book in the Muppets Meet the Classics series? Two weeks ago, I received a comment on the review from Erik Forrest Jackson, the author of the book. This was both very flattering and very nerve-wracking: I never expected the author of the book to actually read my review; if I had, I would have tried to be a bit more diplomatic about what I didn’t like about it. But his comment was very kind, and he thanked me for the thoughtful review.
The next book in the series is to be released today. Because I was expecting another novel, I was surprised to find out that the next book in the series is Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. If I’m being completely honest, I’m also slightly–just slightly–disappointed, if only because the Muppets have drawn so frequently from the fairy-tale well in the past.
Then again, probably the reason why the Muppets so often adapt fairy tales is that the content works so well for them. Also, based on the sample chapter that has been released–“The Frog Prince,” one of the most well-known and successful of the Muppet fairy tale adaptations–it looks as though Jackson is able to put a new spin on even the stories that the Muppets have adapted before.
(Warning: Spoilers below)
I have some more thoughts that I edited out of my post from yesterday on the grounds that it was still supposed to be a post for Matt’s birthday, and I felt some of what I wanted to say wasn’t necessarily very sensitive. Maybe it would have been okay, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.
Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others.
I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.
These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.
Luceat lux vestra
Happy birthday to Matt Vogel! Yes, I know that his birthday is actually tomorrow. Today I want to celebrate him and some of his Muppet troupe characters, and tomorrow I want to say something in regard to his work on Sesame Street.
When people talk about Matt Vogel, they usually talk about all the characters that were originated by other people that he has nobly endeavored to keep alive. That’s all well and good, but today I’d prefer to concentrate primarily on his original characters (with one exception, but I’ll explain when I get to it).
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Kermit the Frog will be performing the title role in a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz which, as I’m sure we can all agree, seems really weird and random. Why that production? Why that role? Why just Kermit and not the whole Muppet troupe? It sounds to me like somebody in a decision-making role with the Muppets has a friend who called in a favor. But I digress.
Predictably, some of the reactions to the news involved some variation on the extremely witty comment, “I hope this production is better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, because that really sucked!”
I’ve never understood the hatred that people level against Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Admittedly, it’s not the best thing that the Muppets have ever done, but it’s not the worst thing either, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, especially if–like me–you’re primarily familiar with the story from the original novel rather than the 1939 film adaptation.
September 24th is a significant date in Muppetdom. Most serious Muppet fans probably know that it’s Jim Henson’s birthday, and many know that it’s also Steve Whitmire’s birthday (which I celebrated on Monday). But there’s another reason why September 24th is significant that even the most dedicated Muppet fan may not be aware of: Jeff Moss passed away from cancer on September 24th, 1998. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.
(I know that today is also Jim Henson’s birthday, and I have something special and separate planned for him on Saturday.)
I am sure you are already aware that today, September 24th, 2018, is Steve Whitmire’s 59th birthday. It sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to commemorate the occasion. I thought of showcasing some of his best work as some of his most prominent characters via YouTube video, etc. Then I thought, “Next year is his 60th birthday; maybe something like that would be more appropriate for the milestone?”
Then I realized, with Steve having worked with the Muppets for nearly 40 years, there’s a wealth of stellar material to showcase. Rather than try to confine it all to one day, why not spread it out over the course of a full year?
Here’s my idea: from now until September 2019, I’ll showcase five examples (be they videos or whatever) of Steve’s best work on the 24th of each month. Each month will feature a specific character or unifying theme. Then the project will culminate next year on Steve’s 60th birthday with a compilation of 60 examples of his best work.
I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this way of relating to one another. That being said, I love Matt for his self-deprecation.
(Not that I didn’t love him before, but I love him even more now.)