Before I get into my immersive, detailed, and probably incoherent description of hanging out with Steve Whitmire at Omaha Comic Con, I want to talk specifically about the interactions I observed between him and the fans. I was at Steve’s booth most of the day, and so I got to witness the interactions firsthand.
I’m going to start at the end and work backwards. By the end of the day, Steve remarked that he was tired; not in a complaining way, but just as a statement of fact. You would never know it by the way he greeted the fans, however. He greeted each one warmly and with enthusiasm, usually asking them where they were from or something about themselves. He engaged them in conversation and seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say.
As a matter of fact, he jokingly complained to his management team, who were also at the booth, that the day before had been too busy with people wanting autographs and pictures, and he hadn’t had time to chat with them as a result.
He was also really patient with repetitive questions. Several people asked him if he had been in Muppet Treasure Island and/or Muppet Christmas Carol. I mentally rolled my eyes every time, and if I had been answering the questions, I would said, “Yeah, duh!” or something similarly sarcastic. But Steve always reacted as though it were the first time he’d heard the question, and if the redundancy got tedious for him, he didn’t let on.
Most people understandably wanted autographs and/or pictures from him, but several just came up to say hi, to shake his hand, to ask him a question, or tell him how much his work meant to them.
A few of them stick out in my memory. There was the woman who wanted a picture of Beaker and Bunsen for her science classroom, whom I think was the only person more excited to meet Steve than I was. There was the woman who was part of her church puppet troupe who brought a puppet for him to sign and who had been thinking about just dropping off the kids at OCon until she saw that Steve was going to be there. There was a budding young puppeteer named Ethan who had questions for Steve about puppet performance. He became the star of the Q&A, but that’s a story for another day. And there was the man who made a point of apologizing to Steve for not being impressed with his initial Kermit performance.
It wasn’t just the attendees who were excited to meet Steve. There were several artists/vendors there who made gifts of their work to him and told him how much he and his characters had inspired them. Steve was very appreciative and responded in kind by giving them autographed pictures in return. One of them asked him to make out the picture to his son, an eight- or nine-year-old (I’m guessing) who was present but not very talkative. Apparently, he didn’t have a very clear idea of who Steve was, because his father came back later and reported that he was excited to have received an autograph from “the long-haired guy.”
I feel privileged to have witnessed these beautiful interactions. It brought home to me the fact that, in the words of Marjorie the Trash Heap, “You cannot leave the magic!”