Adventures at GalaxyCon Minneapolis, Part 1

This is Steve’s Q&A from GalaxyCon Minneapolis, but I wasn’t there that day so I only saw it for the first time yesterday.

On November 10th, I attended GalaxyCon Minneapolis and met up with Steve again. The only reason I was able to do that is because of my brother Michael. He lives in Minneapolis and allowed me to stay with him while I was in town. If I had had to pay the price of admission plus accommodations, I would never have been able to go. I also would have paid for parking because I wouldn’t have known there was another option.

When I initially planned to go to GalaxyCon, I thought that I would simply ask Michael if I could stay with him while I was in town. But then I thought about it, and I realized that although he’s not obsessive about Muppets the way I am, he still likes them. Not only that, but he’s an enormous Star Trek fan, and there were a bunch of Star Trek actors appearing. So I thought he might enjoy coming along, and that it might be more fun if he was there, so I invited him, and I was right on both counts. Not only that, but I don’t think I would have even made it into the exhibition hall to see Steve if Michael hadn’t been there to interpret the maps of the convention center for me and lead me in the right direction.

My point is that I have Michael to thank for the entire GalaxyCon experience, and if you enjoy what I have to say about it, then you owe him your gratitude as well. (If you don’t enjoy it, well, then leave him out of it because he had nothing to do with that.)

Independently, Michael and I both decided to dress up in Star Trek costumes for the convention. When I was in high school, he gave me a pin shaped like a combadge (a 2370s combadge, to be specific). It remains one of my most treasured possessions, but I don’t wear it very often, so I decided that GalaxyCon would be a good opportunity. From that point, it was a simple matter of dressing in layers and including the appropriate colors. Michael decided to dress as a Bajoran monk. He put a lot more effort into his costume than I put into mine.

In the recent past, GalaxyCon was known as Supercon. The organization holds conventions all over the country, but apparently this was the first year it had one in Minneapolis. Why it decided to schedule a Minneapolis comic con in November, I’ll never know. Were all the summer dates booked up? I was grateful that there was a coat check, but it cost five bucks a pop. It was just fortunate that I happened to have five dollars in singles on me, but that was the extent of my ready cash exhausted right off the bat.

As I said before, my brother Michael likes Muppets, but he doesn’t know very much about the performers, with the possible exception of Jim Henson. He kept forgetting Steve’s name throughout the day, which was really funny. Nevertheless, he suggested that we go and find Steve’s table first thing because he knew it was the primary reason I was there, and because he’s a kind and thoughtful person.

Well, we found Steve’s table fairly quickly, but he had not arrived yet. Michael suggested that we look around to see who else was there, and I agreed. We got as far as the back wall and saw the crowd around William Shatner’s table. Then I happened to look back at Steve’s table and saw him there, and I said, “Oh, there’s Steve!” and so we went back.

There wasn’t a line at Steve’s table yet, so he saw our approach, and he smiled and said something to the effect of, “Oh, you made it after all!” I don’t remember if that’s exactly what he said, but I would like to believe that it was because it sounds like the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, which is appropriate because we were in Minneapolis.

It turned out that Steve had posted something from the convention on Instagram on Friday evening, but I didn’t see it until Saturday before I left for the Twin Cities. So I replied that I was going to be there “tomorrow,” but I didn’t specify that I meant Sunday, so he told me that he thought I had meant Saturday. Needless to say, I got there eventually and it all turned out all right despite the initial confusion.

Since I met Steve the first time at OCon, I’ve had four and a half months to get used to the idea of being on speaking terms with a veteran Muppet performer. As a result, while I was still happy and excited to see him and talk to him, I felt much calmer and found it much easier to make conversation. Which I’m glad about, for the most part, because my inarticulateness was a source of frustration to me before. At the same time, I think that being so keyed up the first time helped me to remember what happened in greater detail. My memory may be slightly fuzzier now, so I make no claims as to the accuracy of what exactly was said and in what order.

After Steve greeted me with a hug, I introduced him to my brother Michael, and Steve said, “Oh, I can see the family resemblance!” which I thought was very nice of him to say. He asked me how far I’d had to drive to get there, and I told him it was about 250 miles. Then he asked if Michael and I had driven together, and Michael said, “No, I live here” at the same moment that I said, “He lives here.” And Steve said, “Oh, that’s even better, because you get to see your brother!” and he was right.

We didn’t spend the whole day at Steve’s booth this time, probably just a couple of hours, but during the time I was there, he had several people assisting him. The first was an agent named Dalton, whose name and identity were conveniently confirmed in the video from the Q&A. Steve introduced us to Dalton and referred to me as something like a “loyal fan.” I don’t remember exactly, but he definitely used the word “loyal,” and that meant a lot to me because that’s how I would like to see myself. 

At one point, and I don’t remember why, Steve had to verify Michael’s name, and Michael said, “Except today I’m …” and he gave his made-up Bajoran monk name that he crafted for himself. Steve kind of blinked and said, “I think I’ll just stick with ‘Michael.'”

Steve explained his confusion over the date of our attendance and said it was a good thing that we hadn’t been there on Saturday because it had been really busy that day and we wouldn’t have had time to chat. (His exact words were actually “you wouldn’t have been able to move.”) I have to give Michael credit on that score too, because I left it up to him to choose what day we should go, and he picked Sunday. I knew that Steve had had a Q&A the day before, so I asked him how it went. He said it went well: “The same questions as always, but I tried to answer them in a new way.”

Michael pointed out, correctly, that the questions are new to the person who asks them, and Steve agreed. I wanted to say that a lot of the questions I had intended to ask him had already been answered in the Puppet Tears podcast, but I prefaced it by saying “Speaking of repetitive questions…” and I think it sounded like I was apologizing for something I was about to ask him, and he said something to the effect of “Oh, it’s okay, I don’t mind!” which threw me off a little, but I just told him that I thought that podcast interview was very good and thorough. He said that they had planned to talk to him for 45 minutes or so and ended up talking to him for two hours. He also said that they asked questions that were of particular interest to puppeteers. That’s probably true, but even for a non-puppeteer, it was just so refreshing to hear some new questions for a change.

I don’t remember how long we talked to Steve before other people started coming up to his table. One of the first, if not the first, was a guy named Paul. He was paying for an autograph and he made a joke about whether they accepted Canadian money. Then he said, “Actually, I’m from South Dakota.”

Being a South Dakotan is kind of like being in a secret society. When we meet one another outside of our home state, we typically have a conversation to establish where, specifically, in South Dakota we are from, if we’re near to one another or if we know people nearby. It’s not an obligation exactly, but more of an instinct. So I asked Paul where he was from, and he said that he’s from Flandreau, which is just north of where I live in Sioux Falls. Paul, however, was understandably more interested in talking to Steve, and I do not blame him at all.

Later, Michael wanted someone to take a picture of the two of us in our costumes, and Paul was still around, and Michael said something to the effect of, “Well, Paul is practically a friend now; let’s ask him.” So we did, and he took a picture of us, but I was worried that we’d get in trouble because I’d read the GalaxyCon rules beforehand, which were very emphatic that you weren’t supposed to take a picture or even have a camera out in the celebrity area unless you had paid for a photo with a celebrity. But we managed to get away with it.

There were a pair of sisters who came up to Steve’s table and had a long conversation with him. They were well-versed in Muppet lore; apparently they had had access to the entire Muppet Show series on VHS when they were younger. That reminded me of something I wanted to ask Michael. I’m too young to remember the original run of The Muppet Show, so I didn’t know if it aired at our house or if it was on a channel we didn’t get. He told me that it was on a channel that we did get, and he watched it when it was on originally.

Like at OCon, I tried to be mindful of letting other people have their moment with Steve and not try to redirect his attention. But the sisters’ conversation with Steve went on for a long time, and I did interject a few times. One time he actually invited me into the conversation himself, because they were talking about Happytime Murders, and he asked me if it was released under the Jim Henson Company name. I told him no; it was released as a Henson Alternative production, and that very discreetly. The sisters expressed distaste for the movie, which only surprised me because I wouldn’t have thought that they were old enough to watch it at all.

I don’t remember for sure, but it may be that I didn’t start joining into that conversation until after Steve asked for my input. If that is the case, I feel better about it in retrospect, but I honestly do not remember. He was talking to them about Muppets’ Wizard of Oz and that he thought it was underrated. I jumped in and said that I like it because it’s based more on the book than the movie. He said he liked Miss Piggy’s role in in, and I said, “All four of them.” Then he was talking to the sisters about The Muppet Show “Sex and Violence” pilot. He said that he thought it was available somewhere, and I told him that I thought it was on one of the DVD sets. And I was right; it’s on the Season 1 DVD set. I didn’t feel bad about jumping in there because that was as much for the sisters’ benefit as anything. But then I couldn’t help but point out that my favorite part is Muppet Mount Rushmore.

For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Steve in person, I can tell you that it is a very positive experience. He’s so upbeat and enthusiastic about everything that it is very hard to think about anything negative in connection with him. However, during his conversation with the sisters, the topic of the 2011 movie came up, and that reminded me of something that had been gnawing at me occasionally in the back of my mind for approximately two years.

During the lead-up to that movie, I remembered reading in Entertainment Weekly that at one point Steve had supposedly been unhappy with the movie and wanted to take his name off it, so I asked him to tell me the real story. He told me that all of the Muppet performers had taken a stand about wanting more input into their characters, (which is completely consistent with everything he’s already said, by the way), but that the story about him wanting to take his name off it was an exaggeration. “These things get blown out of proportion,” he said, “as you already know.” I did not say “boy, howdy!” but I wish I had. (That’s an idiom I picked up from my mother, by the way. Where she picked it up, I have no idea.)

When Steve had asked me about Happytime Murders, I stepped behind his table so that I was on a level with him and didn’t initially see any reason to move. By the time the sisters had left, Dalton was gone somewhere and Steve had a GalaxyCon volunteer assisting him. I don’t remember her name, assuming that I learned it at all. But in any case, she very politely asked me if I would return to the front of the table. It was a reasonable request, and I complied willingly. But I didn’t like the reason that she gave me for asking me to move: “We don’t want you to photobomb anyone’s paid pictures,” she said. This annoyed me greatly because (a) I know better than to get into other people’s pictures when I’m not wanted and (b) I don’t like being photographed anyway and usually try to avoid it.

(Yes, I know I just said that I allowed Paul to take a picture of Michael and me, but that’s because Michael is one of the people I love more than anyone else in the world, so I’m willing to do things for his sake that I don’t enjoy.)

There was a puppeteer who came up to the table, or at any rate, she had a puppet with her. She was holding the puppet alongside her body with her elbow bent rather than with her arm up in the air, and Steve said that was probably the most difficult position in which to perform a puppet. Which surprised me, but then, I don’t know very much about puppeteering.

When I got the chance, I asked Steve a question about The Muppet Movie. It’s question that someone posed last year in an episode of a podcast that I sporadically listen to, and it had been nagging at me ever since. The question was this: In the scene out in the desert when Kermit has the conversation with his spectral self, obviously Jim Henson performed one of the Kermits, but who was performing the other one? Steve said that it was Dave Goelz, who had to wear a glove to pad out Kermit’s head. I said that that makes sense because Kermit’s head looks particularly smooth during that scene.

Then I turned to Michael, and I said, “You may not know this, but during the ‘Rainbow Connection’ scene in The Muppet Movie, Steve was operating Kermit’s hand via remote control.” I prefaced this by saying to Steve, “correct me if I’m wrong,” which is good because I was a little bit wrong. I had assumed that Steve was performing the hand on the banjo’s fingerboard, but I was wrong about that. That was Kathy Mullen. Steve was performing Kermit’s strumming hand, and it was only remote control in the wide shots. In the close-ups, he was under the water with Jim Henson. Steve said that he got to do that because he used to play banjo, which I said I didn’t know, but I should have known it because there’s a Muppet Show-era photograph of him with a banjo playing alongside Jerry Nelson on guitar.

I also told him how much I enjoy the Muppets From Space commentary. He said, “Oh yeah, with Rizzo and Gonzo and…was it Brian?” And I said, “No, it was the director.” He said something about it being their version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that made me happy because that’s another one of my fandoms. I told him that I’ve always loved the commentary, but I started enjoying it more after learning a little bit more about him and recognizing when he comes across through Rizzo. He seemed pleased, but at the same time, he said, “I don’t remember anything I said in that.”

Knowing that Steve is from the South, I wondered how he would react to the wintry November weather in Minnesota. Despite the fact that it was snowing by the end of the day, it actually wasn’t that cold by Midwestern standards. Needless to say, Steve has also worked in places like London and Toronto, so I wondered how it would affect him. I could say that he complained about the cold, but that makes him sound less gracious than he actually was. Nevertheless, he did mention the cold a lot, and also the dryness of the air. “Come back in the summer,” I said, “then it will be really humid.” He said, “Really? It varies that much?” and I said, “Oh, yeah.”

Steve wondered if the dryness in the air makes it difficult for singers, and I didn’t really know, but I deferred to Michael because he lives there, and he sings. I don’t remember specifically what Michael said, but it was something to the effect of you have to be mindful about keeping hydrated. Steve mentioned drinking electrolyte drinks, and I told him he should try coconut water because it has electrolytes that occur naturally. Then Michael asked me if coconut water is different than coconut milk, and I told him it is, because coconut water is the liquid inside the coconut and coconut milk is derived from the pulp. However, no one made a reference to putting lime in the coconut and drinking them both up. Alas, an opportunity missed.

(Note about coconut water: one of the electrolytes in it is potassium, so it should be drunk in moderation because otherwise there’s a small chance of developing hyperkalemia.)

I think that was about the extent of our conversation in the morning. Steve had to leave to go do photo ops, and Michael wanted to go watch a voice actor’s panel discussion (I believe it was Steve Blum, but I wouldn’t swear to it). I was a little torn. On the one hand, I had some interest in watching panels, but I didn’t want to leave the floor without saying good-bye to Steve just in case I didn’t get the chance to come back later. On the other hand, I didn’t think it was a good idea to get separated from Michael. Ultimately, I decided that I had said the most important things that I wanted to say to Steve, so it would be okay for me to go to the panel with Michael, but I left a message for Steve with Dalton (who was back by this time) saying that I hoped to talk with him some more in the afternoon, but if something prevented me, it was nice to have seen him again.

The voice actor’s panel was already in progress when we got there, and even though I didn’t know anything about the gentleman, the panel (or at least the portion that we got to see), was very interesting. After that panel, another Q&A with George Takei of Star Trek fame was set to start. I told Michael I was interested in seeing that, and he agreed. So we saw George Takei’s panel, and it was wonderful.

When we arrived and sat down, there were already people in line to ask questions. He gave such detailed and lengthy answers that the time ran out before everyone got a chance to ask their questions, which was the only bad thing about it. In addition to talking about Star Trek, he also talked about his experience as a child in the internment camps in which the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II, as well as his current advocacy for immigrants. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of his talk, and because it has taken me so long to draft this entry, the video has since gone up on YouTube, so you have the opportunity to watch it too, you lucky people.

That was not the end of the convention, but it is the end of this part of the description. We ate lunch, walked around the vendors’ area, greeted some friends of Michael’s that we happened to run into, then returned to the celebrity area for more conversation with Steve.

But before I start another entry to detail all that, I want to say some thank-yous. First, thank you to Steve for being so kind and accessible and easy to talk to. Thank you to George Takei for being so interesting to listen to (and, on a completely unrelated note, for recently endorsing Pete Buttigieg for president). Thank you to GalaxyCon, the founder of the feast, and last but not least, thank you to my brother Michael, the facilitator of the feast.

3 thoughts on “Adventures at GalaxyCon Minneapolis, Part 1

  1. Wow, Thank You So Much! This post, and Steve’s Q&A just totally and absolutely made this a perfect evening! Mr. Sulu’s session will have to wait until tomorrow — more good stuff to look forward to. 🙂 Thank You!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. First, a thank you to Michael for making it possible for you -Mary- to visit Galaxy Con- Minneapolis, and to see Steve Whitmire again.

    Second; Mary you have written a most delightful account of your time at this convention. I enjoyed all the tidbits you shared of your discussion with Steve and wonderful trivia to add to my memories. I look forward to reading more.

    Third; I am a huge Star Trek fan, and also have developed friendships with several of the Star Trek performers from Deep Space 9, who I find delightful, namely Kitty Swink (Armin Shimmerman’s Wife) I’ve also touched base with Nana Visitor, and Rene Auberjonois, A new favorite is Doug Jones who plays Saru in Star Trek Discovery. The third entry is one for Michael, just in case he reads this.

    Liked by 2 people

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