Sixty for 60: Live Appearances by Muppets

Welcome to the final regular installment of 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next month. This month’s theme is live appearances by Muppet characters.

Kermit TED talk

“The trick to the show [Muppets 2015], if it works, is to make it feel for the first time that you’re seeing the Muppets in our world.” –Bill Prady, SDCC Panel 2015

Of the many strange and perplexing things that happened in conjunction with the Muppets’ 2015 series, one that I found to be among the strangest and most perplexing was this bizarre statement by Bill Prady, that it would be the first time that the Muppets were in our world. How are they not in our world? Not only have six of their eight movies been set in our world, but the Muppets make live appearances in our world all the time. And when they do, it results in some of the best and most entertaining material because they’re usually a little freer to do some ad libbing and to be themselves, insofar as the Muppets have selves, which is a deep philosophical dive that I don’t think I’m ready to take at the moment and would probably require a whole other entry even if I were.

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Michigan Publication Interviews Steve, Fixates on Voices

This last weekend Steve was at Michigan Comic Con in Detroit, where he was gracious enough to give an interview for a publication based there, taking great care to emphasize the puppetry aspect of his work and that he’s not a voice person. 

So of course, the entire written interview is all about voices, with the puppetry mentioned only as an afterthought. 

Therefore, I recommend the accompanying YouTube video of the interview over the written version. Even though it looks like it’s been edited down somewhat, at least Steve gets to express himself in his own words: 

This video is actually really exciting, though, because Steve explains a bit more about his live-stream concept with Weldon. This is information that Steve actually told me when I met him in Omaha, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to talk about it, so I erred on the side of caution in not mentioning it. But now he’s expressed it publicly, so I guess it’s okay for me to talk about it. 

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Meeting Steve Whitmire, Part 3: Basking in Reflected Glory

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

I took notes at the Q&A so I could talk about it in detail regardless of whether or not any video of it shows up online. I intend to do that in a separate post, but here I’d like to give just a brief overview and mention the parts that are relevant to the rest of my story.

Before I talk about Steve’s Q&A, I need to back up a bit to talk about one of his visitors from the morning. I mentioned her briefly in one of my other posts. She was the lady who was part of her church’s puppet troupe, and she brought along a Whatnot for him to sign (one of those ones that Disney marketed and sold for a while). She was accompanied by two teenage kids, but of the three of them it was pretty clear that she was the one most excited to meet Steve (not that the teenagers were entirely disinterested). Her Whatnot was one that they allowed new puppeteers in their group to practice on and learn with, so Steve not only signed it across the back of its head, he also wrote a short message of encouragement.

The autographed Whatnot was one of several puppets present at the Q&A. Scrubby was there with Ethan, and the lady and the baby were there with their Wembley, and there was also a guy there with a Kermit. I’m not sure if it was a fan-made Kermit or a toy that he’d bought, but they appear briefly in the following video alongside Steve (and Mitzi):

Also, it wasn’t a puppet per se, but there was someone there with a very detailed plush toy of Rizzo. I meant to ask the guy where he acquired such a thing, but then I didn’t get around to it.

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Meeting Steve Whitmire, Part 2: “Nice” Is Not the Word I’m Looking For

This is Part 2 of a series of at least three. Click here for Part 1.

Steve’s booth was next to Gigi Edgley’s, who was also making an appearance at OCon. I had seen that that was the plan and wondered if that was going to be awkward, given her close association with Brian Henson. But I didn’t want to ask Steve if it was awkward, because I thought that that somehow might make it more awkward. However, Steve brought up the subject of her appearance, asking me if I was familiar with her work. I told him that I’d never seen Farscape but that I had watched Creature Shop Challenge. He said that he hadn’t met her before this convention and wasn’t familiar with her work, but that he’d gotten acquainted with her over the course of the convention.

Clearly there’s no bad blood there.

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Interview with Steve Whitmire Ahead of Omaha Comic Con

Steve is appearing at OCon this weekend and gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald. 

The interviewer makes Steve’s Muppet departure sound more volitional than it actually was, but he gets brownie points for not referring to Steve as a “voice actor.” 

There’s also an interesting sidebar about the 20 “most powerful puppet characters in the world.” It’s kind of funny that the author makes a point of mentioning that Socrates contemplated the question in ancient Greece, but the puppet characters included all seem to be American in origin and date back only as far as the 20th century. 

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Sixty for 60: Ernie

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday coming up later this year. This month is a celebration of Steve’s work as the irrepressible Ernie.

Just as Ernie and Bert are undervalued as one of the great comedy teams of all time, I feel that Steve Whitmire’s work as Ernie is tragically under-appreciated, especially by Muppet fans of a certain age. Whether playing alongside Frank Oz or Eric Jacobson, he’s done some stellar work in skits, songs, and bits that stack up against any of the great Bert and Ernie sketches of the pre-1990 Sesame Street era.

This was the hardest 60 for 60 entry that I’ve put together since I talked about Wembley last November. I could easily devote at least three months of this project to Steve’s work as Ernie. I would run out of months of the year before I ran out of material.

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Muppet Mindset’s “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey”: My Responses

In June 2017, The Muppet Mindset published questions for the “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey,” an updated version of their previous “Great Muppet Survey,” which I had filled out in 2013 and revisited in 2018. They published two sets of responses to the “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey” but have never mentioned it since, as far as I can tell. This was approximately a month before they, along with ToughPigs, broke the news of the Schism, but whether they abandoned the project as a direct result of the world turning upside down and sideways, I do not know. 

I recently discovered the “ALL NEW” survey questions and thought, “I have access to these questions and I have a blog; why don’t I just answer the questions on my blog instead of submitting them and waiting to see when and if somebody else decides to publish them?” So that’s what I’m doing. Thanks to Jarrod Fairclough for the questions, and I hope you don’t mind me taking matters into my own hands. 

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Sixty for 60: Christmas Productions

“Bless us all, that as we live / We always comfort and forgive”–The Crachit family, singing lyrics by Paul Williams in The Muppet Christmas Carol

As a non-Muppet, but no less beloved, pair of amphibians once sang, Merry Almost Christmas! And welcome back to 60 for 60, my yearlong tribute to Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Christmas productions.

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

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

Sesame Saturday: September Significance

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.

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Sixty for 60: The Best of Steve Whitmire

(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. 

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Sesame Saturday: How Sesame Workshop Should Address the Matter of Sexuality

I want to take a moment to reiterate my reader-response-informed theory of criticism: it is neither the creator of an artistic work nor the audience that confers meaning upon it; rather, meaning is created when the intention of the author meets the interpretation of the audience. This is not to say that the creator of a work cannot have his or her own interpretation of its meaning; rather, it means that the creator’s interpretation is not the “only” correct interpretation.

I bring this up again because the matter of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality became an issue again this week. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. I believe that, much like Batman in The Dark Knight, Bert, Ernie, and all the other Muppets are whatever each of us, as individual viewers, need them to be.

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Sesame Saturday: “Skidamarink”

I wanted to post this video a few weeks (or possibly months) ago, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. I tried searching for it by the name of the song, which was difficult because I didn’t know how to spell it. I’ve known this song for most of my life, but I’d never seen the title or the lyrics written out.

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