Matt Vogel’s “Below the Frame” Podcast

Today, October 6th, is Matt Vogel’s 50th birthday. I want to wish him good health and happiness, and I want to let all of you know that I’ve been listening to his new “Below the Frame” podcast, and I enjoy it very much.

New episodes drop every Wednesday and feature usually one but sometimes two people from the Muppet/Henson universe. The conversation delves really deep not only into the interviewees’ Muppet/Henson work but their background and life in general. Then there are also puppetry tips and little short tidbits and an ongoing tribute to Jerry Nelson. 

I haven’t listened to all the episodes yet, but I have enjoyed all the ones that I’ve listened to so far. If I had to pick favorites, I would name the one with Cave-In’s own Jim Lewis and the one with Bill Barretta, who says some very nice things about Steve. 

Maybe it’s because he’s talking to his friends, but Matt has a very engaging interview style that makes me wonder what other career avenues he might have explored if he hadn’t been such a gosh-darn good puppeteer. There are a lot of Muppet and/or puppet-related podcasts out there, but this is one that I can recommend unreservedly. I sincerely hope you will check it out if you haven’t already.

Jim Henson and Friends on The Tonight Show

Today would have been Jim Henson’s 84th birthday. I’ve been thinking for six months to a year how I wanted to mark the occasion.

Occasionally, I reference things that I’ve seen on YouTube but can no longer find, only to run across them later. This is an appearance that Jim made on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1975 to promote the Muppet Show “Sex and Violence” special, although it’s interesting that Johnny only refers to it as “The Muppet Show.” Maybe the rest of the title wouldn’t have flown on network TV, even late night.

When I saw this clip before, it was only the Kermit bit. It was remarkable to me in that it was the grumpiest I had ever seen Kermit, and I think it still is. I had never seen the Dr. Teeth interview before. It’s fascinating to see him make a solo appearance without the rest of the Electric Mayhem. It’s incredible how real and alive he is even though the bottom part of his body is absent. It’s revealing to see how Jim pulls his mouth into a grin while performing him.

There was another clip that I referenced once without being able to find it, then rediscovered it again, only to lose track of it once more. It’s the pitch reel for the Jim Henson Hour. I’m disappointed not to be able to feature it here, but maybe I will run across it again someday.

Reflexive Jim Henson

Today, of course, is not only Steve Whitmire’s birthday, it is also Jim Henson’s birthday. 

I was thinking about what I wanted to do to mark the occasion of what is apparently known on Twitter as “#JimHensonDay,” and I wasn’t sure what I could say that I haven’t already said. 

Then I started to think about all the ways that Jim Henson and his characters have burrowed their way deep into my subconscious, to the point where certain words or phrases will always evoke knee-jerk Muppet references from me.

It’s a topic that I’ve mentioned occasionally but never explored at length, so it seems as good a way as any to celebrate #JimHensonDay. 

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Sixty for 60: Culmination

60 for 60 collage

(Please enjoy this photo collage. I worked on it for the better part of an hour before trying to upload it, but my initial attempt was unsuccessful because the file size was too big. Apologies to those whose photos I’ve co-opted.)

Happy 60th birthday, Steve Whitmire! And welcome, everyone, to the final installment of 60 for 60. Every month for a year I’ve been celebrating Steve and this milestone by posting five examples of his work per month (mostly in the form of videos, but not exclusively) and making commentary about it. At this point, I’d like to take a look back of the year and choose the best from each month for a “Best of the Best” feature.

(As always, “best” in this case is subjective.)

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Fraggle Friday: A Walkin’, Talkin’, Breathin’ Ball of Fire

As I’m sure you’re all aware, yesterday was the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. But I can never concentrate entirely on Jim Henson on May 16th, because it’s also my niece’s birthday. 

At times, my niece (who just turned 8) is like a ray of sunshine, but more often, in the words of Cantus (and Dennis Lee), I find her to be a walkin’, talkin’, breathin’, ball of fire.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

Matt Vogel: Gnarly to the Max

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).

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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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Conundrum

Obviously today is a sad anniversary, being the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death.  But it’s also the birthday of someone very dear to me, so I don’t quite know how to mark the occasion.  I suspect that, given a choice between sorrow and joy, Jim would recommend that I default to joy.

But I think I’ve found a fitting tribute to commemorate both:

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An Open Letter to Matt Vogel

Dear Matt,

You don’t know me, but if you read Steve Whitmire’s blog at all, I often comment over there.

First of all, I wanted to wish you a happy birthday.  When it was Steve’s birthday recently, I wished him a happy birthday on his blog, and I sent good wishes into the ether for Jim Henson, and even though you’re not part of their “birthday club,” I didn’t want you to feel left out.  I hope you have a very happy and special day.

Secondly, I wanted to apologize to you; as I’m sure you understand, this whole situation with Disney letting Steve go from the Muppets is very upsetting to me.  I’ve never been very good at pigeonholing my emotions, and writing (whether it be on a blog or elsewhere) is often the “safe” medium into which I channel my negative thoughts and feelings.  Unfortunately, there are times when I’ve been lashing out at Disney and you’ve sort of gotten caught in the crossfire, as it were.  If I seem angry, I want you to know that I never meant to take it out on you

(And if you spend any time on my blog, you’ll notice that I often express myself through song lyrics or paraphrases thereof.)

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Let Me Be Your Birthday Song

Happy birthday to Steve Whitmire and Jim Henson!  Steve, this year you get top billing; I don’t think Jim would mind.  🙂

I’m sure there are probably other examples of Jim and Steve singing together in harmony, but I can’t think of any of the top of my head, and it doesn’t matter because this one is probably the best anyway.

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