Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of Steve Whitmire and his work in anticipation of his 60th birthday later this year. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as Beaker, specifically in the viral videos that the Muppets made for YouTube.Despite the fact that Beaker is one of my favorite Muppets, I originally hadn’t included him in this project, for reasons that seemed to make sense at the time but that I can no longer remember. Then I watched the viral videos in which he features again and realized what a travesty it was to leave them out, because each of them is completely brilliant, and it’s some of the best and most Muppety content the Muppets have put out in the last 30 years. By all accounts, Steve had a lot of input into the creation of the viral videos, which means that he gets a lot of the credit for their quality and success.
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.
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).
Based on his appearances in the “Muppet Thought of the Week” videos on YouTube, Walter has now become one of the funniest Muppets. Does that qualify as irony?
Prior to last summer, Walter was sometimes paired with Robin the Frog (as performed by Matt Vogel) in “Thoughts of the Week” and other short videos, a pairing that works pretty well, given that they’re both characters who are supposed to be a little younger. Check ’em out:
However, since Matt started performing Kermit, performing Robin as well would have been difficult, particularly during those live shows that everyone seemed to enjoy so much. Peter Linz now describes himself (on his Twitter profile and elsewhere) as the performer for Robin, so I guess that recast is now official.
In honor of the July 4th holiday, Tough Pigs had a feature in which they posted Muppet YouTube videos connected in some way with each of the United States (plus the District of Columbia).
The video they used for South Dakota was kind of weird, but then again, it wasn’t their first choice. Their first choice was Muppet Mount Rushmore from “Sex and Violence,” but they couldn’t find it on YouTube. (Odd…I know it used to be there, although that was five years ago by now.)
Anyway, it appears that the states were listed in the reverse order that they were admitted to the Union, and they used “Stars and Stripes Forever” for Delaware in order to have a big finish.
Now, I’m not saying that “Stars and Stripes Forever” is inappropriate for Delaware, but in watching the video again, it seems to me that there’s a lot of South Dakota stuff in there as well. My contention is that “Stars and Stripes” would have worked just as well for South Dakota, and to prove it, I’m going to count all the South Dakota-related stuff in the video:
This is what the Fourth of July looked like before the Schism:
This is what the Fourth of July looks like after the Schism:
- The Fourth of July was much more fun before Steve’s unwarranted dismissal. Now it’s apparently just tears and kazoo anthems against a plain background (not that I have anything against plain blue backgrounds 😉 ).
- That said, however, I do enjoy Walter’s kazoo harmonies.
- Daaaaaaaamn, Steve as Beaker totally killed the piccolo part on “Stars and Stripes Forever!”
- On a related note, I never thought I would say this, but I MISS RIZZO!
- Sam the Eagle clearly stopped plucking his eyebrow(s) sometime between 2009 and 2015.
- It’s really difficult to take pride in a country where kids are put in cages by pumpkin-headed demagogues, which is an incongruous thing to post on a Muppet blog, but it’s something that unfortunately has to be iterated and reiterated until our lawmakers get the point.
Since I referenced this sketch yesterday, I thought I would post it today and talk a little about it.
I just love these weird old Sesame Street sketches. I remember being strangely mesmerized by this one every time it came on, with its weird dreamlike landscape, eerie soundtrack, and the enigmatically creepy yo-yo man, who is off-putting but ultimately helpful.
I also find it sort of amusing that, due to the lack of scale in the animation, it appears that the boy got lost amidst all these bizarre things approximately 3 yards from his front door.
“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”
To the Parkland students, and all March for Our Lives participants:
The courage, fortitude, and perseverance you have shown in the face of overwhelming adversity is both inspiring and humbling. I graduated from high school in 1999, weeks after the Columbine shooting, and if my generation had done what you are doing now, maybe there wouldn’t have been a need for you to step up and speak out. I can’t go back and change what is past, but I stand in solidarity with you now.
Jim Henson has always been a hero of mine, and you are now doing what he aspired to do, and ultimately succeeding in doing: making a difference and bettering the world. Jim Henson believed in the power of children; he created Fraggle Rock in 1983 with the express purpose of bringing peace to the world.
I know that you’re experiencing a lot of pushback, and I’m sure you understand that that only shows that you’re having an impact. If the NRA weren’t scared of you, they wouldn’t waste their time or money trying to discredit you.
Nevertheless, all that negativity can be tough to bear. I know that you’re not lacking in strength, resilience, and determination, but I also know that you–that we–have a long, hard fight yet to be contested. I’ve often found that music–particularly Muppet music–has the power to comfort and inspire, so I’ve curated a list of what I consider to be the best and most uplifting songs from Henson-related productions. When the world seems dark and hopeless, I hope that they will bring a little light into your hearts.
As my first real attempt at video creation/editing, I made a video tribute to Steve Whitmire:
Special thanks and apologies to my fellow Muppet Pundit commenters Matt L., Richard X., and Rocky D., whose photos/artwork were among those that I co-opted for use in this video.
It’s time we leave our doubt behind and find what life’s about:
Kermit believes in Santa Claus. I believe in Steve Whitmire.
Though my mind be filled with questions, in my heart I understand…
“Patience, my brothers
And patience, my sons.
In that sweet and final hour,
Truth and justice will be done.”
“Faust, a five-act grand opera, is by Charles Gounod with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It is loosely based on Faust, Part I, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s lesser-known follow-up, 2 Faust 2 Furious, focused on a man who made a deal with the diesel.”
–Erik Forrest Jackson, pushing all my geeky English-major buttons in an explanatory footnote of Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera
When I opened the book and saw that the epigraph was a quote from a renowned French philosopher and a line from an old infomercial, I knew I was going to like this book.
When I started laughing hysterically at the table of contents, I knew I was going to love this book.
When I finished reading it, I wanted to go back and read the original novel again to compare the two; the mark of a good book is that it makes you want to read more.
Answer: Neither of them. It’s a trick question.
So…this last Monday that just happened, there was a Pentatonix Christmas special on TV, and the report was that Kermit was going to make an appearance. I debated with myself about whether or not to watch it, and ultimately I compromised with myself that I would watch it, but only with the sound down and the captions on. And I hoped that Kermit would appear early on, because watching a musical program with the sound down didn’t really appeal to me.
Okay, one thing you have to know about me: my taste in Christmas carols runs very traditional.
I don’t mind pop singers singing pop songs in pop style, but when they start singing Christmas carols in pop style, it rubs me the wrong way. (And some Christmas songs, like “Last Christmas,” need to be retired permanently. Seriously.)
Tonight I was working at the store where I work part-time, and of course, ’tis the season when stores play Christmas music from morning to night; I heard a weird soul/R&B version of “Carol of the Bells.” Let’s just say it was not to my taste. Also, whoever was singing it left out some of the words, so some of the words didn’t fit with the music, which is a major pet peeve of mine.
So, to get the bad taste of that song out of my ears, here’s a good, Muppety version of “Carol of the Bells.”
“Do something creative because you can’t NOT do it.”
–Kermit the Frog
Last week or so I was in a morbid mood, indulging in my self-defeat and wallowing in self-pity as I looked at my life: Working two jobs to make ends meet, which sucks up all the time I’d rather be spending on researching and writing. One job transcribing/editing other people’s words instead of writing my own; the other job working in retail, making me feel like I’ve come full circle and ended up right back where I started in high school, as though all my education and training and experience and suffering over the past 20 years has all been for naught.
Desperately in need of some inspiration, I turned back to Kermit’s TED talk from 2015, and that was very helpful. One part was particularly helpful, and you know how much I love to take other people’s/frogs’ words and put them into big block quotes, so here goes:
“We need to help kids–and all of us trying to connect with our inner tadpole–to pursue our passion, even when the going gets tough. Now, for grown-ups, that just might mean, folks, you gotta have a day job. Cuz let’s face it, it’s easier to take creative chances when it’s not how you’re trying to support yourself. That can be tough.”
That made me feel better about taking the second job. No shame in doing what it takes to survive, so long as you don’t hurt others in the process. And if that means I have to try to bang out part of a blog post in the time between stopping one job for the day and starting another, then I guess that’s what it takes. It’s not ideal–it’s not at all the way that I prefer to work–but if that’s what the situation calls for, then I’ll just have to be flexible and learn to adapt, which is a professional skill on which I have always prided myself.