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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Muppet Heresy: In Defense of Muppets’ Wizard of Oz

 

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Kermit the Frog will be performing the title role in a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz which, as I’m sure we can all agree, seems really weird and random. Why that production? Why that role? Why just Kermit and not the whole Muppet troupe? It sounds to me like somebody in a decision-making role with the Muppets has a friend who called in a favor. But I digress.

Predictably, some of the reactions to the news involved some variation on the extremely witty comment, “I hope this production is better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, because that really sucked!”

I’ve never understood the hatred that people level against Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Admittedly, it’s not the best thing that the Muppets have ever done, but it’s not the worst thing either, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, especially if–like me–you’re primarily familiar with the story from the original novel rather than the 1939 film adaptation.

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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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“Don’t You Know I’m Just Human?”

If you recall, I had mixed feelings about the possibility of entering this contest, but then it was revealed that the winner gets to pick the songs. That, the possibility of meeting Matt, and the fact that the money goes to support a good cause rather than lining Disney execs’ pockets made the prospect irresistible to me. 

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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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Karaoke with Kermit

This is a contest to benefit the WE Schools charity, which is a worthy cause. Apparently, Disney is not going to see a cent of the money, so I can support this and spread the word with a clear conscience. However, I have mixed feelings about the prize and the promotions.

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Monsters Versus Letter People–Who Sang It Best?

I was recently introduced to a Sesame song/skit that I didn’t remember seeing before, in which Cookie Monster and Herry find a letter M sitting around, (as you do), and sing a song about all the foods they like that start with M:

It reminded me of another beloved PBS puppet show that I remember fondly from my childhood, “The Letter People,” which was divided into 15-minute episodes and focused on phonics. Mr. M is featured in the first episode and sings his signature song, which also includes a litany of foods that start with the letter M, because Mr. M has a Munching Mouth, and that’s where he gets his sound:

Hmm…Cookie Monster also has a Munching Mouth. I wonder if he and Mr. M would be friends or if they wouldn’t get along because they’d be in competition with one another.

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Short but Sweet: Steve Whitmire Q&A From Fanboy Expo in Knoxville, TN

A few weeks ago I got a Google alert on a brief interview that Steve Whitmire gave to a local news station in Knoxville, TN regarding the Fanboy Expo that was going on there. I hoped that would not be all that we heard out of Knoxville and happily, it is not. 

This morning, YouTube helpfully and accurately suggested that I might like this 25-minute Q&A that Steve gave at the Fanboy Expo. This panel was recorded and posted by Joseph Scarbrough, a name I recognize from the Muppet Pundit forum, even though I don’t think I ever interacted with him there, but a big “thank you” to him on the off-chance that he’s reading this.

This panel is a little different than some of the other panels we’ve seen. It’s shorter by approximately 20 minutes, and instead of the moderator sitting up front with Steve and asking him questions that we’ve already heard a gazillion times, he stood in the audience and helped with their questions. The whole thing pretty much consists of audience questions, so in that sense, it’s a true Q&A

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Celebrates the Fourth…Ay, yi, yi

For whatever reason, Sesame Workshop chose to mark the occasion of the Fourth of July this year with a parody of NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”:

Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: This video is not good. The reference is dated, it’s not close enough to the original to be readily recognizable, Ernie sounds like Walter in spots, and what the heck is up with the gratuitous autotune?

With that said, I’m glad that they did something that steered clear of frank patriotism because, as I have observed before, it is difficult to take pride in a country where children are being put in cages, and given Sesame’s mission and ethos, it would be disingenuous of them to do so. 

I also enjoy Oscar’s contributions to the video because he’s basically saying out loud what I’m just thinking. And bless Matt Vogel’s heart, he’s in fine voice as the Count and really giving it his all. His level of commitment is admirable regardless of the overall end result.

Yeah…

SoDak Stuff FOREVER!

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:

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Muppets’ Fourth of July: Before and After

This is what the Fourth of July looked like before the Schism:

This is what the Fourth of July looks like after the Schism:

 

CONCLUSIONS:

  • 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.

Fraggle Friday: “Pity a Soul That’s Not Free”

 

The way you know that a work of art is living and vibrant and timeless is if you continue to find new meanings in it over time. I’ve loved this song for five years now, but watching “Fraggle Wars” again recently, I was suddenly broadsided by the realization that this song, and the narrative milieu in which it occurs, is very relatable to the current plight of immigrant families at the border.

Which makes sense. After all, Fraggle Rock was created to address and counteract cruelty and stupidity such as this.

As much as I wish it were otherwise, the executive order of this week resolves nothing. All that’s purportedly changed is that instead of separating children from parents and putting them in cages, now the parents and children are going to be put into cages together. That still leaves us with the problem of children in cages. 

Please don’t let up on your lawmakers. I know telling them that children don’t belong in cages feels like stating the obvious, but they need to hear it over and over again. Call during office hours, if possible. If we can’t reason with them, and we can’t shame them, the best we can hope to do is create such an impedance to their day-to-day operations that they’ll have no choice but to relent.

Due to the current administration’s draconian policies and sociopathic lack of conscience, there are many souls at our border (and elsewhere) who are not free, and they deserve not only our pity but our righteous indignation on their behalf.