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.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.
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.
Yesterday I mentioned the existence of full panels from last year’s OCon on YouTube, but what I failed to mention was that one of them featured Sesame Street actors Roscoe Orman (aka Gordon) and Alan Muraoka. I thought about it today and realized that might be of interest, so here it is:
Also, it appears from this that OCon just doesn’t provide microphones for audience questions at all, which seems to be very unusual. Nevertheless, given how hard it is to hear the audience questions on the video, it makes me very glad that I have notes of Steve’s Q&A, although it remains to be seen how helpful they will be.
Welcome back to 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday in a couple months. The theme for this month is interviews of Steve (not his characters), and it is unique in that not all five examples are available in video form. As a matter of fact, most of them are not.
I planned out the themes for each installment of 60 for 60 ten months ago. At that time, of course, I had no idea that I would actually have met Steve by this time. A lot has changed since I planned out this project, and the plan for this month has changed more than any other in the interim as I re-evaluate interviews that I was going to use and new interviews emerge. But what hasn’t changed is my wish to celebrate Steve himself rather than just his characters, although they’re important too.
I’m not a Muppet performer, and I’m not really a puppeteer despite a brief amateur stint. So I can’t say that I really know what it’s like, but I imagine that it must be an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the anonymity that it affords you could be very valuable, but on the other hand, I can imagine that it would sometimes get frustrating to be part of something that is so popular and well known but only rarely get credit or recognition for it.
This month is all about that recognition.
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.
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.
Before you begin reading, I should warn you: This is an extensive, detailed, impressionistic, lengthy, and potentially incoherent account of my trip to Omaha Comic Con to meet Steve Whitmire. I’m writing it in such great detail not because I think it will be interesting to you (although I hope it will be!) but mostly to fix my own memories of it as firmly in my mind as possible.
If you want the tl;dr version, the entire experience can basically be summed up in five emojis:
I knew that meeting Steve at OCon was going to be an emotional experience. I anticipated that, as a result, I was going to have difficulty controlling my tears, that all the feels were going to turn my brain into guacamole, and that I was going to have a hard time talking to him as a result.
I tried to prepare myself beforehand to counteract these effects. I made notes about what I wanted to say, and I tried to imagine what would happen when I met him. When it happened for real, I was successful in the former regard (controlling my tears) but had less success in the latter (communicating articulately). All things considered, I think I did pretty well, because there was NO WAY I could ever have predicted or prepared for what actually happened.
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.
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.
Approximately two months ago (wow, really?), I posted an interview that Steve gave at the Supercon in Louisville around the end of November, I believe. This week (well, technically last week) I received notification of video of a panel discussion from the same event.
Couple of noteworthy things about it:
If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*
However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry: “[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”
In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.
Sometimes I see photos that people have posted on Twitter, and they’ll remind me of a Muppet song, so I make a joke about it. It’s happened three times now, which I think qualifies as a running gag, so I’d like to share my immense cleverness with you nice folks over here:
Gigantic thanks to reader and commenter Sidney who alerted me to the existence of this newly posted interview that Steve gave at Louisville Supercon in either late November or early December. It made my day. Pretty much my whole week, really:
For months (and this isn’t a criticism, just a statement of fact), Steve has been talking in the vaguest of terms about new characters he’s been developing, and now we finally have something more specific. Apparently he made a new character debut in Louisville. Someone commented upon it on Instagram, but I didn’t mention it at the time because I didn’t know any specifics.
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.
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.