“The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence”

This is my damn blog.  So I’ll geek out a bit if I want to…

“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights…”

20 years ago today, Jim Henson died.

I was 13, and I remember crying.  I remember watching a segment on the news with my family, as we were (are) big Jim Henson people.  Up until a moment ago I remembered playing with blocks, but my goodness, that must’ve been some other famous person’s death, right?  I mean, I wasn’t playing with blocks at the age of 13, right?  Right?

I’ve written before about how I first learned about comedy through the antics of ‘Pigs in Space‘ and Animal.  To this day, I don’t think you can really find any kind of better anarchy then those old Muppet Shows.  I still remember watching Sesame Street and then Fraggle Rock, and to my mind it’s not really Christmas time until ‘John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together’ is playing.

I’m naturally given to admire anyone who can create such effortless silliness, such whole new worlds, but until I discovered Jim Henson the popular artist I admired the most was Walt Disney.  And after reading Neil Gabler’s terrific (and exhaustive) biography of Disney a few summers ago (Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination) I still admire Disney greatly, though not for the reasons we normally associate with him–  ‘Uncle Walt’ was a tyrant, a completely unsatisfiable boss who managed to create stunning technological advancements in entertainment.  And here’s where I admire Jim Henson perhaps even more:  He was able to do that, but nicely.  (I still can’t think of any better sentiment than Kermit’s to Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie: “Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy.”)

The stories of Henson’s ability to work with his puppeteer, his writers, his staff are legion.  This is the man who wrote, in the letter unveiled at his funereal celebration, “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”

To this day I still laugh at  old Fozzie / Kermit routines, or get a bit choked up when I hear the opening bars of “The Rainbow Connection”.  If you’ve never seen Sam the Eagle’s schtick in the last project Jim Henson himself ever worked on (the 3-D attraction at the Disney theme parks, back when 3-D was novel), well, you’re missing some great comedy.  I still get excited when a new Muppets viral video hits the web.  I still do a pretty good Grover-imitation.

Some artists influence you long after their death.  The first piece of theater I ever saw was Sesame Street Live!.  (My application essay to NYU included the unfortunate sentence The Muppets have touched me in many special places. It’s a wonder they didn’t accept me.)  A few years ago I went with some friends to a big-screen revival of the original Muppet Movie in L.A.  When I try to write silly comedy, I try to channel the spirit of Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, Richard Hunt and, yes, Jim Henson in the glory years of the Muppets.

I once saw an interview with Brian Henson, in which he said when his father didn’t know how to get out of a scene, to end a scene, he would, “… throw penguins in the air.”  I’ve hardly heard a better description of life than throwing penguins in the air.

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here. It’s a wonderful life and I love it. – Jim Henson

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One Response to ““The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence””

  1. Melissa Says:

    I love this entry and am a Muppet fan myself (I used to have the poster of Kermit with his boxers sticking out of his jeans with the words “Kermit Klein” on them). And after watching many “Christmas Carol” adaptations, the Muppet one is BY FAR the best!

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