A Narrative of Very Heavy-Duty Proportions: A History & Tawdry Love Affair with The Muppets
Mark J. Hansen – I’ve tried reaching back into the darkest recesses of my mind to recall what precisely spurred on my lifelong love of the Muppets. Believe me, this was a frightening task. I don’t even like reaching back to the poorly lit recesses of my mind. You don’t know what’s lurking back there!
I certainly remember being enamored of Sesame Street as a youngster, in particular the comedy stylings of Bert and Ernie, the unbridled enthusiasm of Grover and the smarmy shoutiness of Guy Smiley. For many years, when my family drove to Springfield, Missouri for summer vacations, we’d listen to a tape of Sesame Street Sing-Along! I still recall all the words to Ernie’s classic, “George Washington Bridge.”
But what really made the Muppet love take hold of my brain with its felt arms attached to rods and adhere itself with Gorilla Glue so it stuck real good was The Muppet Movie, hands down the most influential movie of my life. The corny gags! The fourth wall breakage! The romance! The camaraderie! The lovers! The dreamers! And Steve Martin! I remember spending one recess when I was in the 1st grade traveling the perimeter of the black top, pretending to be Kermit and Fozzie in a Studebaker, singing “Movin’ Right Along” and turning left at the fork in the road. I was a strange child with few friends. In my defense, I totally rule. (Note from Ryan: Yes, yes you do.)
My parents encouraged me to watch The Muppet Show, primarily I think because they enjoyed it as much as I did. When I first began reading, I carried two books with me everywhere I went: Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Muppet Movie Book, which I still have to this day. And it still has my name written (very shakily) in the front cover. I also have the Muppet Family Christmas to blame for breaking one of my parent’s China plates. My brother and I were reenacting the Fozzie/Snowman comedy routine and when pretending to slip on the icy patch, I caused a dish from fall from the China Cabinet and shatter into four or five pieces. I don’t remember if my Mom was mad about it, but it put a damper on our reenactment (and may be the reason this sequence has been removed from the home video version.)
My family didn’t have HBO, so I was not as exposed to Fraggle Rock as most other Muppet super fans, but whenever the free trial weekends would come around, we’d tape all the movies and shows we didn’t get a chance to see otherwise. So, my brother and I wore out a tape with the “Inspector Red” episode on it, and I was particularly tickled by Marlon, the Peter Lorre of Fraggle Rock. And we didn’t even mind the bars running across the screen with the 800 number to call and subscribe to HBO. All of my siblings and I were way into Muppet Babies as well. (Though, I have to pause and rant here, because it used to drive me crazy when people my age would see plush dolls or photos of Muppet Show Muppets and refer to them as “Baby Kermit” or “Baby Gonzo.” It’s just Gonzo, if he doesn’t have a diaper, are you that clueless!? Come on!) I also wore out a tape that had two episodes of The Jim Henson Hour, the first episode and the “Dog City” episode.
Hindsight is 20/20, no matter what Barbara Walters says, and in hindsight I can’t explain how I completely missed Muppets Tonight. It’s possible it aired when I was in college and didn’t have easy access to TV. I think I was aware that it existed, but never saw an episode. I will confess that I am among the few who thoroughly enjoyed Muppets From Space, especially because my friend Brad and I were practically the only ones in the theater, aside from a Dad and his son. We were laughing harder than they were!
Today, I continue my mad Muppet obsession through the new line of BOOM! Kids comics, including The Muppet Show Comic Book and all of the Muppety retellings of classic tales. I was a big reader of comics back in my sadly ever-distant youth, and with the new comics I have found myself stopping at the local comic shop to pick up the latest issues on a regular basis.
In conclusion, the Muppets endure because of their uninhibited silliness, strong characterizations and relationships and a smart sense of humor which appeals to both children and adults on the same level. My appreciation of them has never aged, because they’ve always spoken to goofy and intelligent sides of me along with the pop culture referencing, the sincere and daydreaming sides of me. That essentially encompasses all sides of me. I am, at heart, a Muppet.
And if you think this essay is long-winded, try asking me about the Marx Brothers.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier