Written by Ryan Dosier.
The Jim Henson Hour Episode 101: “Outer Space” (1989)
Most recent appearance…
The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005)
Best known role…
Cool-cat, host of Muppets Tonight
“I’m Clifford, your homie made of foam-ie!”
WHO IS CLIFFORD?
Clifford is the coolest of the cool, the hippest of the hip in the Muppet family. His species is undetermined, but allusions have been made to him being a catfish. It is mostly agreed, however, that Clifford is a humanoid Muppet… even though he’s purple–but Scooter is yellow and Bunsen is green, so who’s to argue?
Clifford first appeared as the bass guitarist for Solid Foam, the funky, techno-style band featured on The Jim Henson Hour. The other members of the band consisted of Digit, Beard, Flash, and an unnamed female drummer. Clifford obviously became the most popular and widely-seen member of the band, appearing in the Muppet Central segments of The Jim Henson Hour with Kermit the Frog and the other main members of the cast.
Clifford would later appear in the 1990 television special The Muppets at Walt Disney World where, for the first and only time, he acted as another member of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, playing various percussion instruments and even getting to sing a line of “Rock and Rollin’ Around the World.” That same year, Clifford had a semi-prominent role as one of the gang in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, helping Fozzie Bear and the rest of the Muppets to try and figure out who Jim Henson is. In this special, he inadvertently called Bean Bunny a yo-yo (you have to see it to understand it).
Clifford didn’t appear again for six more years, when, in 1996, Muppets Tonight went on the air. Thanks to a cell phone miscommunication, Clifford was named the host of the new show by Kermit. For the two seasons that the show was on the air, Clifford played emcee as a horde of guest stars visited the show. He notably tried to get a kiss from Paula Abdul, helped Sandra Bullock prevent a bomb threat, and exuded jealousy towards Dennis Quaid. Clifford acted as host for every episode and even acted in the recurring sketch “Fairland P.D.” alongside Bobo the Bear.
On Muppets Tonight, Clifford lost his sunglasses and his bare eyes were revealed for the first time. Initially, the puppet was built with only sunglasses and no eyes, but for Muppets Tonight eyes were added and Clifford was much more uptight and less cool. This can of course be attributed to the pressures of hosting duties, but the sunglasses are crucial to Clifford’s character, and losing them caused him to become less enjoyable than he once was. Even Kevin Clash was against the sunglasses-free Clifford.
Thankfully, when Clifford joined the Muppet cast in a supporting role in Muppets From Space, the sunglasses returned, and so did the cool Clifford character. Clifford’s most notable scene in the film was when he got the mail, excited to have a new letter from someone named Shanaynay. It was here that he also asked Gonzo if he wanted his new issue of Insanity Fair (a publication that, regrettably, does not really exist). In the movie, Clifford hung out around the Muppet Boarding House and went down to Cape Doom to see the aliens arrive, where he also met up with Katie Holmes and offered her a spin in the Muppets’ new hot tub.
Clifford was most recently seen in 2005 in the made-for-TV movie, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. In the movie, Clifford had a small role acting as the bouncer for the Poppyfields nightclub. Once again, Clifford retained his sunglasses look and his coolness. He had a few lines here, as he allowed Dorothy (Ashanti), the Scarecrow (Kermit), the Tin-Thing (Gonzo), the Lion (Fozzie), and Toto (Pepe) entrance into the exhausting club.
Clifford has not appeared since his brief role here, but in interviews Kevin Clash has expressed interest in bringing Clifford back to the Muppet world in a different role. Nothing has come of this yet, but perhaps we’ll see Clifford return once again sometime soon.
WHY DO THE MUPPETS NEED CLIFFORD?
Clifford is the sort-of black sheep of the Muppet clan. He’s not widely beloved by fans, he’s no longer often seen, and his character niche is hard to determine. So why do the Muppets need Clifford? Well, for one, he adds a level of “cool” to the gang that only the Electric Mayhem can match. Clifford is naturally hip in a group that is naturally un-hip. It works.
Clifford is also one who believes in “the dream” as much as any other Muppet. He too feels that singing, and dancing, and making people happy are important. Why else would he have willingly taken the job of hosting Muppets Tonight when he never even applied for it? Because he’s a Muppet, that’s why, and Muppets always put on a show no matter what it does to them (see: taking a cannonball to the face, being electrocuted, controlling wacky guest stars, etc.). Clifford is as dedicated as any other Muppet and even after Muppets Tonight when he was just part of the group, he was there as just another one of the gang trying to make it in the world.
Besides all that, Clifford is a great character performed by one of the world’s most talented puppeteers: Kevin Clash. Clifford gives Kevin a great character to interact with the rest of the Muppet gang, and bringing him back would only mean that Kevin’s talent gets to shine again in the Muppet universe outside of Sesame Street. I for one really enjoy Clifford and hope that he returns someday with his sunglasses, his cool attitude, and Kevin Clash performing him. That’s the Clifford I love, and that’s the Clifford I’d love to see again.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org