It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights! It’s time to learn 10 things you might not know about the Muppets!
I am far more excited than a grown man with a full beard should be. I can’t help it. This ineffable joie de vivre has been slowly filling me to the brim and today my cup will indeed runneth over. For today I celebrate the release of a movie (“The Muppets”) that will contain such sheer, honest, unadulterated joy that it will be enough to eliminate all the bitter cynicism that has continually grown and festered in my coal black heart ever since I found out the truth about Sparky.
Healing the deep, emotional wounds that we all carry around takes time, energy, and years of therapy. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of hard work and good insurance. (And since we’re American, we don’t have access to either of those.) Instead, we’re going to put on our warm and fuzzy nostalgia robe – I keep mine next to my cold and lonely sadness boxers – and applaud the non-bastardized return of one of the few things that made our troubled childhoods bearable for at least half an hour every week. Of course I refer to those lovable scamps, the Muppets. So, for your reading pleasure, here are ten things that you may not have known about the Muppets:
10. The Name of “The Muppet Show” Pilot Episode
There were actually two different Muppet specials that were aired during the planning stages of “The Muppet Show.” The first one, in 1974, was a Valentine’s Day special. It was about love and chocolate and chubby naked angels and whatever Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about. However, it was the second Muppet special that really served as the true pilot episode. This second half-hour variety special was called “The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.” If you were too young to remember this or too young to be alive for this, I can only go ahead and assume that your brain has just exploded.
Here’s the part where I admit that I’ve led you all slightly astray. The first line of the episode is actually an announcer saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the end of sex and violence on television,” followed by Crazy Harry blowing the sign up using a giant Wile E. Coyote style detonator.
So why do I bring up this bit of misdirection? It’s to get you to rethink “The Muppet Show.” “The Muppet Show” was not just a fun show for kids that the family could watch together without getting bored; it was smart, funny, profound, satirical, surreal, and sometimes subversive. Watch the first part of “Sex and Violence” below. You’ll see what I mean.
9. What’s in a Name?
The Muppet has become so ingrained into our popular culture that most people don’t spend much time thinking about the reasoning behind its name. I’ll finally answer the question that is now on everybody’s mind: “Why is a Muppet called a Muppet?” To answer this question, I will turn to the single greatest philosopher of the late 20th century. I speak, of course, of Homer Simpson. If Homer has taught me anything — and believe me, he has — it’s that a Muppet is “not quite a mop and it’s not quite a puppet…but man…. So to answer your question, I don’t know.”
8. Not so fast, you’ve still got to answer question #9
Fine. They’re called Muppets because Jim Henson liked the sound of it. He told journalists that the word was a combination of puppet and marionette because it sounded more professional and plausible than the truth. Although if you really think about it, why would they be named after a combination of puppets and marionettes when there is very little marionette work to be found in a Jim Henson production?
Real #8. Mom’s Old Clothes
There is no way to write an article about the Muppets without mentioning their brilliant creator, Jim Henson. Almost immediately after starting in a theatre arts program at the University of Maryland, Henson got a job as a puppeteer at a local NBC station and within six months had his own five minute show called “Sam and Friends.” It was on this show that many of our favorite Muppets today were created, including everybody’s favorite amphibian, Kermit the Frog. How did Jim Henson create such an iconic character? He cut up a ping pong ball and one of his mom’s old coats that she was going to throw out and all of a sudden: magic.
7. Kermit the Frog, Amphi.D?
Kermit the Frog has a doctorate. That’s right. I’ll write it again just so it can wash over you a little bit more. Kermit the Frog has a doctorate. A green puppet made of felt could correctly be referred to as “Doctor.” Kermit received an honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters from Southampton College in New York. Dude didn’t even have to take out any student loans or go to classes! Kermit received this in 1996 for his work promoting environmental awareness and was bestowed this doctorate when he gave the graduating class’s commencement speech. No jokes here. Just let it sink in that a puppet got a doctorate, without going to classes, in a discipline the college just made up, whereas you have finals in three weeks.
6. Dracula’a Lament
Since this article was inspired by the return of the Muppets to the silver screen, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. In this case, we owe this revival to Jason Segel, our favorite, slightly-doofusy star of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Freaks and Geeks.”
So where does our goofy hero come into this story? In 2008, Segel starred in the funny-enough film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” as a musician who had spent his time working on the music for one of those CSI:NCIS:LMNOP:SVU shows. After he and his girlfriend break up, he starts to flex his creative muscle and write a musical. A Dracula musical. With puppets. And it was excellent! Seriously, it was. Watch it:
A lifelong Muppet fan, and emboldened by his work with puppets on the film, Segel and the director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Nicholas Stoller, pitched an idea for a new Muppet movie. Luckily for the rest of us, Jim Henson Productions went for it! The new movie was written by Segel and Stoller and looks to be a promising return to form for the Muppets. We can only hope that this success will carry the franchise further for decades to come.
5. Hogging the Spotlight.
During the run of “The Muppet Show,” guest stars would often request to be in segments with their favorite Muppets. Although you would think that the most popular request would be to interact with the face of “The Muppet Show,” Kermit, that was not the case. In fact, it was everybody’s favorite porcine princess, Miss Piggy, who was most requested.
4. The Origins of Oscar
Everybody loves Oscar the Grouch. Oscar, on the other hand, is a bitter misanthrope who hates all that he surveys and whenever he is sickened by the sights around him, he gets Bruno the Trashman to carry him around instead of getting out of his can and walking. (Although on rare occasions he will stick his legs out from the bottom of his can and walk down the street; all the while the lid will remain firmly attached to the top of the can so he doesn’t have to see the denizens of the “ghetto” known as Sesame Street.) Bad jokes aside, there’s more to our loveable Grouch than meets the eye. In fact, underneath that green exterior fur, he’s actually orange. Or so he says. When Oscar the Grouch first showed up on “Sesame Street” in 1969, he was a brilliant orange color with a black unibrow instead of brown. Jim Henson claimed that he was changed to green because it worked better on TV. We know the truth because Oscar told us: he turned green when he went on vacation to Swamp Mushy Muddy but just hasn’t gotten the filth off him because he doesn’t bathe (except for that one time he was in the tub while Ernie was singing the song “Do De Rubber Duck,” but that was different since he was only there to make the most disgusting tub ring in the history of the world, not get clean).
3. Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed – like most Muppets! *gasp*
Here’s something that you probably haven’t noticed in all the years you’ve watched Jim Henson’s marvelous creations: a vast majority of Muppets are left-handed. Is it a statement of wanting to do something different? What could be behind such a vast statistical anomaly that it can no longer be an anomaly?
The answer is painfully obvious and easy to demonstrate. All you have to do is raise one of your hands like you’re putting it in a puppet to work its mouth. More than likely you raised your dominant hand, and more than likely that hand was your right. That means that your left hand is free to move the Muppet’s arms. In this situation, which hand of the Muppet will be easiest to work with? The left. Mystery solved. Tell Nicolas Cage that we won’t be needing him to solve this one. Too bad, he could probably use the money.
2. Want your own Muppet? Fine.
You can get your own, custom-made Muppet from the Jim Henson Workshop. Seriously. They cost around $100, are made of high quality material, are fairly customizable, and are, as the kids say, totes adorbs. The kids say that for totally adorable, right? I’m still hip. Facebook.
These are the Muppets that my wife and I had made to use as decorations for our wedding. They went well with our musical selection of “Somebody’s Getting Married” before our processionals and “Mah Na Mah Na” as our grand entrance into the reception. Okay, maybe “Mah Na Mah Na” was written by somebody else, but once the Muppets get ahold of something, it’s theirs. It’s basically the same rule you should have followed that time you dropped your camera in the monkey cage at the zoo. I hope you learned your lesson from that one…
1. Statler and Waldorf are the best Muppets. End of Discussion.
This article is by Joe Riska, who writes for a company that sells a wide variety of t-shirts, including cool movie t-shirts. He plans on seeing the new Muppets movie at least nine times in the theater.
Follow Spout on Twitter: @Spout