Surprising stories behind 20 Muppet characters.
February 10, 2009 11:23 PM   Subscribe

Surprising stories behind 20 Muppet characters. Example: "Miss Piggy is apparently from Iowa".
posted by teamparka (55 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oooh! *knee to the groin* Thanks for telling them! Now, where was I? *fluffing wig*
posted by telstar at 11:34 PM on February 10, 2009


Animal contracted Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in the early 90s but is living his life to the fullest and is an inspiration to many. That's right. He's a cat. And gay. You have a problem with that?
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:43 PM on February 10, 2009


Miss Piggy entering beauty contests in Iowa is not a surprising story. It's common knowledge that that is where Kermit and Fozzie met her as told in The Muppet Movie.

Common knowledge among right-thinking people at least.
posted by AndrewStephens at 11:53 PM on February 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Don Music was one of my faves. But apparently he got banned because kids were mimicking his self harm. Kinda wondered why he fell off the radar. 30 years later THE INTERNET comes up with the good oil.

Oh, and that big blue fella is called Herry Monster. And from memory, he only worn pants once. I reckon that's interesting.

/Apologies if those 2 factoids appear in the link, have not RTFA.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:05 AM on February 11, 2009


Sorry, he only wears pants in books. Doesn't he look bloody ridiculous?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:12 AM on February 11, 2009


Thanks for this. I was just doing some Muppet-themed Googling, and I ran across this clip of the Muppet puppeteers singing in character at Jim Henson's memorial service. I dare you to get through it without crying.
posted by Optamystic at 1:24 AM on February 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Kermit has decided not to dabble in the commodities markets any longer...

He lost his wad in pork bellies.
posted by netbros at 1:33 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]




Elmo is bigger than Elvis!

And I'm inspired by Elmo's creation myth:
apparently this extra red puppet was just lying around. People would try to do something with him, but nothing really panned out. In 1984, puppeteer Kevin Clash picked up the red puppet and started doing the voice and the personality and it clicked -- thus, Elmo was born.

Elmo is one of the few celebrities who has succeeded the way I hope to succeed; by just lying around, failing, until someone else does something with me.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:03 AM on February 11, 2009 [14 favorites]


Nice post. The Sodomy Song was one of childhood all-time favourites.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:33 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is pretty cool. I spend a lot of time with muppets, and it's nice to know a little bit more about them. Not that this is going to come in handy...

"Schmoopette! Did you know that Kermit used to be made out of Jim Henson's mother's coat?"
"Elmo."
"Yes. Elmo. Well, he was a red puppet no one was using until Kevin Clash started using a funny voice."
"WATCH ELMO."
"What's that you say? In Turkey, Oscar the Grouch lives in a basket!"
"WANT ELMO! ELMO!"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:39 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


grapefruitmoon, I can sympathize, though perhaps with more vengeance: I loathe Elmo. He wasn't around when I was watching Sesame Street, and it seems to me he's stolen Grover's rightful place as the frenetic, not too bright muppet. He's like Nermal, if Garfield was still worth reading. Everyone always talks about Elmo, but the good characters are still there. Grover, the Count, Oscar. Screw Elmo.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:21 AM on February 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


More Muppets singing. mee mee mee mee
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:37 AM on February 11, 2009


"Frank Oz was Bert's puppeteer and hated him at the beginning. He thought Bert was ridiculously boring..."

That's not true at all! Bert has lots of interests beginning with the letter "L"!
posted by giraffe at 3:52 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


2. You have to love Statler and Waldorf. I couldn't find much on their particular inspiration, but I can tell you that they've been around since the 1975 "Muppet Show" pilot. They are named after popular New York City hotels (the Statler Hotel was renamed the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1992.) Guess what Waldorf's wife name is? Yep... Astoria (she looks startlingly like Statler.) FYI, Waldorf is the one with the mustache and white hair. Statler has the grey hair. Apparently Waldorf has had a pacemaker for more than 30 years.

Supposedly they were based on two curmudgeonly old professors at the Radio, Television, and Film program at University of Maryland. I went there and this is what one of those professors told us, who had Henson as a student there.
posted by poppo at 4:22 AM on February 11, 2009


No muppet thread is complete without the Song of the Count.
posted by grippycat at 4:42 AM on February 11, 2009


The German Muppet Show takes some liberties with the characters.
posted by martinrebas at 4:46 AM on February 11, 2009


This just made me really really miss Jim Henson. Plus, I can't believe they took out the evil laughter and lightning and thunder from the Count? Because it was scaring the kids? Jeez. Kids today are wimps.
posted by nax at 4:57 AM on February 11, 2009


I may have to back out of the room
after posting this

But I find it enjoyable
Peaches - "Fuck the Pain Away" sung by Miss Piggy perezhilton

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aGTNS13SDU


Please at least appreciate the time involved.
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 4:59 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


[Count von Count] used to be more sinister -- he was able to hypnotize and stun people and he laughed in typical scary-villain-type fashion after completing a count of something and thunder and lightning would occur.

I didn't realize his name, not just his title, was Count. Nor did I know that about the hypnotizing. I have noticed that he doesn't laugh and there's no thunder and lightning anymore. :(
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey Ghidorah, you're just in time for I Hate Elmo Week.
posted by orme at 5:07 AM on February 11, 2009


[Telly] was obsessed with TV and his eves would whirl around as if hypnotized whenever he was in front of a set. After a while, producers started worrying about his influence on youngsters...

This is what makes Jim Henson and his crew amazing. Thankfully, I was a child at just the right time to revel in his movies. I had no idea that my mind was being shaped by a guru of right living.
posted by nosila at 5:14 AM on February 11, 2009


I count during a thunderstorm and have a sinister laugh and my daughter thinks it's hilarious. Thankfully they took it off the show, so she's none the wiser (for now).
Most of my humour is from The Muppet Show.
posted by czechmate at 5:19 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, so, the Count, when he counts, he doesn't laugh at all? I mean, One! Ah hah hah! Two! Ah hah hah! that's the soundtrack to each and every time I count things!

Sidenote: I had a pullstring Count doll, pull the string, and he'd say "Counting is fun to do," or he'd count. It was awesome. I moved away, came back years later, the doll is still there. I pull the string, and the motor, or whatever, was very, very slow. Think Good Morning Vietnam when the record is at the wrong speed.

Cooowwwwnnnntiiiiiinnnnnnng iiiiiiiihhhhssssss ffffffffffuuuuuuuunnnnn toooooooooooo doooooooooo! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH HAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH HAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHrrrrrr
posted by Ghidorah at 5:26 AM on February 11, 2009


Elmo is a False Muppet, to be shunned and denounced by the faithful.
posted by D.C. at 5:26 AM on February 11, 2009 [18 favorites]


will wait: That made me laugh way too hard. Sometimes I suspect I am actually a 13-year-old boy who has some debilitating neurological disorder that causes me to think that I am a 27-year-old woman.
posted by nosila at 5:36 AM on February 11, 2009


I'm not so sure about the accuracy of the article. Jim Henson actually did have a boyhood friend named Kermit, and it would be a huge coincidence if he wasn't the source for naming Kermit the Frog. His name is T. Kermit Scott, and he grew up to be a professor of theology. Anyhow I just like saying "Kermit the theologian here!" in my Kermit the Frog voice.
posted by jonp72 at 5:43 AM on February 11, 2009


Frank Oz is right. Bert is EVIL! Did you seriously think you could post something about the muppets and not have this come up?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:54 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how producers were worried about children taking up Telly's television addiction so they changed him into a chronic worrier. Because making kids neurotic is so much better.

I guess I shouldn't complain -- at least Telly knows how to use pronouns.
posted by giraffe at 5:55 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe I actually LOL'd at that Count video.

If Barack Obama brings peace and prosperity to the known universe, then we can look forward to more stories like this on CNN nightly news.
posted by ericbop at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miss Piggy entering beauty contests in Iowa is not a surprising story. It's common knowledge that that is where Kermit and Fozzie met her as told in The Muppet Movie.

That doesn't sound like Tony Bennett to me.

I loathe Elmo. He wasn't around when I was watching Sesame Street, and it seems to me he's stolen Grover's rightful place as the frenetic, not too bright muppet.

Grover, hell, he's stolen KERMIT'S place as sorta-MC of Sesame Street! I will never forgive him.
posted by cereselle at 7:49 AM on February 11, 2009


I beg to differ with CNN. There's nothing bizarre about having a romantic interest in chickens.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2009


I loathe Elmo. He wasn't around when I was watching Sesame Street, and it seems to me he's stolen Grover's rightful place as the frenetic, not too bright muppet.

Have you seen this indignity? There is only ONE Monster at the End of This Book, everyone. Hint: It's Grover.
posted by teamparka at 7:58 AM on February 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's always lovely to find a topic like the Muppets; something that makes practically everyone clutch their chest with moving memories.

Here's mine: Danny Kaye leading the whole gang for "Inchworm." I cry every time.
posted by Skot at 8:08 AM on February 11, 2009


I dare you to get through it without crying
I see your dare and raise the crying stakes with this one:
Big Bird sings "It's Not Easy Being Green" at the Henson Memorial. Oh, man.
Watch out for the ending.
posted by chococat at 8:40 AM on February 11, 2009


7. Animal: The Who's Keith Moon may have inspired everyone's favorite member of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. This is speculation, but people who support the theory will point out that Jim Henson named one of the Fraggle Rock characters "Wembley," which is the town where Moon was born.

I love Moon just as much as the next Who fan but Animal HAD to be inspired by John Bonham.
posted by Ber at 8:59 AM on February 11, 2009


*Bawls*
posted by rainbaby at 9:04 AM on February 11, 2009


Thank you, Metafilter, for assuring me that Jim Henson's memorial service was the greatest send-off ever.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2009


Wrong-sounding muppets:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sHSygCg9mY

Wokka Wokka Wokka ... who wants to hear a funny-ass joke?
posted by LilBucner at 9:13 AM on February 11, 2009


I dislike having to defend Elmo, as he is far from my favorite character. But he has many good points. He's hardly a false Muppet. He was created by Kevin Clash under the close tutelage of Jim Henson. (Unlike the even-more-annoyingly-voiced Baby Bear, the worst character in the history of the show). He appears in the much-beloved Follow That Bird discussed here recently, and has been on Sesame Street in his current form for almost 25 years. When you see Elmo appear outside of the show (where they don't have to worry about research and modeling behavior for a preschool audience), for instance on a talk show, he can be very funny. He can be funny on the show, too, just not as edgy. Preschoolers relate to him and respond to him, because he's like them. The mission of the show is to help kids around the world be better prepared for school, regardless of the resources they have. Elmo has helped countless kids in countless places learn to read! How can that be bad? And the profits from the Elmo books and merchandise go toward that mission as well. (And there was no shortage of Big Bird stuff when he was on top for the first 15-20 years of the show). He's essentially unisex (although I wish they could have a similarly unisex character that's technically female--Zoe is nice, but doesn't quite cut it). And as for his grammar--hello, Cookie Monster? Unconventional but internally consistent grammar is a staple in kids' entertainment. I for one am all for it.

I know it's uncool to like Elmo, but surely it's getting a little played out to slag on him by now.

I love how producers were worried about children taking up Telly's television addiction so they changed him into a chronic worrier. Because making kids neurotic is so much better.

Yeah, especially since Sesame Street totally got me hooked on TV for life anyway. (Though I am also a bit of a worrier...hmm...)

Finally...Big Bird's history is just as interesting as some of these. He was based on a dragon puppet for La Choy or something, right? And he started out as a total dunce, kind of like the village idiot. I guess he's still kind of dense, but he had a dopey look and a doofus voice in the first season.
posted by lampoil at 9:15 AM on February 11, 2009


I wish one day they would find Elmo's corpse in a sleazy motel with a needle in his arm and a dead hooker in his bed. I effing hate that muppet.
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 9:17 AM on February 11, 2009


Big Bird isn't an idiot, he's supposed to be like 5 years old. I didn't make this up, right?

"Do you speak American?"
"Well, I speak English."
"CLOSE ENOUGH!"
posted by giraffe at 9:44 AM on February 11, 2009


OBLIGATORY! : Kermit Bale
posted by liza at 9:44 AM on February 11, 2009


lampoli: Yeah, Elmo CAN be good, but on the show he's usually not. What people bemoan about Elmo is that he's the emblem of the show's slide from great-for-kids, great-for-adults territory into more being solely for kids. We're not all reminiscing about Sesame Street for pure nostalgia, the show was genuinely funny for a long time.

There's the sense that the show has become, for lack of a better word, Barneyfied. We all grew up with the show's edgier style and it didn't hurt us much, did it? Yet now DVDs of classic Sesame Street bits are sold with a note saying they are no longer suitable for children! I mean, centuries back fairy tales could be quite gruesome. Surely kids can take a bit of hip humor?

(I'm still glad they toned down the Count though. Not the removal of thunder and lightning and the laugh, but the whole vampire-powers thing, that was freaky.)
posted by JHarris at 9:51 AM on February 11, 2009


Peaches - "Fuck the Pain Away" sung by Miss Piggy

And of course you have Kermit singing "Hurt" (which I can't link to since I can't find it at work).
posted by inigo2 at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2009


Man, while I dig the nostalgia trip, that was a poorly written, poorly researched article.
posted by klangklangston at 10:38 AM on February 11, 2009


Big Bird isn't an idiot, he's supposed to be like 5 years old. I didn't make this up, right?

No, that's true. But the original Big Bird had a more adult-sounding voice and a different-looking face. I mean the way-early version.

Sesame Street is less edgy now, for sure. But comparing it to Barney is a huge exaggeration. It's still much funnier for adults than most preschool shows. It's not really fair to compare it to how funny it was for adults when we were kids because we weren't adults then. My parents found Big Bird VERY annoying. It still has hip humor, but hip has changed. It still has pop culture references that kids would never get. It still has parodies of hit songs. Celebrities. Did you see the Neil Patrick Harris clip? Or the Will Arnet?

No one will ever replace Jim Henson and the other early creators of the show, but come on, it's not Barney! Not even close. And I think the changes are a genuine effort to keep the show fresh and dedicated to its mission. (God, I sound like I work there--I don't. Just a kids' entertainment geek).

Yet now DVDs of classic Sesame Street bits are sold with a note saying they are no longer suitable for children!

For this I'll quote another comment I made on MetaTalk a while back:
I think the disclaimer is silly, too. But I think it's less about it being weird and more about modeling behavior. I think all shows are way more careful about that these days.

I'm watching Volume 2 right now, and one of the first segments is Go Ahead and Touch, which shows film of kids visiting a petting zoo with a song with lyrics: "Go ahead and touch, go ahead and feel. Don't think too much about the way you feel. You might never have the chance again, and you'll have to remember when you were afraid to feel something warm and rich and real. Don't be scared. Don't be shy when something beautiful catches your eye."

The 1970s optimism and "carpe diem" philosophy is heartwarming, but I don't think many kids' shows today would run a segment with the message, "if you see something you like, touch it right away or you'll always regret it! If you have any doubts, just ignore them and get your hands on it." Especially when the visual example is animals (even in a petting zoo, where touching is obviously allowed).
Times have changed, that's all. The fact that the show is around at all after 40 years is a testament to its adaptability.
posted by lampoil at 10:42 AM on February 11, 2009


Nice post. The Sodomy Song was one of childhood all-time favourites.

I... that's... what?
posted by Caduceus at 10:43 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, if hating on Elmo has gotten old, then I don't wanna be trendy.

Elmo isn't Nermal -- Elmo is Scrappy Do.
posted by webmutant at 11:31 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


My biggest compaint about Elmo is his voice. He has the voice that Christian puppeteers regularly affect when doing their dreadful shows. Most muppets have rich voices (some quite deep), and relate to their audience in injecting a certain naivety into their manner. But they are sophisticated characterizations -- especially Frank Oz's, who, I believe, is the finest puppeteer alive. I mean -- Piggy, Fozzy, Bert, Grover? They were defined by their neuroses, and delightfully so.

Elmo sounds like an adult imitating a child, and doing it poorly.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:49 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sesame Street is less edgy now, for sure. But comparing it to Barney is a huge exaggeration.

Well I said Barneyfied; approaching the state of Barney. That doesn't mean it's there. Sesame Street is still better than Barney, yes, but that doesn't mean its influence hasn't been felt.

It is possible that lampoil is correct and it's just the difference in pop culture... but dammit, it's hard to convince me that popular culture itself hasn't gone downhill, and not just between my own childhood and the present day. NOW: Brittany Spears. THEN: Ray Charles.

We can all look forward to the day when emoticons and 1337-speak make their first appearance on Sesame Street.
posted by JHarris at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2009


I've got no beef with Elmo. Anytime his voice starts to bother me, I just think about Dora the Explorer. Why does everyone on that show YELL ALL THE TIME? ALL WORDS ON DORA THE EXPLORER ARE SPOKEN IN ALL CAPS AND SOMETIMES EN ESPAƑOL.

And yes, Baby Bear is way, way more annoying.

The biggest complaint that I have about "new" Sesame Street is how Cookie Monster can't eat cookies all the time without sending the message that it's ok to only eat cookies and get all fat. Dude! He's a monster! Do you have blue hair? No. So can you eat cookies all the time? No. Grow some blue hair, then we'll talk.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe I missed it, but nobody has mentioned that Elmo was the first muppet which children related to, because he was one of them. Previously, real children appeared on the show to interact with the muppets, who were more or less adult (Big Bird was supposed to be young, though not the same type of character). Elmo is put into the position of being the character which the child watching the show is supposed to relate to. They did a pretty good job, because that's exactly what happened when he was introduced, and he quickly became the most popular character. But, yeah, it changed the show from being about children and adults to being more about children. It was always for children, but now the child is part of the muppet world, too, and I think the separation was always something which made it interesting. A line was crossed, and it's still a great show, but the vaudevillian aspect (which helped inspire the Muppet Show) is far less conspicuous. It's like the difference between classic Warner Bros cartoons and Tiny Toons.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:16 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's like the difference between classic Warner Bros cartoons and Tiny Toons.

Eh, now that I think about it, not the best analogy.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:18 PM on February 11, 2009


Sam the Eagle makes regular trips to Thailand to enjoy the company of his, um "girls".
posted by The Whelk at 8:02 AM on February 12, 2009


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