Hi-Ho! Kermit the Frog Here
Let's talk about the Muppets.
I know, that seems like a weird thing for me to say. But I have a deep connection to the Muppets that played a vital role in the development of who I am today. Okay, that sounds like a weird thing to say, too.
Sesame Street first aired on November 10, 1969, the week after I turned 3 years old; I was literally the original target audience for it. My parents used to swear that the show was the sole reason I could already read when I started school. Remember, this was a time when there were a total of three television networks plus PBS, so there weren't thousands of screen-time choices for children. Saturday morning cartoons were the extent of it. A daily afternoon educational program was completely new and groundbreaking.
Big Bird used to call Mr. Hooper (the store owner) "Mr. Looper" and he'd holler him, "Hooper! HOOPER!" Later a big hairy elephant Muppet showed up and Big Bird asked him about his trunk. He said, in a very Eeyore-like voice, "Ohhhh...that's my snuffle." Then Big Bird asked him what kind of animal he was and he said, "Ohhh...a snuffle-up, I guess" so Big Bird called him "Snuffleupagus." Snuffy was funny because he only showed up when Big Bird was alone and all the other people on Sesame Street thought for years that he was Big Bird's imaginary friend.
One day my dad came home from work while I was watching, and he said, "Hey, there's Kermit!" Now my dad was in his 50s when I was born. I'm not saying he was out of touch with our childhood things, but I am 100 percent certain that he couldn't have named a single character on Saturday morning cartoons. So I was legitimately wide-eyed when I responded, "YOU KNOW KERMIT??"
"Sure I know Kermit!" Dad said. "Kermit used to sell coffee on late-night TV!" Dad imitated the ads: "'I hear you don't drink Wilkins Coffee?' 'Yeah? So what?!' POW!" and then he'd laugh and laugh. (There might have been more to that conversation, but that's the part I remember. I was 4.)
Jim Henson started making ads for the Washington DC coffee company in 1957, with a prototype Kermit that wasn't even a frog yet. Local stations only had 10 seconds for station identification, so the ads were lightning-fast -- eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product. The ads featured the cheerful Wilkins, who liked Wilkins Coffee, and the grumpy Wontkins, who hated it. Wilkins would often do serious harm to Wontkins in the ads -- blowing him up, stabbing him with a knife, smashing him with a club. It was a rather violent beginning for our beloved Kermie.
When I was 10, Jim Henson expanded his exposure because he was afraid Sesame Street was pigeonholing him as a children's entertainer. He wanted to do something that would appeal to a wider audience. And again, my family was the exact market he was looking for. The show's vaudevillian wit, absurdist humor and slate of parodies were wholesome family fare that delighted young and old alike. My whole family watched it, but I remember that my dad and I were especially big fans; me, because of my relationship with the Muppets and Dad because the humor was just his type. He especially loved Statler and Waldorff - the two old guys in the balcony.
Later there were Muppet movies. (Guess who took me to those?) After years of doing musical theater, I went to college to major in education, with my dream job being a role singing and teaching on Sesame Street. I never actually followed through on either of those goals.
My dad died when I was 23. I imagine my lasting affection for the Muppets has every bit as much to do with missing him as it does the fact that they were my constant companions as far back as I can remember. Every generation of children have that I guess, whether its Barney or Teletubbies or SpongeBob. Mine just happened to the Muppets - the most groundbreaking, creative, talented, funny, heartwarming group of lovable characters in the history of children's entertainment.