Friday, September 21, 2007

Come and Play, Everything's A-OK: The Feast of Saint Jim

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists everywhere,

This week in my first year seminar, I've been teaching Isaac Newton from his masterwork the Principia where he goes on and on about "phenomena." As a result, I have not been able to get this tune out of my head.As chance would have it (work of the Cosmic Comic?) this just happens to be the week of the Feast of Saint Jim honoring the birthday of Jim Henson, creator of the muppets, star of Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and films both silly and heavy.

Born in Mississippi, he moved when young to Hyattsville, Maryland where he began making puppets for a local kids' tv program. Studying art and textiles at the University of Maryland, he considered giving up puppetry until he visited Europe and was blown away by the art form it was there, not mere child's play. He worked primarily in commercials, although appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show helped his career blossom.

And then in 1963, he came together with puppeteer Frank Oz and writer Jerry Juhl and the rest was history. They did good work for six years until approached by the Childrens' Television Workshop for a cutting edge kid's show and Sesame Street was born. The muppets became part of the consciousness of every child and the world has never been the same.

In 1976, the Muppet Show debuted (after being turned down by every American network on the grounds that adults would never want to watch puppets). Kermit made the move and Henson soon discovered, it's not easy counting green. Of the new characters to emerge -- Fozzy Bear, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Animal, the Swedish Chef, Beaker -- perhaps the funniest of all were Statler and Waldorf, the heckling seniors in the balcony.Henson died of a severe strep infection in 1990, too too young. We miss you, Jim and thanks for all the joy.

So, what was your favorite Sesame Street or Muppet Show bit?