Fraggle Rambles: I’m Never Alone

I’m partial to the Wembley Fraggles of the world, but I heavily identify with the Boobers.

I was listening to ‘I’m Never Alone’ on the way back from work tonight and I couldn’t help but consider just how much I and my favourite Dave Goelz character connect on a low-lying, perfectly dull and static way. Boober is perfectly fine with his rather morbid way of looking at the world, even if it doesn’t seem like it some of the time. We actually share the common trait of overreacting and dramatising even the smallest of problems.

Back to the song, it’s odd that I often forget about it, but once it starts playing, I can’t help but relate to every lyric….which is also odd because I hate being alone with my own thoughts most of the time. I guess the song just reminds me that no matter how many times my own mind screws me over, I can count on it to be there for me no matter what.

You really can’t place that kind of trust on anyone else can you? When you think about it, if you haven’t got you, then what do you have left?

I don’t know…..these are just the random thoughts of someone who’s been awake for nearly 19 hours and really felt like posting something tonight.

Here, enjoy the song while I go to bed and “zzzzzz” the night away…..

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The Birthday Boys

Every September 24th (AKA Unofficial Kermit the Frog Day), I get to marvel over one of the best coincidences of all time: Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire sharing the same birthday. I’ve heard so many people call it fate, that it wasn’t a coincidence at all that Steve ended up becoming Kermit’s performer because he was literally born for the role.

I’m not usually one to mystify or romanticise things, but you know what? I’m inclined to agree with that notion!

Listening to Steve’s episode of Integral Naked (which I could leave a link to, but you’d have to pay for it), it’s always fun to hear Steve talking to Ken Wilbur about the first time he mentioned to Jim that they shared the same birthday. “I knew there was something really strange about you, ” Jim apparently said to him upon hearing the news.

Every now and again, I like to think about how Jim and Steve would celebrate the day if they happened to be working on a production at the time. Did the rest of the cast and crew throw a party for them? Did they tease each other over it? Did they do a present swap and watch each other in anticipation of their reactions? Was there a super-adorable cake saying, “Happy Birthday Jim+Steve!” and they blew out the candles together while wearing matching party hats?

A/N: I may or may not be gushing over the cuteness of that image.

See, these are the type of silly questions I’ll be asking until my final breath!

Personally, I celebrate the occasion every year by watching my favourite performances from either Performer. Allow me to show you two of my absolute favourites from Jim and Steve respectively. To start with Jim, I always go back to ‘Time In A Bottle’. The song itself is beautiful, but Jim always had a habit of making something good into absolutely brilliant.

To some up Jim’s performance in the clip below in one word- Magical.

It’s a bit harder to choose a golden moment from Steve. Not because the choices are slim-pickings, quite the opposite actually. My top pick comes from Fraggle Rock. The episode, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ breaks my heart. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times in the past, but it’s hard enough to watch your favourite character witness a death firsthand, let alone going through the motions of grief with them as well. Steve handles Wembley’s extensive spectrum of emotion beautifully and as a result, it’s one of the best performances he has done of any character.

Unfortunately there were no (decent) clips I could find to accompany it, but here’s the best screenshot I could take from that episode.

screenshot-87

Best Friends at First Rockfall

I could go on all day, but I want to spend as much time as possible today just appreciating the impact both of these men have had on my life. September 24th not only symbolises the Muppets’ creation, but also the continuation of the legacy that has held the Muppets up to this very day. Jim started it all and Steve has continued in his stead, even away from the franchise itself.

To Jim, where ever you happen to be right now, Happy Birthday! I’m sure you’ll be celebrating it with everyone who has joined you on the astral plane. I’m sure the party is crazier and more raucous then is even conceivable in this reality. Do me a favour and save me a piece of that cake for when I can get up there and join you, okay?

And to Steve,

The Happiest of Birthdays to you, mate. I know the past year has been a rough one, so my gift to you is the hope that the following 12 months brings you better days and a brighter future.

As the well-wishes pour in from fans all over the world, to sound completely corny, I’m also hoping it further solidifies in your mind that you are loved and appreciated even outside of your personal social circle. I must admit, it feels great knowing that I can now say this directly to you rather than tweeting birthday wishes where you would never see it.

Here’s also hoping that your friends and family positively spoil you to bits. I’m sure your family has it’s own special birthday traditions; in the spirit of family, I’ll be popping open a bottle of wine tonight and toasting you from afar.

Cheers from a fellow Libra…I mean Libran…..Lib-Librarin? Libranite?

….from…from Marni….just Marni will do.

Fan Review:”Jim, with a T”

From the Melbourne Fringe Festival website:

“Jim, with a T” is a tribute show to the life and work of Jim Henson. Written and performed by Tim Green, the show explores the worlds of Henson through the songs his characters have made famous. As Tim seeks the secret to Jim’s genius, and shows just how said genius has affected his life, the audience goes on a journey to recreate some of Jim’s most iconic moments and get in touch with their own inner happiness and creative imagination. Funny, touching, and somewhat crazy, the show blends the innocent wisdom of Jim Henson with the difficult cynicism and anxiety ever-present in Tim’s life. Come along, sing a song, and see how a life can be changed with a little bit of felt and a lot of imagination, both Jim’s and Tim’s.

This show was exactly what I had been needing these past few months!

I can’t review the show from the perspective of a critic, but I certainly can as a fellow devotee to Jim Henson’s legacy. I was going to leave it to the morning to write this, however, there are somethings you just can’t set aside until later.

Down in the basement of the Metropolitan Hotel in North Melbourne, I and one of my best friends (who I may or may not have dragged along with me) gathered with several other Henson fans to be regaled with the story of Jim’s life; from birth until his final days.

And it was wonderful. 

When the stage area was blacked-out and the lights popped back on to reveal Tim in a Kermit outfit with a ukulele, ready to sing ‘Rainbow Connection’, I knew we were in for something special.

Equipped with only a microphone, a few props and an accompanying pianist, Tim recreated the scenes of several key Muppet songs that outlined or related to Jim’s life. He opened with ‘Rainbow Connection’, sang ‘Time in a Bottle’ when touching upon how Paul Henson Jr’s death affected Jim and connected Sesame Street with ‘Rubber Ducky’. Also included was ‘I Hope That Something Better Comes Along’, ‘I’m Going to Go Back There Someday’, ‘Just One Person’ and finally, ‘Being Green’.

It was an absolute delight watching Tim enthusiastically make his way through Jim’s story, using a child’s easel and drawings on a giant flip-book as a visual timeline. As Tim reminded us, Jim once said that, “Simple is good” and Tim definitely used the minimalist approach to his advantage. No prop went to waste and their use, along with Tim’s banter, had us all in stitches.

Since I already knew Jim’s story, what truly resonated with me was Tim’s personal connection to Jim as a follower of his philosophy. The clear reverence that showed in Tim’s expressions as he talked helped to establish my own connection to him as the performer. Tim mentioned the years he had felt as if he was displaced, a bit of a disappointment and his fear of not amounting to much. Learning about Jim and the Muppets helped him overcome these anxieties.

I couldn’t possibly relate to this sentiment more; I discovered Jim in the prime of my adolescence: when I truly needed him the most. I certainly wouldn’t have had the guts to pursue a career in film if I hadn’t been introduced to Jim’s ridiculous optimism! I also nodded in understanding when Tim admitted that trying to explain why he loves the Muppets can be embarrassing.  I agreed with his observation that the Muppets have a sense of warm familiarity to them that leaves you feeling as if, in the end, no matter how bad things get, it will get better, perhaps even amazing!

After a teary recount of Jim’s death and following memorial and beautiful renditions of ‘Just One Person’ and ‘Being Green’, I walked back up the stairs and bought a drink, ready to reflect on what I had just witnessed. Throughout the whole show, I had laughed, teared up, mouthed along to the songs and gasped when I realised what Tim was going to do next. In those moments, everything had felt just about right.

As an added bonus, my friend who I had dragged along had enjoyed the show just as much as I had. To my surprise, mostly thanks to the songs, which she had never realised the beauty of before, she ended up finding her own Rainbow Connection. She couldn’t believe that a genius the likes of Jim Henson could be there one minute, then gone the next. She was pretty emotional about it afterwards.

I wound up explaining that, yes, Jim’s sudden death was a tragedy and that it’s okay to be initially sad about it. However, after a while, the sadness goes away and you’re able to think about Jim and smile because he had existed. We get the privilege of living in a world touched by Jim’s influence and that is certainly better than nothing.

Ladies and gentleman, we have a brand new addition to the Muppet Fandom! May her time in our ranks be weird and pleasantly unstable!

All in all, it was the best 50 minutes I could have spent in the basement of a pub. Tim is truly passing on the legacy of Jim Henson in his own special way. If you happen to be in Melbourne and haven’t seen the show yet, you can buy tickets here. The show is running until Saturday 23rd.

Best $15 you’ll spend this year!

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Moving Forward

Yeah, yeah, I know, this is a complete turnaround from my last post, but there’s something I’ve been holding back from talking about on here due to needing more time to gather my thoughts about it.

This is going to be surprising coming from me, but I have complete faith in Matt Vogel. Not only in him, but Peter Linz, David Rudman and the rest of the Muppet Performers as they all adjust to the recasts. Apart of me is still reluctant to recognise the changes, but I’ll get over it. I really wasn’t sure what to make of things until I watched a series of clips from the Hollywood Bowl. What I saw was astoundingly good, making me want to jump through the screen and join all of the lucky show-goers. ‘Happy Feet’ especially brought a new sense of optimism into my heart about the future of the Muppets.

So I absolutely trust the Muppet Performers. As for Disney?

Ehhh…..That’s gonna be a work in progress. Aside from my disappointment in their decision to deny one of the most experienced and influential performers a chance to redeem himself, there’s another (hopefully minor) concern I have in regards to the executives of Muppets Studio.

Muppets Take the Bowl was a great idea. It brought Muppet fans from all over the world together, pulled out all the stops, hit all the right notes and highlighted the best part about the Muppets: the puppetry. By doing it, Disney not only established that the Muppets won’t disappear, but that they understood the Muppet’s history and the magic that has made them so beloved. However, that being said, it also highlighted a problem they’ve been battling since day one:

Disney can connect to the Muppets’ past, but they’re struggling to lead them into the future.

It’s always great to get a new taste of The Muppet Show, but if Disney wants to keep the Muppets as a viable franchise, they need to develop something long term so they don’t keep falling back on the same old gimmicks. By all means, build upon what Jim Henson established by keeping his goals for the Muppets in mind, just don’t outright mimic it. There’s only so many times I can hear the ‘Comedian’s a Bear’ gag before it starts to wear thin on my sense of humour

Nostalgia has played a huge role in the Muppets success of recent years, but it’s also caused a few problems. The 2015 Muppet Show was highly anticipated, only to quickly meet its doom when the casual audience realised Kermit wasn’t going to be singing ‘Rainbow Connection’ at the end of every episode and Piggy wasn’t going to karate chop someone at the smallest inconvenience.

Oh, how dare the characters change things up a bit?! To be fair, the writing for that show was mainly horrendous. It was kind of a relief that it was cancelled before it caused some real damage. It’s wasn’t the writers intention to mess things up, but they seemed rather ignorant to who the Muppets truly are. If rumours are true, then the opinions of the Muppet Performers were often pushed aside in favour of catering to the standard sitcom tropes, throwing Muppets anywhere they could fit.

I guess if there is anything I want to recommend to Disney, it’s to give the Muppet Performers a heck of a lot more license over their characters then they do now. Why try to write for the soul of the character when the person who embodies that soul is standing there in front of you? Between the wish of the performers to organically grow the characters personalities and the endless creative resources Disney has at their fingertips, I’m sure there are projects that could be developed that could move the Muppets forward in a positive way and not have anything to do with The Muppet Show.

Let me see….I’ve addressed the Muppet Performers…..Disney and their main issue…What’s left?

Ah, right. Steve.

Boy, oh, boy, I’ve discussed you to death and back, haven’t I, mate? You know, I used to deliberately avoid discussing Steve in my blog posts because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was overly-obsessed with him.

Crikey, did that ship sail fast from the shore….

Unless Steve drops some kind of bombshell, I haven’t much left to say about him here on the Halibut. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve put a great deal of effort into getting Steve’s ideas and points of contention out into the open, and I’ll continue to do so, just not so much on here. I’ll hang around and join the discussions on Pundit, tweet links to his posts and probably get into arguments with people about the subject matter on Muppet Central, but there has to come a time when I am able to move past something in order to embrace something new.

Steve, I’m going to drop a link to this on Pundit, which means you’ll end up reading this since you insist that you read our stuff. There’s something I really want to get across to you.

And I’m saying this with all the love and admiration I can muster: Just as the Muppets will do their best to move on without you, I sincerely hope you will do your best to move on without the Muppets. By all means, say what you feel you must say about these characters; you’ve earned that right, but please don’t let it consume your life. I imagine you possessing a strong mentality, it shows in your continuing Muppet Crusade. You’re intelligent, stubborn, quick-witted, empathetic, kind and most importantly, a man of many talents.

I have to be honest, I’m scared for your future. The thought of never witnessing your creativity in action again is a dreadful one. I may be ready to move on with the new era of Muppets, but I remain one of your most devoted fans. As of this post, I’m remaining with you as a fan who wants to see you rise above the limitations you contended with as a Muppet Performer. This is the chance for you to come into your own as a creative mind and I sincerely hope you take advantage of it.

This isn’t me being pushy, it’s me trying to hand you a key to the door of many possibilities. It’s more than likely that you’ve already considered all this, which is certainly a good thing. If the day comes that you announce a project that’s all your own, I’ll be one of the first to greet the news with a cheer and bubbling excitement.

I think I’ve addressed enough to satisfy quite a few people. If there’s something I didn’t touch on that you would recommend I do in the future, by all means, leave a comment below and I’ll get around to it at some point.

 

A Quilt of Bricks

In late 2016, I screwed up. Big time.

I’m not comfortable with sharing all of the details, but basically, it was my first year of living on my own and I only had limited funding. I was getting Centrelink payments that barely covered the rent for my student apartment, which meant that it dug into the Relocation Scholarship I had received, and I was relying on my family for money so I could actually eat that week. It was supposed to be a temporary situation until I gained some type of employment.

Moving out of home to attend university came a year after just working and enjoying no longer having to suffer through high school. Between the stress of getting good marks, battling my anxieties and the dramas happening in my social life, Year 12 had not been good to me, so my gap year was a decent break. University was the promise of something different that would lead me towards the place I actually wanted to go. Moving out of my hometown signalled the beginning of a new life. It was exciting and alluring…

However, it was also blinding.

Don’t get me wrong. Going into this, I knew I was taking a huge risk. Moving two hours from home meant giving up my job, preventing that financial safety-net. The biggest mistake I made in my decision to move-out was giving little-thought about the effect it could have on my family. I was so overly optimistic that everything would be perfect: that I’d quickly find a job, renting a student apartment would be a breeze and financial stresses would be virtually non-existent.

Biggest mistake of my life thus far.

As 2016 was in it’s dying months I found myself getting cocky and spending money I didn’t have. I had been out of work for over 6 months and every dollar counted, yet I kept spending. One day, I checked my account after my debit card voided to learn that I only had $35 left in my account. At first there was panic, then shock, which eventually settled to deep regret. The reality of my actions had finally smacked me across the face.

The following phone-call I made to my parents was the most devastating thing I’ve ever had to do. To tell the people who trusted you to do the right thing that you had royally screwed over both them and yourself is something you can only relate to if you have experienced it yourself. I look back on that day with numbness, remembering the disappointment in my mother’s voice and the tears streaming down my face over circumstances I can never take back. Ever.

The end result was my parents having to fork out the rent that the Centrelink payments couldn’t cover (I’m on minimum rates despite being independent) and me re-doubling my efforts to find a job. With every rejection email, another layer was added to my stress and guilt and it began to weigh on me like a quilt made of bricks. Christmas and New Years passed quietly and as 2017 began, it came time to decide what the nearest future was going to hold for me.

It was clear that I couldn’t stay in the student apartment, but where would I go? The obvious and most sensible answer was to move back to my hometown to find work and build my account back up, but that meant putting my Bachelor on hold for at least a year, if not two. I didn’t want to put my future on hold, but what else could I do? I had destroyed things for myself and I didn’t want to place even more of a financial burden on my parents when they were having trouble supporting themselves.

Fortunately, a resolution came in the form of an offer from a sympathetic family member of one of my best friends. He offered me the spare room in their place for a reasonable price per fortnight as long as I promised to find a job or a least proved to be working hard to find one. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and I’ve been living there since March.

So, at least my living and education situation was somewhat solved, but there was still that lingering feeling of regret that plagued my mind and made me border-line depressed. The rejection emails from potential employers kept on coming and with every one, I began to draw into myself more and more, becoming distant with my friends, family and life in general. I always tried to smile and laugh, but deep down, I was amazed I could face the day. Sometimes, the quilt of bricks would become too much to bear and I would burst into tears, writhing around in bed trying not to let the stress get to me, resulting in sleepless nights fighting off panic attacks.

I tried not to crumble, but I did. I always did.

This went on for some time before my pride gave in and I decided to seek help. This isn’t a subject I could simply sit down with my family and discuss. I needed a neutral ear, someone who would listen to me, completely unbiased, but sympathetic. And so, I went to a counsellor offered by my university. I was worried she would confirm my fears that I’d fallen into the pit of Depression, but instead, she helped me realise just how disorganised my mind had become.

She knew exactly how to get me talking, and soon the past seven years of my life came pouring out: the bullying from others, the pressure of adolescence, fighting off self-hatred, poor body image, dealing with friends who were battling their own demons, being too scared to show vulnerability, detachment from my family and watching my dog’s health slowly deteriorate until we had to put him down. And of course, what happened in late 2016 and the fear of repeating my biggest screw-up in the future.

Crikey, it’s no wonder I clung onto the Muppets from the moment I first gave them recognition….They’ve been a coping mechanism for the past five years!

It only lasted a few sessions but the counselling did me a world of good. Probably the best decision I’ve made since becoming an adult. I still had a couple of restless nights afterwards, but they didn’t lead to tears, just laying back and thinking about what I needed to work on and improve in order to make my own way in this world. It had been made clear to me that moving out at the age of nineteen wasn’t a good idea. I was too naive, close-minded and immature to be able to completely go solo.

Call it fate, but a couple of months after the therapy, I had the random idea to advertise myself on a website as a student looking for hospitality work in my particular area. Less than two hours later, I get an email from a woman who was looking for someone to work for her. I ended up calling her as an initial screening which ended with an offer for a job interview, news which I only told a couple of friends and kept a secret from my family. I didn’t want to get their hopes up just to have it go south. Again.

Two weeks later, after a nerve-wracking interview with the woman who answered my advert, I got to call my mum and surprise her with the news that, not only did I finally get a job interview, but….it was successful. The job consists of working in the kitchen of a private hospital. I prepare trays, wash dishes and deliver meals to the patients and staff there. It’s a pretty well-paying gig and I’ve been there for nearly two months now.

Nowadays, I wake up every morning with a reasonably positive attitude. Yeah, I still have some anxieties, but at least I’m not stressing about whether or not I’ll be able to afford my rent for the next few months. I pay my own bills and for my own food, and have even been able to afford the use of my car, which I initially had to leave behind in my hometown. This is all I really wanted; to be able to take my financial burdens off my family and just be a regular uni student who works hard to pay her own way.

That quilt of bricks is gone and no longer weighs me down. I no longer feel like a useless piece of garbage. That’s the best feeling of all.

It goes without saying that I’ve done a heck of a lot of growing up over the past year and half. I no longer think life is a breeze, but I’m not stressing about the future either, just taking things day by day. That’s pretty much the only way we can do it. Even better, I have an incredible family and amazing friends to it all with. They were all there when I needed them the most and it’s high time to return the favour. I intend on showing my gratitude one way or another as we all move on.

So, was there actually a point in telling you about all this? Well, I suppose it comes down to wanting others my age to know that no matter how badly you’ve messed things up, you’re not the only one. I’m only 20. In just over three weeks, I’ll be 21 and still tripping over my poor life decisions. Will I screw things up again? Probably, but that’s what life is all about, stumbling your way through until you reach the other end. If you stop and process things every now and again, you may even learn from your mistakes, improving your life and the lives of others along the way.

Now there’s a philosophy I can follow…..

Late Night Nonsense: Strange Parallels

Here’s a comparison that is so utterly ridiculous, it actually works.

“Oh Marni,” some of you may quip, “Are you seriously doing yet another post about Steve Whitmire? We get it already, you love him. But come on, it’s time to let it go. It’s nearly been three months! The Muppets Take The Bowl was a smash hit, all of the recasts have made their debut and Matt Vogel in particular has been getting rave reviews. Just move on already!”

And to those people, I respond with a big, “No, thank you! Writing about this has been hugely therapeutic and I won’t apologise for my extended grieving process. Whether you want to read my posts or not is entirely up to you.”

For tonight’s therapy session, as already stated, I’m going to draw parallels between Steve’s situation, my situation as a Muppet fan and two songs that come from a very odd source, completely unrelated to the Muppets: A Very Potter Senior Year.

That’s right. My source material is the third and final instalment of a Harry Potter musical parody.

Just…just go with it, okay? Trust me, there is much merit in this.

In AVPSY, Harry Potter finds himself having an existential crisis. After capturing the last of Lord Voldemort’s remaining Death Eaters, it becomes apparent that Harry’s time in the spotlight is coming to an end. There’s no need for him anymore, no more daring battles to fight and no more glory to be claimed. Therefore, he is no longer relevant, a fact that Harry find’s rather difficult to accept.

The first song I’m going to discuss, ‘When I Was’, is a duet between Harry and a young Tom Riddle (who is planning revenge in the present day). They sing their anguish over no longer being who they thought they were going to be forever. Just from that description, the song can be connected to Steve, who really did believe that he was going to be with the Muppets for the rest of his life.

While Steve’s story correlates almost perfectly with Harry’s, in a way, Steve can also relate to Voldemort in this song, being framed as a villain no matter what he may say to defend himself. The lyrics are incredibly sombre and resonate so well with the current situation: Steve has been left in the dust by the majority of the Muppetdom, who just want to move on with their lives. Don’t get me wrong, they have a right to do so. But for those of us still standing next to Steve, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Take a listen, read the lyrics and I dare say you’ll also pick-up the same undertones I have every time I listen to this song.

The second song is, unsurprisingly, called ‘Everything Ends’. It’s that song that occurs in every musical when the star has hit their all-time low and needs to accept their circumstances before they can move on and save the day with a new outlook on life. Harry finally gives into the truth that he is no longer relevant and as a result, his father James Potter, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin come back as ghosts, along with a few others, to sing this song and to give him a new sense of hope.

Let’s switch things around: instead of a down-and-out Harry, you have a down-and-out Steve. In the place of James, Sirius and Remus, you have Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt, who are eventually joined by other Muppet folks who have passed on. In turn, they reassure Steve that if he decides he wants to, it’s okay to let go and move on to another adventure. After keeping up with Steve since July, I know that this certainly isn’t the case. Steve’s protectiveness over the Muppets defeats any notion of completely detaching himself from them.

So let’s change things up again: placing myself in Harry’s position and pretty much the rest of the fandom in the phantom shoes of James, Sirius and Remus.

“You can’t hold on to what’s gone,” my fellow fans inform me, “Don’t try to fix it, just move on. Only then you’ll see the world [the Muppets] all brand new.”

I’m doing my best to move on, but it’s still difficult to adjust to the Muppets without Steve being apart of the cast. I rather enjoyed the videos that have emerged from the Bowl shows, however there was that niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something was sadly amiss. It’s going to be that way for a long time. It was probably the same for most fans after Jim passed away. Forgive me for saying something so brash, but in this case, it’s somehow worse, because unlike Jim’s death, this whole situation could have been reversed with some open conversation from both parties.

I’m trying to be understanding of those fans who have already moved on and I hope that they are willing to extend that courtesy back in my favour. As for Steve, I’m not going to try to speak for him as that is rather disrespectful, but I will ask of Muppet fans everywhere that they allow him to continue to speak out for what he feels is the truth. Just as I write on the Halibut to clear my head, Steve has obviously had a lot things he’s been wanting to get off his chest over the years, Muppet Pundit now being his place to vent.

Even if it permanently disconnects him from the Muppets, at least Steve will be able to look back on his efforts and say that he did everything he could. As for me, I’ll continue to help him do so. It’s the least I can do for the guy that inspires me everyday.

Mid-Week Rant: ‘Easiest Job in the World’

Warning: Explicit Language

Right, it’s time for what I foresee as my weekly bitch-session.

Being the curious person I am, over the past three months, I’ve been trekking my way around the internet to gain some kind of consensus from the general public about both Steve Whitmire’s termination and Matt Vogel taking up the role of Kermit the Frog. While the majority of opinions have been rather reasonable and tolerable, there have still been some that have pressed down on my nerves in a very uncomfortable way.

There is one opinion in particular I managed to ignore at first, but soon rose above all others to the point where I can no longer leave it be. It’s ridiculous that such a minor observation could make me want to scream in frustration, but you what? I’m a die-hard Muppet fan; it’s my responsibility to inform the general public about why they are bloody wrong…especially about this…

To sum up the collective bullshit in a single phrase:

“Who cares who voices Kermit? As long as it sounds like him, it’s fine. Being a Muppet guy is the easiest job in the world.”

Okay…

first of all…

to everyone who holds that opinion….

go fuck yourselves.

Secondly, you could not be more misinformed, you ignorant cock-splashes. For starters, the voice is only worth 10% of the entire performance. If you can’t grasp that fact, Frank Oz may be compelled to hunt you down and etch it into your forehead using the tip of an arm-rod. The proper term is either simply ‘puppeteer’ or ‘Muppet Performer’-

NOT VOICE ACTOR.

The Muppet Performers don’t just speak in funny voices and clamp the Muppets’ mouths open and shut to make it look like they are talking. Holy fucking Henson, there is so much more to it than you seem to think there is! I’m certainly no puppeteer by any means (yet) but from the research I’ve done through my recently discovered interest in the art-form, I can tell you with all certainty that there is not a single style of puppetry in existence that doesn’t come with its own intricacies and challenges.

The Muppet-style of puppetry (or ‘monitor-puppetry’ as I have seen it referred to as), is particularly difficult due to its use in television and film. It’s also utilised for the stage, however, Jim Henson originally intended for this style to cater to the needs of television. By treating the frame of the TV like the proscenium of a puppet theatre, the Muppets and their cousins are able to use the entire space in the frame to move around.

Basically (I apologise to my readers who already know about this shit), a puppeteer holds the puppet above their head in front a camera, ducking their head so that it isn’t seen within the camera’s frame. In order to watch what they are doing, the puppeteers don’t stare up at the puppet, they look down and around at strategically placed TV monitors so they can see what the camera is capturing-effectively becoming their own audience.

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David Rudman (Head, Voice and Body) and Matt Vogel (Arms) tag-team for Cookie Monster in front of a basic monitor set-up.

That is the most basic of set-ups when it comes to monitor-puppetry, as there are circumstances of filming where the puppeteers are placed in far more restricted and challenging circumstances. They could be performing on elaborate sets that have multiple levels and have to also accommodate to actors all while working with multiple cameras and monitors. They could be dealing with between two-to-fifty other puppeteers that they have to get in close quarters with or dodge as they make their way around the set during a take. And what about those times where there’s a mix of traditional and animatronic puppetry going on? How do they coordinate all that?

And don’t forget the times where puppeteers find themselves crammed into ridiculously cramped spaces. The easiest example would be Muppets who go on talk shows for an interview where they are sitting on a couch. Kermit might look nice and relaxed in the photo below, but Steve, a man who is over 6-feet-tall, certainly wasn’t comfortable being stuffed into such a small space.

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Muppet/Sesame/Henson performers constantly find themselves working in circumstances that most of the general public would hear about and immediately think, “Fuck that! Why would anyone willingly do that to themselves?” I will get to the answer to that particular question in the conclusion of this rant. For now, though you may have noticed that I haven’t even gotten to the performance side of things yet.

Well, luckily for you, I’m just about to dive into it!

Like I already said, performing a Muppet is not just about providing a voice and making the puppet move. You don’t just play a character- you embody it. Once you have created or been assigned to a character, you are the cause of it’s very existence and must provide all the basic functions that a normal human being possesses. You are the source of its personality and the one ultimately in charge of preserving and evolving it. You are the Muppets’ memory bank: the Muppet should be able to remember places they’ve been, people they’ve met and things they’ve said and done because you yourself were there.

The Muppet should be an extension of your own being as you perform it. If I were performing Miss Piggy, I stopped being Marni Hill the second I placed her on my arm. Marni ceases to exist entirely. There’s only Miss Piggy until the director calls for a cut, sometimes even then!

Trust me when I say it takes a shitload of time to get to the level of discipline where a puppeteer can accomplish such a feat. No matter how naturally talented they are, no one can just pick up a puppet, throw their arms up into the air and immediately be able to pull off a believable performance.

There are so many aspects to take into consideration:

  • body posture
  • body language
  • facial expressions
  • lip-to-hand sync (keeping the puppets mouth in time with the voice)
  • arm gestures

Is the Muppet holding a prop? Do they have extra mechanisms in their head to work with?Is the Muppet playing an instrument? How many other Muppets is the character going to be directly interacting with within the space of one scene?  Is it a full-body shot where several puppeteers are working different limbs in order to give the Muppet the illusion of walking or dancing?

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There’s almost too many things and variables to take into consideration.

Here’s a scenario for you:

You’re the puppeteer of one of the main characters. For the sake of context, let’s go with Fozzie Bear. In this situation, you are Eric Jacobson. As Eric, you currently have Fozzie on your arms, your right hand performing his head and left arm performing Fozzie’s left arm. But you’re not alone, there’s a second puppeteer performing Fozzie’s right arm. So now you have someone else to consider within the performance. Luckily for you, the second puppeteer happens to be Peter Linz, someone you know quite well and already know the rhythms of, therefore making a great duo.

In the scene you are about to perform, Fozzie is the unwilling sidekick in Lew Zealand’s Boomerang Swordfish Throwing Act. On the other side of the set is the team of Matt Vogel and…..for kicks, let’s go with Tyler Bunch for Lew, who like Fozzie is a live-handed puppet. So now not only do you, as Eric, need to work with tandem with Peter, there are also another two puppeteers to play off of. Towards the back of the set are a bunch of other puppeteers performing various Muppets that make up the audience for this scene.

The scene begins with Fozzie standing still, nervously facing Lew as he winds up his pitch, swordfish in hand. They exchange lines, Fozzie protests his ‘volunteering’, Lew assures him everything’s safe and that the act is going to go off without a hitch. Fozzie disagrees with that sentiment and loses his cool, running away from the situation. Lew takes after him, still reassuring him and winds up throwing a swordfish after him in his enthusiasm. Fozzie screams and jumps behind the audience of Muppets. This causes the crowd to start panicking and they too start screaming and running for their lives. At this point, Lew is using his seemingly endless arsenal of swordfish, excited that the act suddenly includes audience participation. For a minute, there’s nothing but Muppets running around yelling and random swordfish flying all over the place before the scene ends.

Seems pretty simple, right? Well, only on the surface. Those idiots that think The Muppets are the easiest gig in the world clearly have no idea what the fuck is going on underneath the frame. In two words, “Absolute chaos.”

Aside from having to stop and start over many takes and other normal proceedings that occur during film-shoots, the Muppet Performers have to split their concentration into many different sectors in a single moment. In this situation, as Eric, once Fozzie starts running from Lew, you immediately have to take into consideration that Peter needs to run with you, so off the two of you go, trying not to trip over each other. You’re not just heading around the set aimlessly, there are certain points you have to hit to make sure you can find a monitor.

Once the other Muppets take their cue to start panicking, suddenly there’s about 15 other people to avoid and duck around, the set is ruckus and noisy, there’s tripping hazards like wires and set pieces to avoid, you have to keep your head out of the camera’s frame, you have to remember the timing of Fozzie’s actions, you can’t get too far away from Lew too quickly or otherwise Matt and Tyler won’t have time to aim and fire the swordfish over your head, there’s crew members also throwing the fish from the sidelines, so you have to dodge them too, if a fish hits Fozzie, you need to be ready to react and on top of all of that, you need to keep Fozzie in character at all times and remember his lines.

All. At. Once. Take, after take, after take, until it goes as smoothly as it possibly can. You could be doing that for hours. That’s not easy; that’s a nightmare. A fun nightmare, but still a huge pain to accomplish no matter how experienced you are.

And speaking of pain, have I mentioned yet that performing Muppets fucking hurts? No? Well, now you know!

The Muppet Performers don’t talk about it often, but in order to bring the characters we love so much to life, the puppeteers find themselves constantly pushing their bodies to their physical limits. Performing with their arms over their heads is painful enough as their arms start to ache from keeping the Muppet steady in addition with the weight of it. There’s also those situations where the performers may be required to perform on their knees, backs, stomachs and/or contorted in uncomfortable way to fit under a couch or table or something to that degree. Imagine doing that shit for hours and hours on end!

I’ve heard stories about Muppet Performers eventually needing surgery due to the permanent damage the work does to their nervous and skeletal system over time. I’d be horrified to know the cost of their chiropractic bills! Watch this video about the workings of Big Bird where both Carroll Spinney and Matt Vogel reveal painful incidents that have occurred while performing the Sesame character.

My question to those out there who think being a ‘Muppet guy’ is so easy, my question to you is this: if Muppets can be such a pain in the ass to perform, why do these people decide to make a career out of this? Why put themselves through such physical strain just to make a frog play the banjo, a bear tell jokes, or a humanoid throw rubber fish?

The answer: they do it for you, you ungrateful dipshits!

I mean, yeah, they mostly do it as a means of expressing themselves and utilising their various skills, but at the end of the day, you and I as the audience are the main benefactors of the end result-The Muppets at their very best! What pisses me off the most about your ignorance is that you completely underestimate the sheer talent and dedication it takes to be in the top tiers of the Muppet legacy. This amazing group of people didn’t spend years honing their craft just for you to brush off their efforts and dismiss their careers as a piece of cake.

So the next time you’re watching The Muppet Movie and you’re enjoying the beautiful song that is ‘Rainbow Connection’, take into consideration that Jim Henson himself was crammed into a modified diving bell, underwater with a monitor in his lap, and his right arm sticking up through the log for several hours over the course of several days.

Just so you could enjoy the simple sight of Kermit in his natural habitat.

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So yes, it does matter who performs a character like Kermit because the puppeteer is so much more than just the ‘voice’! If you really don’t want to know about the behind-the-scenes stuff as to not ‘break the illusion’ than that’s okay. Just promise me you’ll be more considerate and appreciative of what’s happening below the frame in the future.

This is a now fizzled-out Marni signing off…

 

 

The Kid Who Just Wanted to Learn From Jim

This is what happens when you have a few hours to spare and a certain topic has been plaguing your mind since early July…

Way back in the 70’s

A kid of only 19,

Joined the cast of the wackiest show,

The world had ever seen.

The work itself was exciting,

A bright star-studded affair.

But there was something far better,

That deserved that kid’s care.

 

There was this guy, Jim Henson,

The mastermind of the whole thing.

When it came to being a genius,

He was incontestably the king.

The man was this kid’s idol,

Astounded to work with him.

The kid’s name was Steve Whitmire,

Who just wanted to learn from Jim.

 

For nearly thirteen years,

That’s exactly what Steve did.

With Jim, he created and performed,

Just as he’d dreamed while still a kid.

Through rats, and Fraggles and Creatures,

Trumpeters, Whatnots and more,

Jim’s legacy became Steve’s duty-

Not responsibility, but a law.

 

When 1990 struck Jim down,

Steve stepped up with true grit.

Kermit was his new lifestyle,

Not just a new character bit.

As the 90’s came and went,

The Muppet family changed and shifted.

While it was of slight concern,

New members proved to be gifted.

 

A change of keys in 2004,

Brought about major concerns galore.

Did Disney have tricks up its sleeve,

To leave Muppet fans wanting more?

And what of the established puppeteers,

Forced to adjust to the changing of gears?

Would Disney support them in good taste

And not reach out for the shears?

 

It was never in Steve’s options,

To leave such things to chance.

And so began that tricky waltz,

The Whitmire-Disney dance.

With a quick dodge and a low dip,

You tip-toe, 1-2-3-

Just enough to get your point across…

And not nudge too hard, you see?

 

From 2010 to 2015,

The Muppets were back on the rise.

Pleasing fans both young and old,

And every shape and size.

More importantly, the Muppets were safe,

And the puppeteers on the high of their lives,

Never could have predicted,

2016’s nasty….little…… surprise.

 

Once upon a grand time,

Steve was where he wanted to be.

Just being a talented puppeteer,

While preserving Muppet integrity

As his career continued its path,

Steve knew that he could cope.

Things weren’t quite like the old days,

But with progress came great hope.

 

But now that time is over,

And Steve’s been sent to roam,

Far away from his family,

And the world he once called home.

It’s almost been a year now,

There’s a loss for what to do.

The man is still quite displaced-

And his fans are quite lost too.

 

Many a thing has been said,

To destroy and to defame,

And tarnish the high standards

That once came with Steve’s good name.

Steve has done all he can,

To explain and to defend.

But it’s not his name he wants to save-

It’s the characters he must mend.

 

So what is left to be done,

When the world moves right along?

And Steve is left in the dust,

Like a forgetful gimmicky song?

A question must be answered,

A tricky, multi-sided goal.

Can the Muppets still be the Muppets…

After losing its loudest soul?

 

The answer will soon come.

As time ticks by we’ll see.

If Disney truly can be trusted,

With the characters loved by me.

Of course, not just I,

We all hold these characters to heart.

Perhaps down at ground zero,

Is the safest place to start.

 

So there I am on Muppet Pundit,

Ready to listen and to consume,

The information that may keep,

My Muppets from certain doom.

We’ve found ourselves a mentor,

And though things may seem dim,

Let’s listen to that young kid…

Steve Whitmire-

Who just wanted to learn from Jim.