Jim Henson, the chicken of a generation’s humor.

18 Sep

I was talking to my Dad the other day, and he mentioned a song called ‘Take Ten Terrific Girls,’ and suddenly from the depths of my subconscious all the rest of the song came burbling to the surface. “Oh,” I said, “the one that goes ‘take ten terrific girls, and only nine costumes, and you’re cooking up something grand?’

Usually when this sort of thing happens and I start to question what portion of my brain is storing this stuff, I can go straight to one source for who put it there: The Muppets. I was fed a steady diet of Muppet entertainment as a child, and am only realizing now how extensive their song use was; there are many classics that I can’t listen to without imagining not Sinatra, but a monster singing to his poor innocent food (“I’ve Got You Under my Skin”), or Mummies singing to the archeologists who found them (“Night and Day”) or even a man singing to the letter that literally has a hold on him (“You/U Really Got a Hold on Me”). And, apparently, they also covered bawdy obscure Charles Strouse ditties that seemed to totally stump my impressively musical-theater brained friends.

So, being once a child of the Muppet generation and now an Adult of the google one, to the computer I went to see if my vague memory of an unclothed felt muppet hiding amongst showgirl muppets was correct, and lo and behold, it was:

In watching it again, I was struck by three things: one, wow they took some risks. Can you imagine a quasi-kids show today singing a song saying that one naked showgirl makes a grand show? It’s subtle, and I’m sure the kids watching probably didn’t pick up on the bawdiness of it (as I clearly didn’t), or were happy to see the sad muppet in the undershirt and leave it at that. And I think that’s great – I used to watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show all the time when I was a kid, because my Mom predicted, rightly, that I would love the theatricality and totally be bored/non-comprehending of the raciness (Then again, I sure do have a lot of corsets and platforms now. Hmm…)

Secondly, the muppets are awesome. I mean, seriously. That’s some funny stuff right there, cleverly done, using a good song in a great way.

Which brings me to my third thing; perhaps it’s the chicken and the egg, but I was astounded when I watched this clip at how much this was exactly my sense of humor. Stadler and Waldorf have always been my favorite for their sheer joyful obnoxiousness and how they crack themselves up (the best!), but heckling Kermit about his lame opening number and it’s hypothetical contents, then having Kermit turn around and cancel the opening number that they clearly just accidentally described? AWESOME (although perhaps not the most racially sensitive moment there with the teeth). Having Fozzy in the box heckling because he wants to see an opening number with bears in it? AWESOMER. Having Stadler and Waldorf back in their box at the end, heckling their own number? AWESOMEST. There’s in-jokes, meta-jokes, theater jokes, and a mortified muppet in an undershirt. Bliss!

But if I cast my analytical eye on the bliss, I do notice that these elements are all very much a part of the type of humor that seems to rule today in all forms of pop culture. Self-referential, smart,  ironic, sarcastic, meta – it’s a kind of humor that expects you to know all the established canons of culture, and then laugh as it breaks their rules. Although no doubt this overarching humor trend is due to many many factors, some entirely unquantifiable, isn’t it just a little bit possible that the people responsible for creating much of this humor today (my generation and a little above), are a generation raised on the muppets and their very distinct style? Did Jim Henson and his felt puppets end up creating a generation’s sense of humor?

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One Response to “Jim Henson, the chicken of a generation’s humor.”

  1. Todd September 19, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    I do so love the Muppets, thy were indeed brilliant!

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