Sunday, March 11, 2012

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

I'm really glad that Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey has received wonderful reviews
from critics and audiences alike. I adored the documentary when I screened it last summer, and I know it pulled in some nice numbers when PBS ran it. So, now that it's widely available on Netflix, I thought it was high time to post my thoughts...

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
- “It’s amazing that that big a star isn’t recognized in the street.” [I never really thought about this before. Some voice actors are really rather famous, like Seth MacFarlane or Cree Summer, so many people would recognize them. But others you'd never know... it seems strange to me that I wouldn't recognize any of the Muppeteers, really, but it's a fact!]

- Kevin Clash loved watching the Wonderful World of Disney and wanted to live at Disneyworld. [I can completely relate to this. When I finally realized that television programs ran on a regular schedule, I struggled to NOT flip to the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights!]

- Kevin loved watching television and would start his day with an 8am airing of Captain Kangaroo. “Captain was a magical place… as opposed to the type of place that I lived, and the type of people that I saw.” [I used to pretend I lived in a world of Full House and The Land of Make-Believe, as I wasn't enthralled with my childhood life, either.]

- His favorite Sesame Street Muppet was Grover. [I never get over being shocked when someone tells me that Grover stands out to him/her. I found him to be really annoying and to always portray ridiculous characters - like SuperGrover, the waiter, and a pushover at school.]

- As a young boy, Kevin once cut up his father's trenchcoat to make a monkey puppet. He realized his dad would probably be pretty angry, but it went over rather smoothly. His dad also  helped him build a puppet stage, which allowed Kevin to do neighborhood shows, then soon several live shows in the Baltimore area. [reminds me of a time when I was eight or nine and my brother and I were shooting Nerf guns in the house. We accidentally knocked down my mother's clothesline and were terrified that we'd be punished. When she found out, she broke out into laughter.]

- People would pick on him, saying that he played with dolls. [I never thought about that... good for him for being true to himself despite what others said!] But, when he was in high school and doing a television show every Saturday afternoon, the tunes of others changed. He was even voted "most likely to be a millionaire" in the yearbook! [Is that different from "most likely to succeed?" I guess so, huh?]

- As a senior in high school, his mother arranged for him to meet Kermit Love, who designed many of Jim Henson's puppets. During Kevin's senior class trip to New York City, Kevin visited the workshop and saw new Ernies and Berts being built, and was able to learn where the fur and eyes come from, as well as how the Jim Henson-invented seams were done. [that must have been SO exciting! And to be so young when you get such an opportunity! Awesome.] 

- The year that The Muppet Movie came out, Kermit Love asked Kevin to do Cookie Monster in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as the big-time folks would be doing the Muppeteering on the film's float instead. [here, I'm so super-jealous! I'm a big fan of parades and I've wanted to go to the Macy's for as long as I can remember.]

- Kevin moved to New York City after being offered a job with Captain Kangaroo, so he was pretty busy with two series. Jim Henson offered Kevin a part in Dark Crystal, but Kevin was afraid to give up steady work for a short-term movie. [I probably would have been, too.] To this day he can't believe that he turned down Jim Henson. [agreed!] Of course, Captain Kangaroo began going down the tube soon afterward, as did Great Space Coaster, his other show. So, when Jim Henson offered him a part in Labyrinth, he jumped at it, playing the Fieries, which took 29 takes to get right. [I always enjoy having a reason to re-watch Labyrinth, so here's another one!]

- Then, it was on to Sesame Street, where he played Hoots the Owl, Ferlingetty Down and Getty, Nobel Price, and Juggles. Richard Hunt couldn't figure out a voice for the Elmo Muppet, so he let Kevin have a crack at it. Frank Oz suggested that the character had to have a hook, like Fozzie being a vaudeville comedian and Piggy "being a truck driver wanting to be a woman." Well, Kevin decided that Elmo should represent love. [interesting notion about the character "hooks."]

- Elmo as a character really took off (he's now essential to Sesame Street!), and soon, Kevin as traveling around the world with the Muppet. Lots of Make-a-Wish children ask for Elmo, and the list of celebrities appearing with the red, furry monster is ever-growing.
To meet demand, there was talk of adding a second performer, but Kevin said he could handle it. He did give the company some off-limits dates after a while, though, as he wanted to spend more time with his daughter, Shannon. [I would have never guessed that Kevin Clash is the ONLY Elmo! I definitely figured that they'd need a back-up with such a popular character!]

- [I love this one!] Kevin laughed at the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll because Elmo spoke in the third person... he didn't say, "me."

- The end of the documentary has Kevin inviting a young puppeteer to what it's all about, so perhaps he's changing Tau's life like Kermit Love changed his. [awww!]

TCA Summer 2011
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