Anybody who fucks with Henson, fucks with me

16 Nov

While I was down in Boston sleeping at his house, I stole borrowed the book Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live from my friend and collaborator Kenny Baclawski, and have started reading it. I’m always down to read about the history of famous comedians and comedy entities, and it’s similar to another book I finished not too long ago about Monty Python, where it’s just pretty much transcribed oral accounts from different participants in their history. It’s great to learn how it came about, especialy in the early days of the first season.

What really sticks in my craw, though, is all the shit that gets talked about the Muppets. For those of you who didn’t know, during the first season of Saturday Night Live, Jim Henson and the Muppet crew were actually a regular part of Saturday Night Live, doing adult-oriented humor with original Muppet characters set in “The Land of Gorch.”

For the specifics:

For some reason, according to everyone’s accounts, nobody wanted to write for the puppet sketches.  Here’s the one that really pisses me off, from Alan Zweibel:

Franken and Davis and I were the rookie writers, and the others always rigged it so we were the ones who wrote the Muppet sketches. So I went over to Jim Henson’s townhouse on like Sixty-eighth Street with a sketch I had written. There was one character named Skred [sic], and I remember we’re reading the sketch, Jim Henson’s reading the pages, and he gets to a line and says, ‘Oh, Skred wouldn’t say this.’ And I look, and on a table over there is this cloth thing that is folded over like laundry, and it’s Skred. ‘Oh, but he wouldn’t say this.’ Oh, sorry.

So, what the fuck? Just because the character is physically expressed as a puppet, that means the performer can’t have any valid ideas about the personality and traits of the character he created? You’re a comedy writer. You’re a creative personality. Seriously, you should know better than that, and now have had such blatant disrespect for somebody who just happened to choose a less conventional mode of performance.

When a “normal” human actor is given a character, often times the actor will create his own ideas, independent of the writer, about how a character would act or react in certain situations. Oftentimes, if a writer is savvy enough and doesn’t have too much of an ego, this can be used to add even further depth and a more organic nature to the character. What is more valid about an actor saying “I don’t think my character would say that” versus a puppeteer saying the same thing?

The rest of the accounts seem to extol the innovativeness of the original season of SNL, how the whole point was to bring a different sensibility to television comedy and be something unique. Yet, here was something that wasn’t being done on television for a prime time audience (this was the last thing Henson did before The Muppet Show happened), that actually gave the opportunity for a little more range as far as fantasy-type creatures and settings went, yet every one of the other writers just shat on it as if they were somehow too good for it.

So does that mean that none of the people working on the first season of SNL would have written for an animated film just because the characters are simply ink and paint, and thus can’t be treated like actual characters that people have imagined as full, three-dimensional beings? Come the fuck on.

What makes me even angrier is that everybody who was a writer in those days was around my age, so I can imagine, if I had been there, being surrounded by smarmy twenty-somethings thinking that puppetry was somehow below them, I would have thrown a shit-fit, told them all to get their heads out of their asses, volunteered to write the skits myself, and probably left with the rest of the Henson crew when they got fired and moved to London to film The Muppet Show.

The previous paragraph was the latest episode of “Angel Castillo: Comedy History’s Forrest Gump.”

I just can’t get over such a short-sighted, condescending, conservative attitude coming from people who were trying to let their OWN creative visions get expressed without anybody trying to bring them down. It seems to be a uniquely American problem that once any kind of medium is used for children’s entertainment, it somehow gets branded as the exclusive domain of children and thus somehow too “stupid” for an adult audience, which is why we can’t match Japan’s output of amazing and thought-provoking animated features and why we have to now turn every animated or comic book property into live action CG orgies. Animation and puppetry aren’t for “serious” or “mature” entertainment, simply because they say it is.

The Dark Crystal really should have proved once and for all that puppet-centered movies can be intense and engaging and appeal to people older than 5, but somehow that hasn’t happened. Marlon Brando still got to ridicule Frank Oz by calling him “Miss Piggy,” disrespecting him because he was once a puppeteer. No consideration for all the concentration and practice it takes to really learn how to, essentially, imbue inanimate objects with life. Fuck you, Brando, and fuck you, Zweibel, and fuck you, Al Franken, and fuck that whole group.

Basically, please hire me, Henson Company. If anything, puppets can’t put their heads up their own asses because somebody else’s arm is in the way.


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