All about Elmo

October 11, 2007

Elmo Makes Music is coming to the Cumberland County Civic Center in December for a four-day engagement. Isn’t that wonderful?

Actually, no. If I were promoting the event, I’d call it Elmo Makes Me Puke. Although, if that were the case, I’d probably be relieved from my duties before the show got on the road. But that’s neither here nor there. That red-furred nefarious little critter has been on my nerves for more than a decade, and I’ve had it. It’s time to speak up – for me and all other like-minded Elmo-haters.

Although Elmo’s earliest incarnations on Sesame Street had him as a bit player in the ‘70s with little to no personality, he exploded on the scene in the mid-‘80s when some thoughtless puppeteer grabbed the underutilized Muppet and gave voice to what would become a raging success. And what a voice. The kind of voice you want to stop with a cork. The kind of voice you want to hear coming from an operating garbage disposal. The kind of voice…well, you get the picture.

But it’s not just the voice that bugs me. Oh no. There’s more.

I was born in 1964. Sesame Street debuted in 1969. I was on the ground floor. Bert and Ernie, Grover, Kermit, Big Bird, Oscar, Mumford the Magician, Guy Smiley, Sherlock Hemlock – they all became close friends of mine. I remember borrowing a classmate’s Cookie Monster (a Muppet with whom I share certain character traits) and putting on a show with him in Andy Clark’s professional grade puppet theater in his basement. Heavenly good fun.

I eyed latecomers with suspicion and doubt. When the Snuffleupagus first wandered onto Sesame Street in 1971, I didn’t like it. It made sense that only Big Bird could see him, since they both shared the creepily human trait of walking around like a person. That helps explain why, of the original Muppets, Big Bird was my least favorite.

Muppet Rule #14: If you can see their feet, don’t trust them [exception: They may be sitting on a wall with their feet dangling].

I did, however, warmly embrace Count von Count when he debuted in 1972. I’ve always been fascinated by vampires, so to have one on Sesame Street was very cool. In fact, to this day I pride myself on my Count impression (“One dead Elmo – ah ah ah! Twooo dead Elmos – ah ah ah!).

But you see, the thing is, Bert and Ernie – along with Kermit, who would enjoy a popular movie career on his own, and who technically was not a permanent cast member of the show – were the heart and soul of Sesame Street. New Muppets were occasionally introduced, but they knew their place: in the background.

But not Elmo. As soon as he received a new voice and operator in 1985, all bets were off. For some inexplicable reason, his popularity grew and grew and grew, and when Muppet mastermind Jim Henson – the voice of Kermit and Ernie, among others – died way too young in 1990, Elmo became a ruthless prima donna, unleashing a reign of terror, cutting down anything in his path, until his crowning achievement in 1996, when he cloned himself in the form of Tickle Me Elmo, invading countless homes across the nation. That voice, that voice – dear Lord, nothing would stop that voice.

The final nail in the felt coffin, however, didn’t take place until 2001, when Disney bought the rights to the Muppets, effectively barring the amphibian from appearing on Sesame Street again. It was strictly Elmo’s turf now.

So when the press package for the latest Sesame Street Live production arrived at the office the other day, and I saw the 8-by-10 glossy of the cast, with the Count, Bert and Ernie, Grover, Big Bird, and several nondescript hairy beasts, which Muppet do you think caught my attention? Perhaps the red furry vermin at center stage, way out front, hogging the limelight, trying to mask its reprehensible, eardrum-rupturing, money-grubbing, soul-sucking lifeforce with bug-eyed cuteness? Yes, that’s the one. Elmo.

I wish Cookie Monster would mistake him for an Oreo.

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