More Sam and Friends

And now we continue our journey through Jim Henson’s first Muppet show, Sam and Friends, with the remaining episodes I was able to gain access to.

 

“C’est Si Bon”

 

"C'est Si Bon"

“C’est Si Bon”

 

Another lip-synced song sketch, this time with a lead singer–a crazy-haired Muppet dubbed Moldy Hay–singing a French call-and-response song, with him taking the main parts, and Hank and Frank meant to be taking the background chorus repetition of “Si Bon, Si Bon, lalalalalala,” but messing up each time (it foreshadows “Mahna Mahna” a bit, at least in terms of the lead singer with two back-up singers almost at odds with one another, however there the lead is the nuttier one). Apparently, in Jim’s earlier Sam and Friends sketches, he’d often simply have his puppets lip sync to recordings that were already comedic, with the puppets visually enhancing the humor that was already there, while eventually he would add the humor himself, by having the puppets add comedic counterpoint to a song that wasn’t inherently funny itself.

 

This is closer to the first type, as all of the “screw-ups” were part of the original record’s comedy routine. The skill of the lip-sync is jawdroppingly good, however, which makes it still a thrill to watch. Although it might seem relatively simple, it’s actually an extremely complicated accomplishment to have all of the puppets so perfectly match each vocal moment, especially with them all running around, popping up and down, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, it’s all one uninterrupted shot that even includes a surprise Kermit cameo, among other things. Eventually, Moldy Hay even “climbs” the side of the screen and pops his head upside down from the top, an example of what I referenced in my Early Years post about how Jim thought of the frame of the TV screen itself as being his invisible puppet stage.

 

The record Jim used was from a musical comedian/satirist/puppeteer/voice actor/ad man, Stan Freberg, whose albums Jim would use a great deal for Sam and Friends. At the time, however, this was such a small, local show (and still in the early days of TV), that there was no thought of crediting or royalties, and when Freberg first learned that Jim had used his material, he was apparently upset, but after actually seeing Sam and Friends, he was so delighted by it that he sent Jim a personal telegram: “I TAKE IT ALL BACK…THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ACTS I HAVE EVER SEEN. AM HONORED TO LET YOU USE MY RECORDS FOR EVER AND LONGER. LOVE AND KISSES TO ALL.” He even later appeared on Sam and Friends himself, in a sketch where he demanded credit for his work and Kermit responded by beating him with a mallet! Yet another example of vintage Kermit being a more chaotic character.

 

“C’est Bon” is followed by a fairy-tale-inspired Esskay ad reminiscent of some of Wilkins and Wontkins’ scenes, as well as Kermit’s fractured fairy tale reporting on Sesame Street. In a neat subversion of the typical fairy tale, here we have a princess, rather than an evil queen–who looks and sounds like a proto version of Sesame Street‘s Prairie Dawn–standing in front of a magic mirror, asking it who is the fairest of them all. The mirror, whose face is an early version of Jim’s puppet, Limbo–which is basically a floating face composed of only eyes and a mouth made of string and manipulated by invisible wires attached to gloves worn by the puppeteers–repeatedly answers that it’s Esskay chicken. Eventually, the princess learns that her prince will think she’s a “smart chicken, too” if she buys and prepares Esskay chicken. “Yes, even you!” the mirror snarkily replies, calling to mind Prince Wilkins calling Princess Wontkins an “old hag” for not liking Wilkins coffee, but with the joke flipped a bit.

 

And you can watch the whole thing here.

 

“Poison to Poison”

 

"Poison to Poison"

“Poison to Poison”

 

After a number of clips of Muppet lip syncing to Stan Freberg music, this is an interesting example of Muppets lip syncing to an entire spoken sketch, this one by Spike Jones from his 1959 Spike Jones in Stereo album. In it, a parody of the famous newsman, Edward R. Murrow, Ed Burrow, interviews Alfred Hitchcock (or, rather, a parody of him) in the famous director’s extremely macabre-verging-on-Addams-Family home. Meanwhile, the name, Poison to Poison, is a riff on Murrow’s classic interview show, Person to Person.

 

Again, even within a sketch written and performed by someone else, Jim shows innovation in a number of areas, from the lit prop cigarette in Harry-as-Ed’s mouth–a technique he’d continue to use/perfect for the cigar-chomping King Goshposh, who would appear in multiple Muppet fairy tale productions–to all of the various sets and props that add to the record’s humor. Meanwhile, the scene, with all of its punnery, feels like classic Muppets, even if it was written and voiced by others, and feels like a foreshadowing of the Vincent Price and Alice Cooper episodes of The Muppet Show. And you can watch it here.

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