La Choy and More!

The La Choy Dragon breathes fire.

The La Choy Dragon breathes fire.

As 1966 rolled around, Jim and Muppets, Inc., were handling more new ad clients than ever before, particularly with Rowlf’s immense celebrity helping to push them into household name status. And I watched a whole slew of them for today’s post, beginning with the commercials he filmed for the Wilson’s Meats company, featuring Skip and Scoop, two more Muppets who largely seem to be in the Wilkins/Wontkins mold of one character being more excited by the product than the other, however at least from the ads I got a chance to see, are actually a bit closer to the Bert and Ernie dynamic in that there seems to be less physical violence between them and more lighthearted prankery, with Skip good-naturedly joshing Scoop, undercutting his attempts at seriousness.

 

The first thing I watched was a presentation film that Jim made for Wilson’s to introduce its new commercials internally to its employees, which starts off with Skip and Scoop appearing and doing the already-classically Henson self-deprecating meta humor. While Scoop self-importantly announces the new ad campaign, Skip says, “You mean all those crummy commercials we knocked together last–?” before Scoop quickly interrupts him, bragging about Muppets, Inc. and their meteoric rise to fame. “Ok,” Skip responds. “Just as long as you don’t tell them the truth.”

 

"Scoop and Skip"

“Scoop and Skip”

 

Then to make sure the viewers realize what a big get the Muppets are, Scoop reminds them of “The Muppets’ big, lovable, shaggy dog, Rowlf, on ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show.” And then they immediately make a joke of it. Suddenly, Rowlf is there, saying “I’m the Muppets’ big, lovable, shaggy dog, Rowlf, on ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show!” And then Skip responds, “That was the Muppets’ big, lovable, shaggy dog, Rowlf, on ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show!”, ending with Scoop bonking him on the head…because Muppets! “Today he gets nearly as much fan mail as Jimmy Dean!” Scoop adds. “But not nearly as much money!” chimes in Rowlf. The humorous undercutting continues when they then cut to footage of “children all over the world” watching the Muppets. As it turns out, those “children all over the world” are Jim Henson’s daughters, Lisa and Cheryl, which, naturally, Skip points out.

 

And then we cut to “behind-the-scenes footage” of the Muppets’ ad creation process, Jim himself discussing off-screen how the ads are accomplished in a rather sober tone, with the film itself providing a humorous counterpoint. What’s particularly cool about the video today is we get to see the actual Muppet team–Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, etc.–working backstage, that aspect of which is probably a pretty accurate depiction of what filming these ads was like, but then the twist happens. Henson talks about how they “experiment” with the product in order to figure out how to best sell it, which in this case naturally consists of everyone shoving sandwiches in their mouths. He then mentions the “very helpful” input they get from Wilson’s own ad execs, illustrated by a number of stereotypically humorless execs silently watching and judging their behavior, which turns the joke around, poking fun at Wilson’s itself.

 

And then he discusses how, as a hard day of work continues, they often need help from the secretaries, which is depicted on screen by a swinging ’60s dance party with the guys and the gals, which, from today’s viewpoint, feels pretty sexist but is also a pretty amazing scene from a time capsule perspective. The best moment, however, is probably when we see that amidst their presumably drunken revelry, one of the Muppets has been dropped and abandoned on the floor, surrounded by trash. Which, besides being funny, is also a great illustration of Jim’s general attitudes towards puppets. He didn’t view them as sacred totems or pieces of art that had to be treated with delicate, tender care but as props. Wonderful props, yes, yet props all the same. Part of the reason his puppetry is so magical and beloved is that he liked throwing them around, roughing them up, abusing them, blowing them up, etc. It’s part of the Muppets’ chaotic charm. You can watch this part of the presentation film below:

 

 

And then we come to the ads themselves, which again, have a Wilkins/Wontkins vibe but just a bit softer. In one, Scoop and Skip are both gliding in mid-air on parachutes. “You’ll adore Wilson’s salami!” says Skip. “Baloney!” responds Scoop, punnishly, and continues to say the word in response to each product Skip mentions, until Scoop finally says he doesn’t “fall for that stuff,” and, yes, you guessed it, Skip then cuts Scoop’s parachute ropes, saying, “You will!” But instead of just plummeting to an uncertain fate, we actually do see him land on a tree and change his tune: “You’ll be up a tree if you don’t” eat Wilson’s, he says!

 

The second I watched doesn’t even feature any violence at all. Scoop is an astronaut inside a rocket set to take off (and, remember, we’re still 3 years off from the first moon landing here). Skip asks him if eating Wilson’s hot dogs will make him an astronaut too. Scoop strictly tells him no. And a moment later, Skip flies off into the stratosphere, leaving Scoop behind in his ship. “I could be wrong!” Scoop admits. And then there’s the following ad, which might contain more puns per capita than any Henson ad I’ve watched yet, which is saying something:

 

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