Sesame St S3: Assorted Clips

Bob introduces Kermit to a bullfrog.

Bob introduces Kermit to a bullfrog.

Today, I watched an assortment of highlights from Sesame Street‘s third season, beginning with an amazing clip that has an even more amazing backstory which I only learned recently, while watching PBS’ In Their Own Words episode on Jim Henson. In most of the Kermit lecture sketches, Kermit would be teaching a lesson to the children at home. This might be the first time that Kermit himself was taught a lesson in one of these scenes! You can watch the clip here.


It starts off with Kermit preparing to give a lecture on “one of the most exciting, wonderful things in the entire world,” namely frogs. And then Bob enters, telling him he has a surprise but to carry on with his speech first. So Kermit goes on to tell us that frogs like him are “greenish in color…[have] bulgy but beauitful eyes…[a] handsome profile….[and] large, strong legs.” That’s when Bob unveils his surprise, which is that he’s brought an American bullfrog for Kermit to meet, referring to it as a “real” frog. Whoa, hold on a second there, Bob! What do you mean a real frog?! Are you implying something about Kermit?


And Kermit gives an absolutely hilarious reaction at seeing said frog. “Good heavens, what is that?” he gasps. When Bob answers, Kermit replies, “My goodness, I’m much more handsome than I realized!” Bob goes on to show how each of Kermit’s frog descriptions match this frog, as well, although when he echoes Kermit’s “bulgy but beautiful eyes” declaration, Kermit hilariously responds, “They’re bulgy, anyhow…And he’s got a face that would stop a clock!” Bob then asks Kermit to tell everybody where frogs live, and Kermit says, “Frogs live in apartment houses with furniture and television sets,” leaving Bob to correct him that frogs live in ponds and swamps and mudbanks and that sort of thing. “What that’s terrible! If you lived in a mudhole, your floor would get filthy,” Kermit says. Then, in response to Bob asking him what frogs eat, Kermit replies, “Fried chicken and pizza! Pancakes, French fries, popcorn.” And when Bob tells him what frogs really eat, Kermit shudders.


Then the “real” frog croaks. “What’s that?” Kermit asks. Bob proceeds to tell him and then Kermit begins to listen to the frog and laughs. “He’s telling jokes,” he tells Bob. Bob has trouble believing that he can actually understand him. “Of course, I’m a frog, aren’t I?” Kermit asks.


A few things about this sketch:


(1) Oh my god, this is such a far superior, endlessly more entertaining way for Sesame Street to introduce the children to real animals versus Season 1’s practically comatose method of having one of the adult characters bring one to the street and drone on about it, as the children watched on, seemingly bored to tears. Here, the child viewers at home were theoretically actively engaged in laughing at Kermit’s silliness, as well as perhaps learning a bit about frogs themselves.


(2) If you didn’t realize before that the Muppets don’t have a single canon and that it changes from production to production, this should prove it. Because of course Kermit not knowing that frogs live in swamps and eats bugs and that sort of thing doesn’t fit with any other Muppet production’s continuity. Generally, it’s an accepted fact that Kermit grew up in a swamp and still eats flies. And yet the comedic conceit of comparing our “Muppet” frog to this “real” frog is such a strong, fantastic one that it yields some of Kermit’s funniest moments and reactions up to this point. I love the almost-meta idea that Kermit just assumes that all frogs are just like him and live in New York City apartments and eat pizza. This might be the only time in Muppet canon that Kermit is confronted with the idea that he isn’t a normal frog!


(3) And then there’s the “backstory” I alluded to earlier, which is Bob McGrath’s revelation that, during this scene, the bullfrog actually urinated on Jim while they were filming, and yet Jim was such a trooper that he proceeded with the scene, operating Kermit while frog pee was dripping down his own hair and face! Which makes the virtual comedic perfection of his performance as Kermit here even more astounding. I can only imagine that he was able to channel some of his disgust/discomfort into Kermit’s horrified reactions to the frog.


Next, we have another example of Sesame Street weaving Spanish into its curriculum:



So, as you see, a fairly standard Cookie Monster sketch, except with the twist that the girl is speaking Spanish and ultimately teaches Cookie that cookies in Spanish are “galletitas” before he devours them. It’s also interesting that the show didn’t feel the need to translate every word for the audience, trusting the kids to get the gist of what she was saying through her gestures and reactions.


Our next lecture is from our fabulous, furry pal, Grover, introducing us to the letter “G”:



This is such a great example of Grover’s openheartedness and eagerness to please. “I’m so happy,” he says, “we’re going to have so much fun!” And we do, because his joy is so infectious that it’s impossible not to. Not many characters could convincingly pull of calling G “a cute little letter” and then playfully tickling it saying “tickle tickle tickle,” but Grover can. He then goes on to list a bunch of G words, ending on “grow,” which he explains is “important because that’s what’s happening to you…[and] everyone!” And as he talks about growing, the G proceeds to grow until it’s so big that Grover has to run off with one final G word, “Goodbye!”


And next, another Guy Smiley game show, The Trading Game, this time with Oscar the Grouch as one of the contestants, but what probably stands out to me about this sketch more than anything else is that the voice that Frank Oz uses for the female contestant, Sally Screamer, is the exact one he will later use for Miss Piggy. It’s extremely surreal to hear it coming out of the wrong mouth! It’s also yet another one like the Ernie/Oscar sketch, “Ernie’s New Rubber Duckie,” that revolves around the concept of taste being extremely subjective, particularly when it comes to Grouches vs. regular people!



Then, we have another Amazing Mumford sketch, this one different than the previous one in that his spell actually works perfectly. The humor comes from what occurs afterwards.



So Mumford asks for a volunteer from the audience so he can perform his levitation trick, and of course, Grover volunteers because of course. He sits on top of the pillar and, although he’s concerned that “Mumfy” doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he says that his magic will allow the pillar to remain in the air even after he removes the column, he agrees to stay put, and wouldn’t you know it? The trick works, thanks to a touch of Mumford’s magic and a larger touch of now-quite-obvious greenscreen. Grover’s so excited by it, though, that he decides to try it himself, convincing Herry Monster to sit at the top. He similarly says the magic words, and yet, not being a magician himself, as soon as he removes the column, Herry plummets to the ground, and Grover runs away before he can catch him.


Another great Sesame Street comedy sketch with only the subtlest of educational value (I guess something about cause and effect?). It’s also nice to see how consistently the show would play with its comedic formula, not just recycling the same sketch over and over a la SNL but doing legitimate twists on the expected.


And we end on a terrific little Ernie bit, in which he plans on asking his friend, Herbert Birdsfoot, to borrow his vacuum cleaner but then begins to imagine various reasons that Herbert would be annoyed by his knocking on his door and asking to borrow it, and then various outcomes that snowball into Ernie envisioning Herbert telling all of his friends that Ernie isn’t reliable, and soon works himself up into such a frenzy–“I used to have a lot of friends till that rotten Herbert Birdsfoot started shooting off his mouth!”–that, when Herbert finally, innocently answers the door, Ernie yells, “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, you can just keep your rotten vacuum cleaner!” and marches off, leaving Herbert completely baffled as to what’s going on. It’s a terrific Ernie-getting-carried-away-by-his-imagination bit, and Jim is just absolutely magical in it. You can watch it here.


And come back on Thursday for Season 3’s Bert and Ernie sketches!