The Muppet Show 1.06: “Jim Nabors”

Kermit meets his new gofer.

Kermit meets his new gofer.

Now, this left me with an interesting dilemma. I’m very anal when it comes to continuity, so part of me was tempted to begin watching The Muppet Show with the Moreno episode, then this one, so that there wouldn’t be this out-of-inner-chronology backwards jump here. Ultimately, however, I decided that tracking the development of the series and its characters and sketches’ gradual evolution from their earliest incarnations to what we now know and love was more important than seeing Scooter’s introduction in the “right” spot, when even that “right” spot is debatable given it was filmed and written later than the earlier episodes. So, basically, I sort this out in my head by just considering it an extended flashback episode, and, yes, I do need to actually do that to not be driven nuts by this! But moving right along…


So, shortly after Kermit introduces the show and positions himself backstage, this kid Scooter arrives, all freshfaced and eager to work, telling Kermit he wants to be his gofer. After a brief misunderstanding over the word “gofer” vs “gopher,” he then tells Kermit his name, the frog responds, “Cute. Cute name,” clearly ready to blow him off, which he then proceeds to do, telling him he’s too young, doesn’t have any experience (reflecting how Richard Hunt, his performer, first arrived at the Jim Henson Co., all young, eager, and inexperienced, as I’ve mentioned previously), and Kermit doesn’t have enough money in the budget to pay him…until Scooter informs him that that’ll make his uncle, who owns the theatre, unhappy, and immediately Kermit’s offering him $20 a week, which Scooter then haggles up to $30 by suggesting his uncle would be disappointed otherwise. And so basically, this Scooter origin story revolves around the exact same nepotism joke that has defined his character in practically every episode where he’s had a “plot” up to now.


And later on in the episode, it repeats again when George the Janitor goes from complaining about the new guy who bought the theatre and ruined it–“Now the roof leaks, and the seats are torn, and the furnace is on the fritz. He is the worst.”–to raving about the landlord as soon as he discovers Scooter’s relationship to him. It’s bad enough that the first season cared more about often deliberately lame gags than character development but when it’s the same lame gag over and over again, it grows pretty tiresome. At the very least, it remains consistent about Scooter being so innocent that his mentions of his uncle don’t come across as deliberately manipulative or calculated. He actually doesn’t realize or mean any implication of a threat in bringing him up but rather probably just noticed that, golly, whenever he mentions his uncle, things work out for him. Speaking of which, we’ll finally meet his uncle in season 2; his name: J. P. Grosse.


George criticizes the new gofer's uncle.

George criticizes the new gofer’s uncle.

But putting his uncle aside, Scooter gets right to work Scooterishly trying to assist people (another indication that he’s not at all a bad or deliberately entitled kid), particularly Fozzie, who at first doesn’t appreciate his help. Scooter gives him what Fozzie believes to be a terrible joke, but, when Fozzie delivers it backstage and all of his friends laugh their heads off, Fozzie immediately calls for Scooter for further assistance! And Fozzie even then triumphs later in the show during his comedy act when he gets Statler and Waldorf to laugh! At first, they heckle as usual–Fozzie: “I can handle hecklers in my sleep!”; Statler: “Well, don’t tell the audience. They’re asleep too!”–but then Fozzie makes them a wager: he’ll tell them his best joke, and if they fail to laugh, he’ll never come out on the stage again! Naturally, they take him up on it, so he tells an of-course lame joke about cannibals culminating in the punchline, “That was no lady- that was my lunch!” And they laugh their heads off! At which point Fozzie turns it around on them, revealing that that was actually his worst joke! “I love me when I’m good,” he cries out. “Pacing! Timing!” then calling out “Mwah!” as he kisses himself.


While the script never confirms whether this was a joke from Scooter, knowing Fozzie’s ego, it feels implied, especially given we know that Fozzie has terrible taste in jokes and that he didn’t realize Scooter’s earlier joke was funny (at least according to his friends’ reactions), so naturally he’d consider this joke his “worst,” because he didn’t come up with it himself. Yet, from his perspective, if even that provoked laughter from Statler and Waldorf of all people, that means his own jokes must be pure gold! This sketch is also another example of Fozzie winning against his tormentors, which was one of the key discoveries that helped Frank Oz and the rest of the Muppet team “find” Fozzie.


As I spoke of before, at the start, they all found him too pathetic and needy. His victimhood didn’t come across as funny or even particularly sympathy-inducing, because he just seemed to have no backbone. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of the joke being that the comedian isn’t funny before you start to wonder why he’s there at all. But around this point, Fozzie starts to get the upper hand. Sometimes or perhaps even often, it’s at least partially haplessly and yet it evens the playing field. Fozzie is naturally funny. It just isn’t always for the reasons he thinks he is. The key is his confidence. And that’s what makes it more comfortable to laugh at his antics without feeling like you’re laughing at him in a cruel way.


Fozzie tries out his latest joke on Scooter.

Fozzie tries out his latest joke on Scooter.

This follows in his last scene, as well, in which Scooter tells Fozzie that he’s his favorite comedian in the world, and so Fozzie tests out a new joke on him, and not only does Scooter not laugh, but he doesn’t realize he even told a joke–Fozzie: “Let me tell you about my near-sighted cousin. He’s so rich, his automobile’s fitted with a prescription windshield!”; Scooter: “Okay, tell me about him.” The laugh here easily could have been at Fozzie’s expense for telling a lame joke, but instead it’s at Scooter’s for not recognizing humor, if even only by the structure of a joke. This is further underlined by Fozzie’s next line: “He’s lucky his uncle owns this place. THAT WAS A JOKE, SCOOTER.” We’re all on Fozzie’s side here, and this last line further encourages us to be.


And that isn’t Scooter’s only creative screw-up in the episode. Earlier on (in another scene cut from the DVD that you can watch here), Scooter convinces Kermit to let a new act that he discovered–the Danceros–perform that night, and while it’s wildly unconventional for that to happen on a gofer’s first night, if ever, dropping his uncle’s name again obviously allows it to happen. And, as one might have guessed, it’s a disaster of Wayne and Wanda proportions. At least in the context of the show’s inner story. As an outside observer, it’s a great, super Muppety bit, beginning with what seem to be two pairs of legs tap-dancing beautifully, until one starts stomping on the other’s legs, and then the camera pulls back to reveal all four legs are actually attached to one big fluffy orange monster, who soon after ends up tripping himself and landing in a heap on the ground. “It went better in rehearsal,” he cries. Scooter’s obviously still very green (in a different way from Kermit, of course).


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