Electric and Carson, Again

Grover and Vi on "The Electric Company"

Grover and Vi on “The Electric Company”

Today, I’m looking at two brief Muppet guest appearances from 1975. In the first, which aired March 10, 1975, Grover visits The Electric Company (the fourth and finale Sesame Street character to appear on that show), or rather, like Big Bird did in his appearance, wanders away from home, gets lost, and winds up on this show accidentally.


The scene opens with Crank, who we previously saw singing a song with Oscar the Grouch, and who doesn’t seem nearly as bad-tempered as his name and description of himself would suggest (This guy has nothing on Oscar. He even seems genuinely concerned for Grover. Amateur.), taking a seat at Vi’s Diner and chatting with the eponymous owner of the establishment when Grover enters, bereft of ever being able to find his way back to his friends again.


Demonstrating his deep wells of innate sweetness, Grover, calling Vi “pretty lady” (don’t forget this is Grover, so nothing lascivious here, folks), tells her his tale of woe. In response, she sympathetically asks him if he knows where he lives, to which he responds that if he did, he’d be there now! She has an idea, however, and takes out a map to see if he can identify any of the nearby streets. And this might seem innocuous enough other than the fact that one of them has one of the creepiest names imaginable: Skin Street. If I were Grover, I’d be running away in fear for my life about now.


But he decides to stay, for some reason, finally describing where he lives to Vi and Crank, mentioning that a “big bird” lives there, at which point Vi has a flash of inspiration. Does he mean Sesame Street?! After a moment’s thinking, he realizes that yes, yes, he does! Which makes me wonder if Big Bird might have wandered over to Vi’s Diner before returning home when he visited the show. But, anyway, a happy ending all around, with a cute little punchline: Vi asks Grover if he wants to know how to get to Sesame Street (1…1 theme song reference, hahahahahahahaha!!), but Grover responds, “No, I’d like to see a menu.” The abrupt shift in mood from being utterly distraught to perfectly fine and ready to have some lunch is classic Grover. All in all, not a great scene, but a fun curiosity that you can watch here.


Kermit and Jim visit Johnny.

Kermit and Jim visit Johnny.

Much more interesting is Kermit and Jim’s appearance on The Tonight Show on March 18, 1975, ostensibly to plug The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. What makes it so fascinating is how unethused Kermit is about the special. In fact, his whole demeanor is rather downbeat and Eeyoreish here, particularly for Kermit, who’s usually so optimistic and hopeful. He complains about getting “only one lousy line” and adds “a lot of thanks I get” for being the oldest Muppet still in the show. “The young guys get it,” he says. “These young, long-haired rock kids.” At which point Johnny asks him what he thinks of Dr. Tooth‘s [sic] music. “I hate it,” he responds. “Frogs don’t dig stuff like that.”


Now, first off, this is all, of course, very out of character for Kermit (who’s generally very positive about the Electric Mayhem) but it also feels strangely telling of Jim’s mood when it comes to the special. Although the intention seems to be playfully subversive in having Kermit basically “dissuade” people from watching it, it actually comes across as Jim being apathetic about it himself. It seems that, too late, he realized that it wasn’t right–that it needed Kermit. And while he frames this as a joke, the sense is that he, through Kermit, seems resigned to its fate to air just as a special rather than launching The Muppet Show, as he’d hoped it would. “It’s a nothing show,” Kermit says. Ouch.


Next, Johnny moves on to a rather personal question about Kermit’s love life, and although I’ve said this at least 10,000 times up to this point, here is yet further proof that the Muppets had sex prior to ABC’s recent and dearly departed The Muppets: “Look, I work on Sesame Street,” Kermit scolds Johnny. “You don’t ask a frog questions like that…You wouldn’t ask Captain Kangaroo about his sex life!” No, he doesn’t give any details but this also indirectly implies that he does, indeed, have one! Again, Jim was targeting the Muppets to an adult audience and establishing the differences between them on Sesame Street vs. off, even Kermit, who actually was also a Sesame character.


And at the end of the clip–or at least the bit available on YouTube–Kermit complains about having a sore throat. “I’ve got a person in my throat,” he says. “Frog joke.” The Muppets and Jim’s love of a good groaner is one of their most enduring charms. (At the same time–and I apologize in advance for darkening the room–but, given how Jim died and the fact that his last public appearance was a late-night talk show appearance on Arsenio Hall with Kermit, his ragged voice evidence of the infection that would kill him, this also can’t help but give me a bit of a retrospective shiver.) You can watch this fantastic clip here.


Next time we meet, I’ll be looking at the Muppet segments from Julie Andrews’ third collaboration with them, her second ABC primetime special, Julie: My Favorite Things!



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