Category Archives: Muppets

Editor’s Chair: Let’s Destroy the Sun

Tracy Wuster

A friend of mine–and one of my favorite pessimists–has said that she cures writer’s block by placing one simple sentence at the top of her page and going from there.  So here goes:

Since the dawn of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun.

There.  Maybe that will help…

Mr. Montgomery Burns destroys blocks the sun

Mr. Burns destroys the sun…

Nope.  I just don’t have anything intelligent to say about humor right now, nothing like Jeffrey Melton’s sharp piece on pedagogy of humor, or Matt Powell’s excellent work on Andy Kaufman’s music,  Matthew Duabe’s insightful piece on performance and Princess Ivona, Sharon McCoy’s truly funny meditation on germs in public places, Caroline Zarlengo Sposto’s birthday wishes to that great American poet Muhammed Ali, Phil Scepanski’s insightful discussion of sick humor, or ABE’s solid writing on Marc Maron’s podcast.  See, I have resorted to a clip show, the final resort of the lazy sitcom writer (although those are all excellent pieces worth reading, for sure).

But I have nothing.  I wish I could turn my external circumstances–which are not really conducive to writing about humor–into humorous insight, as Sharon McCoy has so wonderfully done on our pages.  But I can’t.  I apologize.

Instead, I will point to the work I have been doing with the AHSA and Humor Studies Caucus of the ASA to plan panels for upcoming conferences in Boston (ALA) and D.C. (ASA).  Also, check out the announcements page above or on the AHSA website for new CFPs for the AHSA at MLA 2014, humor studies and Mark Twain at the RMLA, and humor studies at SAMLA.

Also, I blame my book, the manuscript of which is due to the University of Missouri Press at the end of the month.  Here is a brief sample, touching on Twain and humor:

In 1874, as Twain was writing the series “Old Times on the Mississippi” for the Atlantic, Howells attempted to ease Twain’s fears about the audience he was writing for, stating in a letter “Don’t write at any supposed Atlantic audience, but yarn it off as into my sympathetic ear.”  Twain responded with a line that reflects a sense of relief at this new professional opportunity: “It isn’t the Atlantic audience that distresses me; for it is the only audience that I sit down before in perfect serenity (for the simple reason that it don’t require a ‘humorist’ to paint himself stripèd & stand on his head every fifteen minutes.)”[1] The possibility of earning a living, or at least a reputation, as a new type of humorist—one who didn’t have to curry public favor with constant buffoonery—seems to have appealed to Twain.

My pessimist friend loves when I have footnotes on a blog post.  And if you are one of my editor’s, I wrote this while also eating pizza and preparing for class.  No writing time or thought was spared for non-book work.  And if you are one of the contributor’s to this site, thank you for your excellent posts and sorry for not living up to your standard.
Now, on to destroy the sun…
statler and waldorf destroy the sun


[1] William D. Howells to SLC, 3 December 1874, (UCLC 32073).http://www.marktwainproject.org/x tf/view?docId=letters/UCLC32073.xml;styl e=letter;brand=mtp and SLC to William Dean Howells, 8 Dec 1874, Hartford, Conn. (UCCL 05257). <http://www.marktwainproject.org/xtf/view?docId=letters/UCCL05257.xml;style=letter;brand=mtp>

The Muppets: An Exercise in Humorous Metacinematic Irony

Michael Giles Purgason

Editor’s Note:  Michael Purgason was a student in one of my courses this past year.  Even though Michael was a graduating senior who was applying for medical schools, he took a keen interest in the subject of my English class and in the “Humor in America” blog.  Tragically, Michael was killed in a car accident in July.  With the permission of his family, I am publishing the piece below, which he was in the process of making final revisions for “Humor in America.”  –Tracy

Muppets Treasure IslandAs a child growing up two of my favorite films that I watched frequently on VHS were Muppet Treasure Island and A Muppet Christmas Carol. One thing I always noticed about these two films in particular was that they were the only two Disney movies my parents and older siblings would be happy to watch with me consistently, and they would laugh hysterically right along with me. To this day these films remain two of my favorites, and they make me laugh every time without fail.

Muppets Christmas Carol Dickens

After my most recent viewing of Muppet Treasure Island I began to ask myself, “what is about these puppets that are so clever and humorous?” While I’m sure that I have not narrowed down all of Jim Henson’s genius in my mind, I believe that I have set out on a productive path to answering that very difficult question. Before I get into any sort of Muppet criticism, a lot of the humor is pure good old-fashioned cleverness on the part of the writers. The roll call scene before the Hispaniola sets sail in Muppet Treasure Island is one example of a scene that renders its viewers into fits of side-splitting laughter without using too much complexity.


The first aspect of the complex and clever humor that goes into a Muppet film is each individual Muppet’s veryMuppets Premier real presence in popular culture. The Muppets are presented publicly as though they are real life Hollywood figures. They show up on the Red Carpet, they are invited to be presenters at awards shows, they make guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, and they frequent other such public appearances. What is significant is that they are presented as though there are actually living and witty puppets walking around living their lives as working Hollywood actors. The ways in which other celebrities converse and interact with them indicate that they are real and they have their own place in the society of actors. If the logical minds of human audiences didn’t know better, they would believe that The Muppets are in fact real life conscious entities. This creates a false consciousness in the minds of audience’s in which we live in a world where Muppets exist as real and conscious entities.

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The third best gift of all: The Muppets and Laughter

Tracy Wuster

Over the past few weeks, I had several discussions with friends and acquaintances about the upcoming Muppet movie.  People were excited.  I discovered that people my age grew up with the Muppets–first with Sesame Street and then the Muppet Show, with some Fraggles thrown in.  My earliest movie-going memory is seeing a Muppet movie, probably “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984), with my dad and brother.  I may remember it because my dad snored through the previews, movie, and credits–despite my brother nudging him constantly.*

But the Muppets are lodged in my memory for more than my dad’s critical response to the film, of which Statler and Waldorf would no doubt have approved.  My sense of humor was shaped by the show and movies in ways that are hard to define–a mixture of bizarre (Gonzo and his chickens), cornball (Fozzie), counterculture (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem), anarchic (Animal; Crazy Harry), musical (Rowlf;  musical numbers in general), absurd (The Swedish Chef; Beaker), brash (Miss Piggy), and sentimental (Kermit).

The Muppets helped to define humor for me and many people my age, along with Saturday Night Live, Looney Toons, the movies of Mel Brooks and John Hughes, The Simpsons and other sitcomes, and the stand-up of the 1970s and 80s.  And then the Muppets faded.  The Muppets movies of the 1990s, following the death of Jim Henson in 1990–Christmas Carol (1992), Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999)–were largely forgettable.

The new Muppet movie is planned as a reboot of the franchise, with a self-referential plot about the fade and rediscovery of the Muppets through what the Muppets do best: putting on a show.  A main reason for hope for the new Muppet movie was the presence of Jason Segel at the helm. Segel wrote and stars, and his love for the Muppets as a comedic touchstone from his childhood shows through the film.  When Segel stated in an interview that he cried the first time he heard Kermit read lines he had written, I understood.  The new Muppet movie was thus overlaid with a heavy layer of generational nostalgia and the desire for a beloved childhood icon to return to past glory.

Thus, my expectations for the film itself were quite high: I wanted to be entertained.  And entertainment is what the Muppets are all about.  And the film is entertaining–from the opening montage of Segel and his brother (a muppet named Walter) through the big show in which the Muppets attempt to save their theater.  A few dud moments–the “rap” of the evil villain Tex Richman, the unnecessary “Moopets”–are quickly glossed over in favor of highlights, including a few great musical numbers–the chickens clucking Cee Lo Green’s “F*ck You”; a Queen-inspired “Man or Muppet?” [listen below]; and a moving version of “Rainbow Connection.”

If I had gone into this movie simply wanting to be entertained, then the movie would have been a solid success.  I laughed, I got sentimental, I enjoyed the celebrity cameos.  I rooted for the good guys to overcome the villain, knowing full well that the Muppets always win in the end.  But once the movie was over, my academic mind began to think over the movie, assessing its position as a humorous work.  It’s difficult to approach a subject critically that has such a nostalgic connection to childhood.  But I had promised to write a review for this website–something possibly insightful.  I have never written a movie review–academic or otherwise–but here goes:

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Really?!?!!? with Seth and Kermit

Saturday Night Live – Weekend Update: Really with Seth and Kermit – Video – http://www.nbc.com.

The Muppet Movie opens this week.  For people who grew up watching the Muppet Show and the early Muppet movies, the return of the gang to cultural relevance is exciting.  Watch out for a review of the movie.  In the meantime, enjoy Kermit the Frog and Seth Meyers skewering Congress on Saturday Night Live.

Happy Halloween!

While watching scary movies this weekend, I noticed the similarities between horror and humor: suspense released through an emotional response, expectations build up and often end in surprise, and lots and lots of blood…

*Seven Graveyard Smashes…our own music editor, Matt Powell, on Halloween music.

*Michael Collier’s “All Souls”

*Will Rogers in “The Headless Horsemen

*Halloween on Parks & Rec

*Comic Pumpkins

*Vincent Price and Muppets!

*Halloween music, via Nine Kinds of Pie

*the origin of Halloween traditions

*Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky scary….

*A great version of Poe’s “The Raven” mixing humor and horror.

*Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals San Francisco Giants …via funny baseball quotes.

*Finally, some political cartoons  from the past few years, as Halloween tropes are recycled to address new fears and old.

2014

Halloween political cartoons 6970cf983d30e7e4962f8a71a43ee176f869250e 155447_600 155543_600 155561_600 155582_600 B1NJ0NWIAAAsybq.jpg-large Ebola-Quarantine halloween-cartoon-09 halloween-linus-great-pumpkin-political-cartoon halloween-political-cartoon-isis-ebola-scares halloween-political-cartoon-obama-halloween-candy halloween-political-cartoon-scaring-children halloween razorblades3

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“Happy Birthday” and “Productination,” together at last

Happy Birthday and Good Morning to Pee Wee Herman, fifty-eight years young.

(I don’t make monkeys, I only train them…)

“Work” to help you avoid “work”:

Productination

the managing editor.

productive + procrastination = productination: a collection of links about humor to spend your time not working in a semi-productive manner.

Feel free to send me articles or to post them in the comments.
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