As is so often the case, I must give huge special thanks to our friends at Muppet Wiki for information and research assistance for this article. Muppet Wiki is the world’s best website.
An obscure Sesame Street Muppet caused a stir recently simply by opening his mouth.
Maybe you saw this. The Center for Puppetry Arts tweeted a photo of Brad, who is part of their collection of Jim Henson puppets. Brad was Bert’s little nephew on Sesame Street, and he’s familiar to many of us for appearing in a sketch that was rerun and recycled dozens of times throughout the classic era of the show.
Here’s the tweet:
Brad is adorable, isn’t he? Well… yes, but many fans couldn’t help but notice that something about Brad’s appearance seemed a little unusual. He has teeth! The Brad we all remember didn’t have teeth! The change was especially noticeable because most Muppets don’t have visible teeth, ever. Brad’s uncle Bert doesn’t have teeth. Bert’s pal Ernie doesn’t have teeth. Even Cookie Monster, whose whole personality is defined by eating, doesn’t have visible teeth.
Just to recap, here’s the “famous” Brad sketch, in which Bert and Ernie help the little guy get ready to take a bath:
That’s Richard Hunt as Brad, of course, and as always, he does a lot with a small role. He’s hilarious without even speaking intelligibly, in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of Beaker.
But here’s the thing: This is not Brad’s first appearance! Muppet Wiki has determined that the bathtub sketch was first seen in Episode 1134, but America’s introduction to Brad was in a street scene in Season 9’s Episode 1068 in 1977.
The scene begins with Bert standing next to a baby carriage in front of 123 Sesame Street, playing “This Little Pigeon” with an unseen baby. Maria, Luis, and Bob – all of whom apparently have nothing better to do than wander around the neighborhood – approach and ask Bert about the baby. He explains that the kid is the offspring of his salesman brother Bart (whom you may recall from another memorable sketch). Bert is babysitting while Bart is out selling aluminum siding.
Then we see the face of Brad – a cute baby wearing a cute baby hat, who bears a striking resemblance to Bert. Bob says what we’re all thinking and remarks that Brad looks like Bert. Maria and Luis agree: He has the same eyes, same mouth, same ears, and the same eyebrow as Bert. But Uncle Bert points out that they’re actually quite different. For one thing, Brad is smaller. And then Bert provides a clue to one more important difference. “Actually,” he says, “we do look very different. I’ll tell you how we look very different if you keep it under your hat.”
Luis, a master of deductive reasoning, takes Brad’s hat off. Brad has red hair! Boom! They’re not exactly alike after all! What a twist for viewers in 1978 who had never seen Brad before!
So that’s all very pleasant, but there are no teeth to be found. Nor does Brad have any chompers in a later scene in the episode, in which Bert desperately tries to get Brad to say “Bert” as his first word. Bob rudely distracts Brad by making faces, prompting Bert to repeatedly shout “BOB! BOB! BOB! Please!” And you can guess what happens next. Brad’s first word is “Bob.” Then in the final scene of the episode, Brad’s second word is “Bert.”
I wonder how Brad’s parents feel about all this.
As Brad’s debut episode wraps up, his total number of teeth remains at zero. As we’ve already established, there are no teeth in the bathtub sketch either, with the exception of the teeth of the shark who scares the bejeepers out of the kid.
So now let’s go to Episode 1198 from Season 9, in which Brad shows up one more time. (As Muppet Wiki points out, he’s now performed by Bob Payne.) Once again, a street scene finds Bert and Brad in front of 123 Sesame Street. Bert is excited to share some news with his friends: Brad has his first tooth!
Bert, Maria, David, and Bob try various methods to get Brad to open his mouth, to no avail. Bert, exasperated, exclaims, “Criminentlies, Brad!”
That’s right. “Criminentlies.” Apparently this is a real phrase. It’s a variation on “criminently,” which according to Wiktionary, is “an expression of annoyance or surprise.” I would like to encourage everyone to use the word this week and let me know how it went.
Bert continues, sternly telling Brad that everyone wants to see his tooth and it’s NO LAUGHING MATTER. Which causes Brad to laugh, and there’s his tooth! But wait… it’s not just one tooth. He has two teeth! Bert is shocked but proud of his nephew’s prodigious achievement.
Wait, we’re not done yet. The puppet in the Center for Puppetry Arts tweet had three teeth. Stay tuned!
In the final street scene of the episode, Bert is telling Brad a variation on “The Three Little Pigs” featuring pigeons, because he’s nothing if not consistent. Big Bird moseys along and asks what’s new, and Bert tells him Brad has two new teeth.
Big Bird, ever the fool, inquires, “Where does he keep them?” Bert explains that Brad’s teeth are in Brad’s mouth, and requests that Brad show Big Bird the two teeth. This time there’s no coaxing or reverse psychology required, but when Brad opens his mouth, he now has three teeth!
I’m not an expert on teeth by any means, but this does seem like some kind of dental miracle. Brad has apparently grown three teeth in a single day! This can’t be a common occurrence. But it’s nice for us, because it explains why the Center for Puppetry Arts has a Brad with three teeth. It’s also nice for Brad himself, because three teeth is probably just enough to eat macaroni and cheese.
As far as we know, that’s the last we saw of little nephew Brad before he became a museum piece. So that’s the whole story of Brad, his similarities and differences to his uncle, his first and second words, and his first, second, and third teeth. He didn’t get to become a big star, but he left an impression on us and made us happy. In fact, I’m so happy about Brad right now that I’m smiling… with all three of my teeth.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com