How many people in your Facebook news feed have posted the recent “Share It Maybe” music video that Sesame Workshop released on YouTube last week? At least 93, right? Here it is again, just to remind you how much fun it is:
The video took the internet by storm, with tons of shares and tweets, and as of this writing it’s nearing six million views… but it’s just the latest triumphant moment in Cookie Monster’s gradual rise to prominence over the last few years. This monster is hot. In fact, I’d say he’s the second-biggest Sesame Street Muppet of them all these days. It’s pretty obvious no Muppet will ever overtake Elmo’s spot as the most popular and most visible — if Sesame Street were the Ritz Brothers, Elmo would be Harry. But Cookie’s coming pretty close lately.
There was a spell of years there where we didn’t get much Cookie Monster at all. In those days, being a Cookie Monster fan was like taking a big bite out of a chocolate chip cookie but not getting any chocolate chips. As Frank Oz’s involvement with the show decreased, Cookie was appearing in fewer and fewer inserts, and basically no street scenes. It’s not like there was no Cookie Monster, but there was definitely less than there used to be, and it made us feel pretty blue.
Things started to turn around in 2001, when David Rudman became Cookie’s other puppeteer. A lot of Rudman’s characters tend to sound similar to each other, so the first pleasant surprise was how great his monster voice sounded. Then, faster than you could say “pecan sandies,” he nailed the personality as well. They even did a two-part Letter of the Day sketch where Cookie was performed by Frank in the first part, and then in the second part Frank performed Grover while Rudman performed Cookie. That was pretty great.
And so, with a new full-time puppeteer, Cookie Monster was off like a rocket to the moon, and before long, he was the show’s second-biggest star. Today, it seems like every time there’s a new Sesame merchandise thing, the first two characters represented are Elmo and Cookie Monster. I have no statistics to back this up, but I’m going to go ahead and say there’s more Cookie Monster stuff than there is Abby Cadabby stuff. Seriously, the dude is everywhere.
When the 10th anniversary of Tickle Me Elmo rolled around in 2006, and the “TMX Elmo” doll was as successful as everyone knew it would be, who was the next character to get the TMX treatment? It wasn’t Oscar. It wasn’t Baby Bear. It was Cookie Monster. (By the way, if you haven’t seen that doll in action, you need to click here right now.)
When Sesame released a pair of games for the Wii in 2010, and one of them was called Elmo’s A to Zoo Adventure, what was the other one called? It wasn’t Prairie Dawn’s Musical Mayhem. It wasn’t Bert’s Unbelievably Fun and Exciting Grocery Shopping Journey. It was Cookie’s Counting Carnival.
When the groundbreaking XBox Kinect title Once Upon a Monster was unleashed upon a world of gamers hungry for Sesame Street games that made them flail around like crazy people, which monster appeared with Elmo on the cover? It wasn’t Zoe. It wasn’t Sherry Netherland. It was Cookie Monster.
Then there’s Elmo’s Tickle Hands, the 2009 toy consisting of two furry red gloves that vibrate and produce the familiar sound of Elmo busting a gut when you push a button on one of the fingers. When you push a different button, you hear “Tickle Hand Groove,” a catchy, danceable number about moving to the beat and crap like that. There’s another voice present in the song besides Elmo’s. That’s right: Cookie Monster is so omnipresent these days that his voice even emanates from Elmo’s extremities. Disgruntled fans of old-school Sesame Street often complain about not being able to escape Elmo, but Elmo himself can’t escape Cookie Monster.
Are you convinced? Of course you are, but I’m going to keep going.
In season 40, a new series of letter song segments debuted, featuring adorable little animated versions of two Muppet characters. GUESS WHICH TWO HURRY UP AND GUESS TIME IS RUNNING OUT DID YOU GUESS YET? (Answer here. And you can learn about the letter E here.)
In season 42, Elvis Costello made an appearance on the show. Like many big music stars and also James Blunt, he sang a version of one of his songs with parody lyrics written to fit the educational content of the show. Costello has a million hit songs in his repertoire, and they could have easily done something like “Radio Radio” as “Letter O, Letter O,” or “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” as “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Cooperating?” But no, Elvis Costello performed a parody of his song “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” called “(A Monster Went and) Ate My Red Two.” That’s quite a stretch, isn’t it? Well, I would bet one whole penny that the Sesame writers did that just so they could get Cookie Monster involved, because he’s such a star.
Not to mention the 2010 campaign to get Cookie Monster on Saturday Night Live. Cookie Monster posted a hilarious video audition on YouTube:
The associated Facebook page, “Cookie Monster should host Saturday Night Live,” received hundreds of thousands of Likes, and Cookie ended up singing a song with Jeff Bridges on an episode of the show. How many people do you know who have sung with Jeff Bridges on Saturday Night Live? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Yes sir, everything’s coming up cupcakes for Cookie Monster. And why is that, do you think? There must be a reason for his big comeback. Maybe it’s because, in this time of economic uncertainty, where instant gratification is practically unheard of for so many Americans, and especially families, Cookie Monster’s tendency to immediately take and consume whatever he desires is a form of wish-fulfillment by proxy. Maybe it’s because, in this modern world of overprotective parents, children respond to Cookie as the wildest and least polite of the Sesame Street monsters. Or maybe it’s just because everyone everywhere secretly wishes they could get away with eating like that.
That’s not to say Cookie Monster’s ascension has been completely wonderful. For one thing, there’s the effect it’s had on his old friend Big Bird. It seems to me there was a time, right when Elmo was crowned King of the Sesame Street Muppets, when Big Bird was the number two guy. For a couple of decades before that, he had been the Big Bird on Campus, but the second banana status he assumed during the first wave of Elmo craze was perfectly respectable. Now we’re in The Age of Elmo and Cookie Monster, and Big Bird’s just not as prominent as he used to be. As far as I know, there was no TMX Big Bird, and he didn’t get his own Wii game (Big Bird’s Bodacious Basketball Blowout?).
So that’s a little rough for the bird. But Sesame Street is pretty good about remembering it has an ensemble of characters that make it great. He still gets a few street stories every season, and any well-stocked toy store you might walk into will have at least one Big Bird doll on the shelf. So I think Big Bird can handle being a few inches out of the spotlight.
As for Cookie Monster himself, I don’t think I have to tell you the biggest challenge the character has faced in recent years. The whole “Veggie Monster” scandal started with a well-intentioned press release that was misinterpreted by the media, then hugely overreacted to by the people of the internet, who are great at making a mountain out of a macaroon. I think I may write a bit more on the subject on this here website soon, but there were some dark days for the monster.
But in a happy twist, like finding one more thin mint in a box you thought was empty, I think Cookie’s increased exposure has actually helped squash the rumors, debunk the myths, and shut up the morons. Millions of people have watched the “Share It Maybe” video, which means millions of people who can plainly see that his name is still Cookie Monster and he still likes cookies. Maybe that was Sesame Workshop’s plan all along, in which case: Well played, Sesamers.
It’s a good time to be a Cookie Monster fan, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Will he get his own Comedy Central roast? Will he win the 2012 presidential election in an earth-shattering write-in victory? Will he eat a whole bunch of cookies, and go “OM YOM YOM YOM YOM YOM YOM!” a lot, and throw all the crumbs everywhere while his eyes spin around all googly-like?
I hope it’s that last one. I love it when he does that.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com