Yes, I’m Still Bothered by the Elmo Larry David Incident

Published: February 21, 2024
Categories: Commentary, Feature

A few weeks ago, our world was torn asunder by witnessing the brutal attack on Elmo brought on by notable curmudgeon Larry David. Frankly, we’re all still rattled by the whole event. Okay, so I haven’t heard of any kids who were scarred by it… and the Muppet performers seem to be okay… and The Today Show team has certainly moved on. But Muppet fans? We’re still pissed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is that this bothers me so much. And there are a few reasons – some obvious, some less so – that point to the lasting damage Larry’s hand inflicted on Elmo’s little face. And vicariously, what that damage is actively doing to our psyches.

Larry grabbed a 3 1/2-year-old’s face

First and foremost, Elmo is a child. Or, if you’re not willing to accept the reality of Elmo’s identity, you can at least agree that he represents a child. So effectively, this old guy decided it would be funny to go after a kid. As a society, I feel like we’ve grown beyond this as a punchline. Instead, it just feels wildly inappropriate.

Larry attacked a childhood icon

People love Elmo. No wait, let me put an emphasis on that. People love Elmo. Larry may not have grown up with him, but millions of actual adults (and, hey, kids too!) sure did. He took a swing at something people truly care for and expected to be seen as the hero. If it didn’t work for Mitt Romney, it wouldn’t have worked for Larry David.

Larry improvised an attack scene with an unwilling acting partner

Larry David had full view of the Muppet performers below the frame, and he knew this wasn’t a real monster or a real child, but a grown adult man manipulating a puppet. So he went off-script and created a scene of chaos without knowing how the other performer in this scene would react. Anyone who’s ever done improv knows that this is a huge no-no. Heck, anyone who’s acted in any sense of the word would know how uncomfortable it would feel to be on live TV as someone is throwing wrenches into your performance. As an actor himself, Larry should’ve known better.

Larry caused potential financial damage

You may be able to walk into your local Target and buy an Elmo doll for a few bucks, but even the most jaded movie stars would recognize that the real Elmo puppet is a work of art. Or, at the very least, an expensive one. Grabbing it without knowing if he might dent the nose or scratch the eye or cause any other sort of damage could’ve been costly. Larry’s lucky the Henson Workshop builds their puppets so well, they can even survive a full-on Larry attack!

Larry made Louie look like an ineffective father

Several news outlets are throwing shade at Louie, Elmo’s dad, for not stepping up and defending his son. With all the credit in the world to performer Tyler Bunch, what the heck was he supposed to do?? It would’ve been highly out of character (not to mention negating Elmo’s kindness campaign AND escalating the Larry David situation) if Louie responded with, “You get your hands off my son!” So of course, thanks to Larry’s actions, he’s making Louie look like a deadbeat dad by default.

Larry hides behind his Curb persona

I’m not much of a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan – in part because I find the character Larry David plays to be insufferable. (Can you tell??) So it’s little surprise to me that his actual personality is so close to the one he plays on TV. But because Curb is such a hit, Larry feels justified in playing toward that character, removing his inhibitions and acting on impulse, because that’s what gave him all the success in the world. But in my personal opinion, it’s all just an excuse so he doesn’t have to censor himself. Larry gets to act like a child because the Larry from TV acts like a child, and his fans will applaud him for it. Grow up, Larry.

The Today team did nothing

Almost as frustrating as Larry David’s actions, the team from The Today Show didn’t act fast enough. Oh sure, they reacted just like everyone at home, mouths agape and frozen in shock. I wouldn’t have put it past them to take out their phones and start recording, if it weren’t for the fact that they should have stepped in and shut it down so much faster. Rewatching the video, host Craig Melvin is in the perfect position to put a stop to it. All he had to do was stand up and he’d be blocking the incident from the camera. Instead, Elmo’s goodwill PR tour was derailed by an incoherent drama worthy of The Real Housewives.

Larry doubled down on his non-apology

After cutting to commercial, Larry David gave a half-assed apology. It seemed obvious that someone – possibly the Sesame team, someone from Today, or even Larry’s own staff – insisted that he issue an apology. Of course, Larry’s not a good enough actor to feign actual sympathy, so his statement felt unearned and uncompromising. If that weren’t enough, Larry then went onto Late Night with Seth Meyers that very evening to set the record straight. His response? “I’d do it again.” No explanation, no attempt to get the audience on his side, just the irrational actions of an old man who can’t be told what to do. Unsurprisingly for a person like Larry, he has learned nothing.

Elmo’s lack of respect for Larry returned in kind

My favorite part of the Today Show clip is during Larry’s neutered apology. Elmo, just on the other side of the stage, listens to Larry with full attention, finally accepting the apology despite the fact that he really didn’t have to. But did something sound strange about it to you? Normally, when Elmo is interacting with a celebrity, he refers to them as “Mr. [FIRSTNAME]” or “Miss [FIRSTNAME].” But Larry doesn’t deserve the respect that comes with a formal title. To Elmo, he’s just “Larry.” Just as we’ve been referring to him throughout this article. In Elmo’s book, a “Mr.” or “Miss” is earned, and Larry has effectively given Elmo an excuse to treat a real human being with the disdain he usually reserves for Rocco.

Despite all of the frustration and hurt Larry inflicted with such a simple action, we’re also left with a sliver of goodwill. Larry most certainly comes across as the bad guy, allowing Elmo to succeed in fighting a villain – something he doesn’t get to do very often on Sesame Street. We’ve learned that sometimes a person’s truth is right there in front of us the whole time, and even acting with kindness and patience can’t change a person. But mostly, we’ve learned that Muppet performers like Ryan Dillon and Tyler Bunch are true professionals, able to handle anything that comes swinging their way. The whole situation could’ve played out so much worse if they hadn’t kept their cool.

Speaking of which, Ryan Dillon seems to be doing just fine, as evidenced by this video he shot for his own puppet series DillonGale, which features a bunch of notable cameos.

After a deep inspection on the Today scene, and given the option to watch either Curb Your Enthusiasm or Sesame Street, I sure know which one I’d be tuning in for.

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by Joe Hennes –

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Written by Joe Hennes

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