Maria Week: Sesame Street’s Greatest Straight Man

Published: July 29, 2015
Categories: Feature

Welcome to Maria Week – Celebrating over 40 years of Sonia Manzano’s work on Sesame Street!  We’re dedicating an entire week to her performance as Maria and the legacy she’s leaving with the recent announcement of her retirement from the show.

Elmo Maria takeAlthough it’s sad that Sonia Manzano is leaving Sesame Street, it’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of affection she’s received from fans of all ages since her announcement. When most people talk about their fond memories of the show, they tend to focus on Cookie Monster, Ernie and Bert, Big Bird, and those guys.  The humans on the street tend to be overshadowed and upstaged by their brighter, louder Muppet co-stars when.  But I’ve always loved the humans just about as much as the Muppets, so it’s always great when they get some much-deserved praise.

Maria is especially deserving of praise, because she’s one of the best Sesame Street humans ever, due in no small part to Sonia Manzano’s performance.  As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate how the writers and  actors make each of the humans a distinct character beyond just being “one of the grown-ups.”  Maria has been around for 40 years, so obviously she has a lot going for her, but one of my favorite things about her is this: Of all the grown-ups on Sesame Street, Maria is the best at playing straight man to Muppets.

maria-appleOf course, this is a job requirement for being on the show.  The humans certainly get plenty of opportunities to show off their comedy skills, but they spend a huge portion of their screen time reacting to the wacky antics of those silly puppets. Often, especially in recent years, it’s a little kid character whose youthful enthusiasm or naivete is getting the better of them.  But my favorite times are when it’s a seemingly adult Muppet who’s just acting like a goofball.

And while all of the Sesame Street humans are good at working with Muppets, Maria/Sonia is just the best at playing off their silliness in a way that’s equally amusing, but without ever overdoing it with overacting or mugging.  She knows when to execute a slow burn, but if the situation calls for it, she won’t hesitate to raise her voice.  This puts her in the company of many great comedy straight men over the years, including but not limited to Bud Abbott, Dick Smothers, and Kermit the Frog.

But what she’s really great at is judiciously and deftly employing takes to the camera.

Maria Sonny Friendly face

Yes, just like that!

In case you’re not convinced of Sonia Manzano’s comedic brilliance, I’ve compiled a few videos I found on YouTube that are full of evidence.  They are also striking as a record of the sheer number of different hairstyles Maria has had over the years.

I’ll start with this episode, in which Maria tries her best to remain polite when Prairie Dawn vows to play music for her all day:

One of the funniest street scenes I recall seeing on Sesame Street featured traveling game show host Sonny Friendly ambushing Maria in her bathroom with his latest challenge. As Sonny attempts to begin the game, an unamused Maria asks, “Can I spit?”  Well, I couldn’t find that one.  Sorry!  But I did find this other Sonny Friendly bit, which finds Maria at her exasperated best and features the above “we are not amused” face.

As long as we’re on kooks dropping in on Maria in the Fix-it Shop, watch Maria deal with repeated interruptions by an incompetent one-shot Anything Muppet hilariously performed by Jerry Nelson:

Joe already posted this video yesterday, but it’s such a good street story I’m going to put it here, so you can watch it again or for the first time… It’s Maria fending off the affections of a smitten Placido Flamingo:

While she’s frequently seen shaking her head at Muppets, Maria knows how to play along when she has to. Here, watch her sing a lullaby with the Two-Headed Monster:

And of course, no conversation about Maria’s chemistry with Muppets would be complete without a mention of Oscar, the Muppet with whom Maria had the greatest unspoken sexual tension.  Here, Maria attempts to talk about the things people love, thwarted by Oscar all along the way:

Hey, you know what I love?  Maria!  Thanks for everything, Sonia!

Click here to look at the camera on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

Maria sign

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