Los Angeles! The City of Lights! The Big Apple! The place where Space Jam was set! All incorrect but hey, I’m writing the article, not you.
Recently I found myself in that fair city on the West Coast, having travelled from Melbourne to spend a few days at Disneyland with my best friend Josie. I had spoken with Muppets Studio VP Leigh Slaughter a couple of months earlier to tell her I was coming (on the off chance we could have a coffee), and she and publicist Frank Reifsnyder had told me to keep Tuesday 9th free for a surprise. I had heard rumblings that The Muppets Mayhem was likely to be released in May, so I had a sneaking suspicion that the surprise would be related to that in some capacity.
So imagine my surprise when, in early May, Josie and I recieved an invitation to the premiere party for The Muppets Mayhem! I was going to get to spend the night rubbing shoulders with the Muppet performers and hang out with celebrities pretend for a few hours that I was a part of the elite!
At 6:30pm on Tuesday 9th May, we exited our Uber at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary where the event was taking place. We were handed our passes, which were made to look like Backstage Passes for The Electric Mayhem’s ‘Long and Winded Road Tour 2023’. We entered the courtyard, and I was immediately greeted by Eric Jacobson, who gave me a hug and told me how excited he was to see me – a sentiment shared by all the performers the second they realised I was at the party. We had a lovely chat about the new show, how it differed from the 2015 series, and how exhausted poor Eric was considering he’d just flown back from London for the Coronation the day before.
Looking around the courtyard there was the Electric Mayhem’s van from the new show, Moog’s trailer, and the famous Electric Mayhem bus. I later enquired to Leigh if this was the original, which she told me it was not, but it had been made to look identical. The biggest difference was the length, as the bus in this show is one ‘window’ shorter. Also in the courtyard was a Muppet sized stage. But more on that shortly.
I had the chance to chat to Leigh and Frank, and met President of Disney Live Entertainment David Lightbody, who was incredibly gracious with his time. Leigh had organised Josie and I reserved seating for World of Color during our Disneyland trip so we thanked her for that, and chatted with David about the show as it falls under his department. As the conversation finished, Josie grabbed my arm and pointed at the courtyard’s entrance. Weird Al Yankovic had just walked in. Unfortunately we weren’t given much time to freak out, as the screening was about to start, so we were whisked into the theater to watch the first two episodes. But before we walked in, Frank tapped me on the shoulder and advised me to exit the theater the second the screening was finished and to stand in a certain spot in the courtyard for a surprise.
We sat down and I spent 10 minutes people watching, recognising some of the Henson puppeteers like Drew Massey and Donna Kimball. Stars Lilly Singh, Tahj Mowry and Saara Chaudry were chattering away to each other, then started waving madly to someone above my head. I turned and saw Eric, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz and David Rudman sitting up in the balcony, waving back at them. David Lightbody took to the stage to thank everyone for coming, and threw it to show creators Adam Goldberg, Jeff Yorkes, and some guy named Bill Barretta (who later threatened to have me deported after also asking what was wrong with my voice, a joke he’s made every time I’ve ever spoken to him ever). Luckily for you, Disney blog Laughing Place was at the event and filmed their entire speech, so I don’t have to remember what jokes were made and when;
Watching the first two episodes with a crowd was the best way you could watch them, with everyone laughing and applauding and having a great time. Granted, 80% of the people there worked on the show, but still, it’s nice they took pride in their work.
As soon as the screening ended, I took Frank’s advice and Josie and I ran to the area he’d recommended. It was in front of that little Muppet stage I’d mentioned earlier, and we were front row, as close to center as possible. Soon music started, and up from behind the drums rose Animal, with the other members of The Electric Mayhem joining him soon after. They sang ‘Join Together’ and ‘Rock On’ from the new show, bantering between as they introduced the band. I’d like to tell you I kept my cool, but I had the biggest, dumbest grin on my face the entire time. Sound good? Well, have I got news for you, as Laughing Place filmed this as well! Enjoy a bonafide live performance by The Electric Mayhem, as well as my shadow which is covering the left part of the speaker in front of Janice:
We got in line to get some exclusive merch (some posters, a guitar plectrum and a choice of a shirt or hat – I picked the shirt) and while talking in line to Leigh, Bill made his way over. He was in a mad rush but spent a couple of minutes chatting.
Josie and I attempted to meet Weird Al at this stage, but he was stolen away by Matt Vogel, who clocked me and came up as soon as Al was finished taking photos with him. Matt is one of the nicest men ever, and has always been one of my biggest supporters. As some of you may know, my father passed away suddenly a month ago, and Matt had heard about this and offered his sincerest condolences. Matt lost his father a while back, and so it was nice to talk to someone who’d been through what I was experiencing. Though we only spoke for a few minutes, Matt validated my feelings and I went away from that conversation with a sense of perspective I hadn’t yet had. It’s something I truly appreciate and I’ll hold on to forever.
But it was time to shoot my shot, and Josie and I finally built up the nerve to say hello to one of my comedy icons, “Weird Al” Yankovic. Al (I call him Al, we’re friends now) greeted us warmly as we chatted about his cameo in the show (he hadn’t yet seen it, but I had, and I told him he had a career in this business which made him laugh – I MADE WEIRD AL LAUGH), and then we took a few photos. One thing I noticed the entire night was how excited everyone was to meet Weird Al, including the performers. Al had filmed his piece separately so this was the first time for most people at the event.
Leigh and her husband Kraig came over to check in on us (something they did a lot of, which was always greatly appreciated) and her husband managed to score me a hat from the merch table, thus ensuring I had every bit of exclusive merch I could get. While talking about how much I loved the music for Muppets Mayhem, Leigh whisked me over to meet a couple of the album’s producers and songwriters of ‘Believe In Us’, Brian Mazzaferri and Bill Prokopow from the band I Fight Dragons. They were extremely passionate about their work, and it was clear how proud they were of the entire album.
Then my arch nemesis appeared, one Peter Linz. Peter continues to ruin my life by being the world’s nicest human being, constantly making me feel inadequate. After being starstruck by Weird Al himself, Peter (and shortly after Alice Dinnean) spent half an hour chatting with Josie and I, often with mini pizzas, sliders and fries in our mouths (Josie chasing down a waiter to get a mini slider for Peter is a sight I’ll never forget). I truly adore Peter Linz, who asked me more questions about myself than I could about him or the new show. At one stage I referenced this video Sesame Street released recently, to which Peter blankly stared at me until I finally showed it to him, to which he responded ‘I genuinely have zero recollection of ever doing that’. Of course it’s lip syncing to an old Jim and Frank track, so it’s entirely possible Peter didn’t puppeteer Ernie here.
Before I could get to him, Jeff Yorkes appeared and introduced himself to me! We chatted for a while, and he told me a few stories which I’d love to repeat here, but I think might be better off coming from Jeff when we get a chance to interview him.
As the night was wounding down, Josie and I found ourselves standing under a heater next to the Rudman family, so David invited us over. He told me he was hoping to have Cookie Monster in Australia at some stage this year and was excited to see what I came up with next, referencing the clipboard Cookie has eaten both times I’ve interviewed him. That was a highlight for me, knowing that the performers were excited to work with us in some capacity. Unfortunately he had to run and do some British press, so I stood with David’s wife Caren and their sons Joey and Noah, who all made sure we felt right at home with them. Seriously, I know I keep saying how nice everyone is, but his family are the sweetest.
By this stage security were moving everyone towards the exit, so we said our goodbyes to the Rudman’s. I briefly stopped by Matt and Eric on my way out to thank them for a great night, admiring Matt’s fancy Kermit watch, and then hugged Peter. Leigh Slaughter once again stopped us as we were leaving to check in on us, and we made the Uber ride home urging the driver to watch the new show.
I could sit here and thank everyone individually but I’m sure they all know how thankful I am, considering I told them 1000 times each that night. But I do want to thank Leigh for inviting me, Frank Reifsnyder for organising myself a ticket and pulling strings to get Josie in as well, and again to Matt Vogel for our talk. Also thanks to Josie for being a great friend, and for dealing me with forgetting to introduce her to everyone.
And I want to thank my best friend Weird Al.
By Jarrod Fairclough – Jarrod@ToughPigs.com
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