My Week with The Muppet Show: Week Four, Day Two

Published: August 12, 2003
Categories: Feature

“Hi ho, hi ho,” says Kermit, “and welcome again to The Muppet Show!” Thank you, Kermit.

“Hey, our special guest tonight is a young man who soared to stardom on Broadway in Pippin, had his own television series, and is one of the really multi-talented performers in show business.”

Man, what is it with Kermit and the young men this week? Ben Vereen was 30 years old in 1976. Not that thirty is old — it’s eleven years younger than yesterday’s “young man,” Avery Schreiber — but what the hell? The next episode stars Phyllis Diller; maybe Kermit will call her a young man too.

Anyway, Ben Vereen is such a multi-talented performer in show business that they stick him in one of the most awkward opening numbers of all time.

It’s “Jump Shout Boogie,” a peppy, upbeat song written by Barry Manilow — I’m not kidding, it really was — about people dancing in honky-tonks to take their minds off the fact that their loved ones were dying in World War 2.

It’s sung, for no apparent reason, by a guy with two heads, accompanied by Rowlf and four frenzied Muppet dancers. The backdrop is adorned with what look mostly like huge musical notes, except for one shape over to the left that isn’t.

The two-headed singer does a verse and a couple choruses — most of which consist of the words “boogie-woogie,” “heebie-jeebies,” and “switcharoonie.”

He really makes you wanna jump (JUMP!)
Shout (SHOUT!)
Knock yourself out!

— and the dancing couples smack their heads together and fall to the floor for a moment —

A boogie-woogie beat is what I’m talking about
If you had the heebie-jeebies you could dance away
To the boogie-woogie beat of a piano man playin’.

Then, apropos of nothing, Rowlf shouts, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ben Vereen!”

That multi-talented performer Mr Ben Vereen appears — literally appears, out of thin air — perched on a little platform by Rowlf’s piano at the back of the set. It is, in fact, a very little platform; Ben clearly doesn’t have room to move even one step in any direction for fear of plummeting down onto a puppeteer.

So, in lieu of actually having room to dance, he does a sort of limp-wristed Tyrannosaurus Rex thing with his hands, and starts wriggling hisknees around.

He’s very good at that. If knee-wriggling counts as one of the talents in multi-talented, then yes, the man is multi-talented. (After all, he’s got two knees, that’s one talent apiece.)

It’s not dancing, per se. But the guy’s on a very small platform, and he’s just teleported into this mess, so at the moment just not falling over is sufficient.

The two-headed singer is at it again.

He really makes you wanna jump (JUMP!)
Shout (SHOUT!)
Oooooh knoggyaseggaaaaa

That’s Mr Ben Vereen there, on the ooooh knoggyaseggaaaaa. That’s apparently Ben’s version of the line “knock yourself out.”

You wanna jump (JUMP!)
You wanna soggatoome nowwww
You wanna jump (JUMP!)
Flo-do-OIK! Flo-do-OIK!

More translations: soggatoome nowww means “sock it to me now.” I have absolutely no idea what Flo-do-OIK, Flo-do-OIK means, except that it’s one of the more unpleasant sounds that can be made through the human larynx.

After that incident, Ben doesn’t sing anymore. The two-headed guy takes over for the next chorus, and Ben just acquits himself on his little platform like he’s Laugh-In‘s Goldie Hawn on amphetamines. Or, rather, more amphetamines than Goldie’s usual dose.

He jumps, he shouts, he knocks himself out. There’s some more knee-wriggling, and something that looks a bit like the butterfly stroke.

We’re almost done. Ben gives us a little high-energy air piano for a few more bars, and then everyone involved turns to the camera, opens their mouth as wide as possible, and screams YEAH!

Ben, the only actual human being in view, is grimacing like a mad thing, with a weird open-mouthed toothy grin that he holds for far longer than is optimal. He also throws his arms out and does jazz hands.

And that’s the end of the bit.

It is, in other words, one minute and thirty-four seconds of the most unpleasant sights and sounds ever broadcast on television. I just can’t say enough about it.

by Danny Horn

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