It’s so frustrating — I’ve been at Muppetfest for four hours and I still haven’t bought Thing One. Don’t they know that there are Muppet collectors who want to buy stuff at this convention? Why couldn’t they put any decent Muppet stuff out for sale?
Kidding again. There’s tons of stuff! Bill and I walk through the door of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and there’s huge tables groaning with Muppet Stuff right in front of us. Ping! Ping! You can see two little Road-Runner puffs of smoke as we dash over to check it out. We are Hungry Muppet Collectors and We Must Feed. I’ve promised my boyfriend that I would stick to a strict Muppet-junk budget this weekend. Bill has made some kind of vague promise to his boyfriend to do the same. (Attention readers: Ironic Foreshadowing.) But we don’t care! The first table has all the cool Muppet Show 25th Anniversary stuff on it — Muppetfest T-shirts, Muppetfest hats, a Muppet Show 25 Years wristwatch, a Muppet Show 25 Years cloisonne pin… Just the fact that I know the word cloisonne tells you how dangerous this is. Within moments, I’m eighty-five dollars poorer. I turn to Bill happily: “And I’m STILL under budget!” A guy standing next to me smiles, “Yeah, it’s five minutes before the event starts, and you’re under budget.” “I know!” I chirp. “I’m doing really well!”
The next table… By the way, here’s a little story about my childhood. Whenever my mom would go out to a fancy restaurant, or would go somewhere on a trip, she would always come home and describe the food that she ate in excruciating detail, despite the fact that it clearly bored me solid. I would beg her to stop, but she would say, “Let me just tell you about the dessert!” Even now, I shudder when I think about Mom’s Food Stories. So I’m completely self-aware about the fact that this is Danny’s Muppet Stuff Story and you probably don’t care. But I’m a Muppet Collector, and it’s my website, so you’re gonna get the Muppet Stuff Story. Here goes.
The next table has a whole set of 8×10 photos. And there’s one photo, right in the middle, of Miss Piggy seated against a bright white background, draped in an American flag. She’s in a melancholy pose, and besides the flag, she’s only wearing a blue evening glove and a red evening glove. It’s possibly one of the most stunning images I’ve ever seen. Bill and I catch sight of it in the same moment — and we both catch our breaths in this enormous simultaneous Piggy-Fan GASP.
By the way, have I mentioned that both Bill and I are gay? Or is that just redundant information at this point?
Anyway, the Stuff Story gets kind of ugly from here. We buy the photos and the Nanco Kermit dolls. We buy the Bear magnet and the Kermit wine stopper. Andy Wolf has a table of vintage Muppet knick-knacks and we blow some money there too. We are maniacs, maniacs on the floor, and we’re collecting like we’ve never collected before.
Then, about five minutes later, I’m hugging Sweetums. This is something that keeps happening at Muppefest. Every time I think, “Wow, I’m having the coolest time ever,” something happens that makes it even cooler. And the show hasn’t even started yet.
Actually, “the show hasn’t started yet” is kind of the theme for the first fifteen minutes of the actual show. There are some minor technical difficulties at first, since they haven’t quite figured out how to operate the video, the audio, the lights, or the cameras. They’re all getting a little frustrated, but we don’t care. They’re riding on a tremendous wave of good will at the moment. It all works itself out.
The emcee for Saturday is Kirk Thatcher, one of the Muppet writers, who enters holding the Emmy that he won for Muppets Tonight. He’s very proud of his Emmy, and he hopes it’ll help him meet hot chicks. He teaches us the Muppet Salute, which is supposed to be the Muppet-fan version of “Live long and prosper.” You put your hand up like a puppet mouth and you make the mouth say “Hi ho!” The appropriate response for a male Muppet fan is “Wocka wocka!” and for a female Muppet fan is “Kissy kissy!” We all do the Muppet Salute. I am in the right room.
They’re trying to open with a video greeting from Miss Piggy, but they can’t get the video clip to work. They keep rewinding it. Kirk is vamping. Then the screen lights up with a live backstage image — Rizzo, Gonzo, Clifford, Floyd and Pepe. Clifford says, “Kirk, why are you messing up?” Pepe is upset: “Kirk, please — make this show go all right, okay? This is very bad, okay.” The crowd goes wild. Live Muppets! It’s fantastic. They get the Piggy clip to work — she apologizes for not being here, due to the hectic demands of celebritude. Then Brian Henson comes out to introduce the History of the Muppet Show panel.
The History of the Muppet Show panel is lovely and earnest, but there are no Muppets in it. Will I get drummed out of the Muppet-fan corps if I admit that this panel was cool in theory but kind of dull in reality? I hate to say it. It’s got Jerry Nelson, producer Martin Baker, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Amy Van Gilder (head of the Muppet Workshop) and Paul Williams. They all tell stories about the creation of The Muppet Show, but… you kind of see why these people usually talk through puppets. They’re all really nice, interesting people, and they’ve had a lot of cool experiences, but everybody in the audience is slightly antsy. We want to see Muppets. Funniest moment on this panel: Amy Van Gilder mentions that she works for Walt Disney now, and there’s a murmur of boos from the audience.
They show some Historic Henson Clips — a couple of Wilkins Coffee commercials, a Sam and Friends sketch, and Kermit and Yorick singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” from the Steve Allen Show. It’s really cool to be in a crowd where a 40-year-old black and white Kermit sketch is getting a big laugh.
Then David Barrington-Holt from the Creature Shop comes out do his presentation on the Creature Shop, and that’s my cue to take a break, stretch my legs, and go visit the exhibit room. Later on, I’ll find that a lot of my friends are referring to the Creature Shop presentations as “the Creature Shop Break” — as in, “Did you see the cool stuff in the exhibit room? I saw it during the Creature Shop Break.” No offense to Mr. Barrington-Holt, who seems like a really cool guy. It’s just that this presentation is mostly clips from movies that I already like (Dreamchild), movies that I already hate (Lost in Space) or movies that I already have no interest in (Jack Frost). So, a little time to myself, then.
Luckily, I come back in time for Kirk to introduce a surprise guest — Claudia Black, from Farscape! As Claudia enters the stage, she pretends to punch Kirk across the face in a perfect Aeryn-Sun move. She’s only on stage for a minute, just long enough to say that she’s there because she’s a Henson fan too, and that she wanted to get the role on Farscape specifically because she wanted to work with the Henson Company. She thanks us for coming to celebrate Henson’s great work. She’s so beautiful and cool, and it’s such a neat surprise to see her. I’m starting to believe that this weekend is just magic, like it’s suddenly going to start raining puppies.
And then — finally, finally — Real Live Muppets.
by Danny Horn