Overthinking It: Sesame Street Muppets Learn About Trees

Published: July 1, 2022
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Sesame Street is really good at teaching educational concepts. You probably didn’t know that, but it’s true. Among the tried-and-true methods they use to impart lessons is the “Teach the Right Thing by Teaching the Wrong Thing” method. They do this all the time. Usually it’s a Muppet character attempting to accomplish a task or deliver a piece of information, but the Muppet gets it hilariously incorrect and has to be corrected by another character. I’m pretty sure about 67% of Grover’s appearances are like this.

But every once in a while, Sesame Street will let a human adult play the role of the goofball who does things wrong. And back in the day, it was fairly common for the human cast members to play silly character roles in sketches, which gave them an opportunity to show off their comedic chops.

Which brings me to this sketch, which I think about every once in a while, and which Muppet Wiki says first aired in Season 13. Northern Calloway, who played David on the show, portrays a professor who delivers a lecture about trees and what they are good for to a classroom full of Anything Muppets. Here, check it out, thanks to YouTube user sawing14s:

I have a lot of extremely interesting and fascinating thoughts and observations about this. You’re going to love reading every single thing I say for the rest of this article.

Starting with this:

Do you suppose this is meant to be David, the proprietor of Hooper’s Store, working a second gig as a professor? Or is it just the actor Northern Calloway playing a completely different character — an academic who’s never made a single egg cream? Or is it David in disguise as a professor? Is he impersonating an educator just for kicks?

This must be an adult education class, right? That explains why most of the students are clearly adults. This would lead me to conclude that this is a night class, except that everyone says “Good morning” at the beginning of the class. So it could be a weekend class. Some of the Muppets appear to be ready for work — the farmer is wearing his overalls and straw hat, which is presumably his farming wardrobe, and the carpenter actually brought a carpentry project to the classroom with her. Although it’s also possible she accidentally adhered it to her hand using wood glue.

There’s also a child in the room, which I suppose is more evidence that this is not taking place on a school day. But if it is a weekend, what is he doing there? He should be outside riding his bike on a busy city street or playing in an abandoned construction site, like all children did back then. Perhaps he’s the kid of one or more of the grown-ups in the class. Or perhaps he’s just auditing the class.

Does the professor think that wearing his graduation gown to class will impress his students? Is he trying to make himself feel superior by making sure they can’t forget that he’s completed his higher education and they haven’t? Or is he on his way to a costume party? That could explain why he’s in such a hurry to conclude the lesson and get out of there.

Either way, the students don’t seem very impressed by him. They obviously know a lot more about trees than he does. I can only assume the farmer brought that apple to class as the traditional “apple for teacher,” only to change his mind when he discovered that the teacher is a dumbbell.

And yet, to the professor’s credit, he proves himself capable of admitting when he’s wrong. He fully acknowledges that trees are good for many more things than he initially asserted. He’s not afraid of being corrected, even when the correction comes from a small talking bird. One can just imagine the professor writing in his diary that night: “These students teach me as much as I teach them.”

Finally, on a personal note: When I was a kid, my friend Daniel had Return of the Jedi on a VHS tape, recorded from TV. Due to some kind of tape-reusing incident, some of the early scene where Darth Vader arrives on the new Death Star and is greeted by the Emperor was missing. In its place was — you guessed it — this Sesame Street sketch. So every time I revisit this sketch now, I think of Darth Vader. (Emperor: “We will defeat the Rebellion once and for all!” Anything Muppet Lady: “But what about paper?”)

And there it is. That’s everything that could possibly said about this sketch. That’s ALL.

Oh, wait. I almost forgot. There’s one more thing. When that gray-haired lady holds up a piece of paper, it grazes her nose. I hope she didn’t give herself a paper cut. Yowch!

Okay, that’s it. That’s everything there is to say about this sketch. That’s ALL!

Oh, but hold on. I almost forgot…

Click here to make a joke about Darth Vader liking trees more than he likes sand on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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