Original air date: May 9, 1981
In its five seasons, The Muppet Show welcomed a galaxy of big-name stars. But as the show began to wind down its incredible run, they brought on someone that wasn’t as well known. That is, unless you had been to Disneyland. And so, thanks to his work at The Happiest Place on Earth, Wally Boag appeared on The Muppet Show for one of its most jam-packed, subtly memorable episodes.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Wally Boag, I’ll give a semi-brief overview. Having been in theater since the age of nine, Boag turned his attention to comedy at 19. In 1955, Boag, by this point a veterage of stage and screen, auditioned for The Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland, which was about to open its doors to the world. For the next twenty-seven years, Boag would perform at the revue in the park for three shows a day, five days a week (with the exception of a three-year stint at Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971) before retiring in 1982.
His work at the Golden Horseshoe made him a Disney Legend, earning him and the show a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records for having “the greatest number of performances of any theatrical presentation.” Jim Henson was also an admirer of Boag’s work, having loved his performance upon a visit to Disneyland sometime in the 1960’s. Thanks to fellow Muppet Show guest star Steve Martin introducing Boag to Henson in 1980, Boag was invited to guest star on the show.
The theme of the episode is laid out quite simply by Kermit in his introduction: “As you know, every week we try to do a real old-fashioned vaudeville show. Well, this week, we’re going to succeed.” And so, the show pays tribute to its vaudeville roots, offering a wide variety of acts from Flying Zucchini Brothers to geriatric hypnosis to canine arithmetic. (And of course, this being The Muppet Show, nothing quite works out the way it’s supposed to.) The Muppets had done vaudeville tributes in the past, most notably in the Edgar Bergen, Steve Martin and Milton Berle episodes, but nothing seems to be as obvious a tribute as it is here, offering the old promise of “something for everyone.” This leads to a barrage of gags and snappy jokes, leaving little room for the show to breathe. There’s no quiet numbers like “Halfway Down the Stairs” or “The Wishing Song” here! But if your firm belief is that the Muppets should be funny first and foremost, this is a winning episode.
And what winners there are! While it may not come up in anyone’s definitive list of the series’ best episodes, I’m willing to bet that most of you have seen at least one sketch from this one, especially every March 17th. Yes, this is indeed the one that gave us The Leprechaun Brothers, as The Swedish Chef, Animal and Beaker bork, meep and OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY their way through “Danny Boy.” It’s a simple premise, brilliantly executed. Let three characters with unique methods of speech sing a very emotional song, and have them all bawling by the end. But hey, that’s the Muppets at their best.
And having grown up with the “It’s the Muppets!” compilations of the early ‘90s, Miss Piggy and Foo-Foo’s dog act has become one of my personal favorites, if only for the fact that Miss Piggy manages to respond to Rowlf’s snide comments with some witty clapbacks of her own, and nary a karate chop to be seen. There’s something so refreshingly different about that. The quick pace and wide range of bits keeps things lively, as if it knew to go for the “viral” moment well before that meant anything beside immunology.
And at the center of it all is Boag, doing some of the routines that made him a Disneyland staple. We get to see him make his signature “Boagaloons,” an act he had been doing for decades. (Seriously, here’s a video of him doing nearly the exact same routine on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1957.) Later, he plays a set of Muppet-ized bagpipes, and closes it all out with the classic “Pecos Bill” number, with Annie Sue taking the place of his longtime co-star, Betty Taylor. When I reviewed the Alice Cooper episode, I discussed that Cooper shifts his style ever-so-slightly to match the feeling of the Muppets. Boag offers a fascinating counterpoint, as it seems at times the Muppet performers work to match Boag’s manic energy. In the end, it works beautifully, offering a tribute to a beloved entertainment form that would inspire The Muppet Show itself.
Best Joke: Miss Piggy finds a nonviolent way to bring Rowlf to heel (pun intended) with this retort:
ROWLF: Maybe that trick’s too hard for her. Have her do something simple. Like, roll over and play dead.
MISS PIGGY: Why don’t you roll over and drop dead? If I want her to do something simple, I would have had her play the piano and make dumb remarks.
Lamest Joke: This time, the hecklers have a bad joke worthy of Fozzie Bear when Lottie Lemon is crushed by falling Zucchini Brothers:
STATLER: Poor Lottie Lemon. I hope someone knows first aid.
WALDORF: Forget first aid, Lottie needs lemonade.
Most Classic Moment: It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without The Leprechaun Brothers! I feel luckier already.
Should-Be-Classic Moment: As Miss Piggy introduces Foo-Foo’s second trick, the dog scratches its ear. Without missing a beat, she says, “very good, now for her third trick!” I like to think Frank Oz thought of that on the spot in a brilliant moment of improvisation. I won’t accept any theories otherwise.
Most Dated Joke: During the “Pecos Bill” number, a particular inappropriate term for Native Americans is used. Thankfully, people are more conscientious about that now, to the point that even Washington’s football team ditched the name.
the-DVD-Release-Disney+ Alert: “The Ying Tong Song” has been excised from Disney+ for unknown reasons. Perhaps its energy is too high for this episode, which is saying something.
One More Thing: Aside from appearing in a few crowd shots, there’s surprisingly very little of Fozzie and Gonzo, who you might think would be perfect fits for the vaudeville theme. (Though Gonzo would never admit it.)
Okay, One More Thing: Here’s a fun fact about Boag’s act: the “teeth” that he spat out were actually lima beans! I just hope no picky eaters out there just found a way to get out of eating them.
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by Matthew Soberman – Matthew@ToughPigs.com