Understanding Pepe the King Prawn

Published: August 2, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pepe the King Prawn lately. This isn’t really surprising, since I’m a ToughPigs writer. It also isn’t surprising because I grew up with Muppets Tonight, Muppets From Space, and Muppets Party Cruise for the Gamecube, and that means I’ll always have a soft spot for the little crustacean. Sure, a lot of Muppet fans aren’t crazy about these projects or Pepe himself, but I like him.

Pepe has proven to have staying power. His game show was a highlight of Muppets Now. He has his own official Twitter page. He and Gonzo recently appeared in a quick teaser for the upcoming Muppets Haunted Mansion special. On the one hand, this isn’t surprising because Bill Barretta is an unbelievably talented puppeteer and improviser. But on the other hand this is unusual because he’s a comparatively new character, and the Muppets tend to focus on nostalgia these days.

And while I remember Pepe, and most of our readers remember Pepe, I had to ask: do “regular” people remember Pepe? Do they have nostalgia for him? What do they think when he shows up advertising a new special or tweeting about the Oscars? I wanted to find out. And, since I’m the head of the ToughPigs Research Institute, I devised a research plan.

The Research Plan

My research question: What do casual Muppet fans, and non-fans, know about Pepe the King Prawn? My research method: a survey, distributed to my non-Muppet fan friends. My research goal: Understand Pepe’s current role in the Muppets better to speculate on how the Muppets can add more characters in the future.

The questions were designed to figure out how fondly people felt about the Muppets gang in general, then to determine their thoughts and opinions about Pepe in particular. I also wanted to ask about Pepe’s classic self-help book It’s Hard Out Here For a Shrimp, because I am cursed with the knowledge of its existence so everyone else must suffer as well.

First, an aside. I only got 15 respondents to this survey because I do not have many friends (which shouldn’t be surprising). However, the results are still very interesting and suggest directions for future research. Let’s get into my results and analysis.

Overall Opinion on the Muppets

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Of the 15 people I surveyed, no one hated the Muppets and most were fairly fond of them. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “I actively despise the Muppets” and 10 being “I consider the Muppets my closest friends,” no one put lower than a 4. The average rating was a 6.7. This checks out, because they’ve all had to listen to me ramble about the cinematography of The Muppet Christmas Carol once or twice.

Do You Remember Pepe?

This is the big question, and a multi-part one. Firstly, I asked people if they remembered the name of “this Muppet,” with a photo of Pepe underneath. Of the 15 people, only three knew that his name was Pepe, and one added a question mark to show their uncertainty. Of the wrong answers, some were close: “Shrimpy,” “Fun Guy! Shrimp?,” “Something About Being a Shrimp,” “Pietro (or maybe Francisco),” and “Prawnaldo.” At first I was like, wow, I guess it’s very clear he’s a shrimp, but then I remembered I posted the title It’s Hard Out Here For a Shrimp in a later question, so I guess I skewed the results. Oops.

Very wrong answers given were “Muppetto,” “Spicy Jeffrey,” “I Do Not Know But I Love Them,” “Grub,” “Crazy Something,” and “Screlto.” And of course, one person was technically correct by saying “Not Gonzo.”

How Do You Feel About Pepe?

This question is much simpler: how do people feel about Pepe, on a scale of 1-10. An answer of 1 represents “This Muppet is an abomination,” and an answer of 10 represents “This Muppet is my greatest love.” While one person did choose 1, the average response was 5.9, which is pretty close to the average. Most people think that Pepe is fine.

What Does This Muppet Do?

Most Muppets have a pretty clearly-defined bit. Fozzie tells jokes, Gonzo does stunts, Animal drums, the Beautiful Day Monster asks Paul Williams for cheaper airfare, you know. Does Pepe? I’d argue Pepe’s “thing” has changed a few times, but I would have accepted the following as correct answers: being a Lothario, being a trickster, being a writer, being a terrible comedian, being a cook, having a Spanish accent.

Some people got this question correct. One accurately said he was “a playboy pseudo-dirtbag” and “like Rizzo but hornier.” Also fair: “usually just obnoxious and he has an accent,” “he’s got an accent and he does wacky stuff,” shrimp,” and “crimes.”

Other answers were close: “scream,” “be wild,” “be around, chaos incarnate,” “he speaks nonsense,” and “he speaks with a French Cajun accent.” Man, I wish Pepe talked like Gambit. It’s worth noting a lot of these answers (save for the Cajun one) are true of all of the Muppets. You don’t get points for saying Muppets do chaotic nonsense.

But of course, a lot of people missed the mark. One angry respondent said he “probably tracks crust all over the house,” which I guess is some frustration at tempura. Another wondered “Why does this exist?” And of course, the angriest just said “anger.”

The two remaining answers were the most fascinating, because they came from people who clearly remembered the Muppets well but could not distinguish between characters. One claimed Pepe “wrestled Hulk Hogan.” While the Hulkster did appear in Muppets From Space, he shares no scenes with Pepe.

Another said, “He’s not the one who blows people up but I associate him with the one who blows people up for some reason. I think that guy is the one named Crazy Something and not this guy. I am sorry.”

This friend confronted me later and told me she meant “the one that throws fish,” not Crazy Something. Alas, this Muppet is neither Crazy Harry nor Lew Zealand.

What Muppet Productions Do You Remember that Feature Pepe?

This question was the most critical. What’s funny is Pepe really isn’t in a vast majority of the Muppet things that are available on Disney+. Yes, he’s one of the leads of The Muppets sitcom and Muppets Now, but middling reviews definitely keep non-Muppet fans away from those. He’s only in the Jason Segel movie for a five-second Miss Piggy fat joke, and most of his jokes in Muppets Most Wanted are only in the Blu-Ray director’s cut or on the soundtrack album.

So where are people getting their Pepe content? What have they seen that features him? Do my friends (who are mostly under 30) even remember watching Muppets Tonight on TGIF?

Let’s make this simple: they don’t.

Seven people could not name a single appearance. One wrote “Shrimpy’s Day Out,” which seems to be a joke. Others just were wrong. “The Muppet Show.” Nope. “Muppet Treasure Island.” Sorry, nope. “Is he the one who blows up at the end of The Muppet Show theme song?” That Muppet is named Gonzo.

My favorite response was someone who said “I feel like he was in the Kokomo music video,” because they remembered a minor piece of Muppet ephemera but forgot that Pepe was not there either.

So we have four correct, or kinda-correct answers. One person said “Muppets Tonight and Muppet Treasure Island,” so that’s half true. Two people said The Muppets sitcom, and one of them also added Muppet Monster Adventure. (This person impresses me a lot.) And the remaining person said Muppets From Space–correct–but once again speculated he appeared alongside Hollywood Hulk Hogan, which he did not.

So yeah. Almost no one could correctly identify a single Muppet production that had Pepe in it. He just is.

And One Last Section

Pepe had a book called It’s Hard Out Here For a Shrimp. I think that might be the weirdest choice the Muppets ever made, so I asked folks if they thought it was weird, and if they’d read it.

The average response was a 3.3, right in the middle of the 1-5 believability scale. Nine of the fifteen people said they’d read the book, which makes them braver than I.

So What?

So what can we take away from this? Granted, my data set is small. However, it seems like even if they think the Muppets are pretty good, most “regular” people have a hazy memory of Pepe at best. And yet they don’t dislike him in the abstract. They don’t question that he’s part of the gang. He’s just “around.”

What this tells me is the Muppets shouldn’t be afraid to add new characters to the squad. Bring in a new character (maybe finally a female one!), perform them well, and just act like they were always there. The Muppets might be something everyone’s nostalgic for, but maybe people’s nostalgia isn’t as clear as we sometimes think it is.

Or maybe this is all nonsense, and Pepe is just a king prawn we all kind of know. More research is clearly required. You should all try replicating this study and getting back to me, okay.

Click here to recall every seafood meal you’ve ever had on the ToughPigs forum!

by Evan G.


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