Muppet Monday: The Muppet Comedy Mono-Level

Editor’s note: Big thanks to David from futureprobe for submitting this Muppet Monday. Like me, David is a huge Muppet fan and he’s had an open invitation to guest post whenever he was inspired. I’m really happy he went for the following piece because, to me, the Muppets are all about bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. Enjoy!

Making comedy that both children and adults can enjoy is no easy thing. The most common way to go about it is to make your comedy work on two levels: an obvious, brightly-colored slapstick-y level that appeals to kids along with pop culture references and subtextual jokes that adults will chuckle at even as they go right over kids’ heads. The guys behind the original Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were masters of this, and pretty much every Dreamworks animated movie employs the technique-not always successfully.

It’s much harder, almost impossible in fact, to make comedy that appeals to both kids and adults but has only one level–no subtext, no pop cultural in-jokes. If you can do it, you’re a genius. Speaking of geniuses: Jim Henson. Take a look at this classic Sesame Street skit, with Jim as Kermit and his good friend and frequent collaborator Frank Oz as Grover:

It’s simply hilarious. By which I mean it’s simple, and it’s hilarious. It’s funny whether you’re 4 or 84. And it really encapsulates the genius of Jim Henson and Frank Oz because that’s an incredibly difficult thing to pull off. And yet they did it, over and over again, for years. Take a look at this clip, which is nothing more than test footage that was made to see if they could successfully take the Muppets outside the studio environment for The Muppet Movie:

None of it is scripted; it’s all improvised banter. But it’s so effortlessly hysterical. Henson and Oz are one of the great comedy duos of all time, right there beside Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, or Appleton and Bartokamus. And their humor wasn’t the kind you’d be embarrassed to explain to your kids.

It’s often said that Jim Henson was taken from us a million times too soon, and it’s true. But another way to look at it is that we were fortunate to have had him at all. And it’s great that the gift he gave us-simple laughter-is something that remains undiminished with the passage of time.

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