Sesame Street Blog

Sesame Family Robinson – From making Muppets to Raising Moppets

Babies of Mass Destruction

Curriculum of the Day: Safety

They find electrical cords pushed behind chairs and pull down boom boxes. They raid the magazine rack, pull out the National Geographic and eat the best pictures. They rip the wooden slats off the antique radio and make holes in the speaker material. They take the clock radio and push all the buttons changing all the settings. They crawl behind chairs and find outlets I didn’t even know were there. They pull off placemats, grab the plunger, drop binkies behind the bed, they are—BABIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION.

Every time I think I have baby-proofed a room, they prove to me yet again I am ignorant of baby ingenuity, and the length of their arms. Their curiosity is basically endless. Every waking moment is spent on the hunt for something new to futz with. Today, we are focusing again on the bathroom, putting safety latches on every drawer and even hanging the toilet paper and garbage can four feet off the ground. Lastly will be the toilet seat lock, although I tend to be sitting on it most of the time they’re playing “Bathroom Adventure.”

“Wait until they can walk.”  My friends say. Egads.

Baby getting a bath.
Just look at that face, is that girl poised for mischief or what?

WHO IS HANDYMAN?

Most everyone on earth has done some version of HandyMan. Cavemen were undoubtedly explaining things using the metaphor of two walking fingers to represent a whole person. The first time I saw it done really well in a performance situation was by the great George Latshaw at the O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Puppetry Conference. It was a glove with a little face tucked into it.  Icelandic Puppeteer Bernd Ogrodnik has a brilliant one he does with two hands. There is a group called Gaia Theatro which has a character called Fingerman that is gorgeous.   Sesame Street’s own David Rudman was known for years as “Ziploc’s Fingerman.”   

So the idea is well worn … and well loved. My HandyMan is a bit of a blunt instrument compared to these, but he means well and perseveres in the face of adversity. I guess he began with Annie’s enormous pregnant belly seeming like a mountain in one of the photos we took. 

  The Mountain of Tummy
The Mountain of Tummy

We thought it would be fun to have a little guy actually scaling that mountain, so I made some shoes and we shot a bunch of footage and edited it together into “Tummy Mountain.”

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Since then, I plan and storyboard most of his films. It’s weird. He’s evolved into this metaphorical replacement for me … like Annie is just married to this enthusiastic, helpful little bumbler … an idea many new fathers would probably find familiar.

HandyMan Loses His Shoes

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It’a a wrap!

Curriculum of the day:  Relational Concepts:  Beginning/End

Today, we wrapped shooting the 41st season of Sesame Street. Sadly, since we only produce 26 new shows a year (as compared to 116 shows 20 years ago), our season is only six extraordinarily packed weeks of shooting. This doesn’t include the Murray "Word of the Day" segments that are shot more guerilla-style on the streets of New York, or the new “Abby Flying Fairy School,” which is animation and takes over a year to complete.     

Wrap time is always slightly nostalgic and sad, since we don’t see people now for long stretches of time between shoots. So, tonight there will be a wrap party at a billiards hall near the studio where lots of toasts and hugs will be given, as well as awards and bottles of wine for people who got engaged, married or had babies. (Last year, Marty and I got four bottles for getting engaged, married and having two babies!)  

We used to do the wrap parties on the actual set. Because the crew had to work these parties rather than enjoy them, and we moved to a smaller studio, the wrap parties started happening “off campus” a few years ago. These earlier studio wrap parties used to be quite lavish affairs. People such as John Tartaglia and Alan Muraoka  would perform as well as other talented crewmembers. Often these were spoofs such as Alan and Telly singing “Everybody Poots.” And then, there was the infamous Muppet performance. This show, usually written by Joey Mazzarino, was always a parody and very blue. Parents were warned ahead of time it was NOT suitable for children (but children came anyway). One year, it was Elmo the snobby star in Hollywood because of the “Tickle Me Elmo” craze. Another time, it was a Letterman-style show called “Late Night with Oscar the Grouch” and once it was a marketing spoof about all the Sesame Street products.

One of the most famous wrap party moments of all is when Mr. Snuffleupagus ate the child. Snuffy was replacing Big Bird who usually opened the show with a joke. Snuffy was so nervous, and got so frustrated because he was making mistakes, that when a child (the nephew of Frankie Biondo our cameraman) came up to get an autograph and called him the wrong name, Snuffy ate him. Literally.

Snuffy feasting.
(Frankie Biondo with his nephew being eaten by Mr. Snuffleupagus!)

Marty and the boy had worked the entire moment out earlier. He was able to put Snuffy’s mouth down around the boy and once he was mostly inside, Marty could pick him up and hold him upside-down inside the costume. The boy was able to put his hands onto Marty’s feet and then stay there as Snuffy walked off the stage. The boy was so good, he even succeeded in kicking his legs as he was “swallowed.” As a person in the audience, I never laughed so hard in my life.    

At the next season wrap party, Snuffy came on to start the show again, but he wasn’t feeling well. He had a tummy ache for some strange reason. Suddenly, he started to heave, and he “threw-up” the same boy from last season, now wearing a tattered shirt and covered in goo. Another bust-a-gut moment for the Sesame history books.

So, with lots of memories, we say, “It’s a wrap,” for now.

A Failed Attempt

Curriculum of the Day:  Emotion: Curious!

For all of you who are following the mystery of the billiard balls, Marty, the girls and I made an attempt to finally answer the question “What’s up with the Balls.” It was a lovely Saturday afternoon when we pulled into the driveway of the large, yellow house. We were nervous, or just embarrassed. This isn’t a neighborhood where people visit unannounced. There were four cars in the driveway, so we figured someone must be home. Also, earlier in the day, THE YELLOW BALL RETURNED! Yes, for only one hour or so, the yellow ball was there side by side with the blue ball. Marty saw them on his way to his karate class. But on the way back, THE YELLOW BALL WAS GONE AGAIN! Enough was enough. The mystery needed to be solved today!

I got out of the car. Marty stayed with the girls. I bravely knocked on the door. No one answered. I marched across the driveway to their massive barn, which looks like another dwelling, or perhaps a billiard ball workshop? I knocked. No answer. Despite the cars, no one was around.    

Where did they go? And why did they take the yellow ball with them?

It all still remains a mystery. We will try again next weekend.

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Like your family we have twins, boy/girl, that turned three last month. I saw your blog entry for January and it looks like we have something in common, potty training twins. Like one of your girls, my son WILL NOT pee in the potty but his sister was doing well until she caught on to "Bubbie" not trying. I was just letting things run their course but our local pre-schools/mommy day out programs require the children to be potty trained and this mommy needs a day out. Bribery isn't working. Have you had any success?

Sommer

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How often is the telly puppet renewed or replaced?

Katherine Sydney, Australia

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I read in 40 Years of Life on the Street about an incident involving Snuffy's puppet where a sombrero caused the wood frame to collapse on you and Bryant Young. Did they rebuild the puppet after that or did they just make a new one?

Edward

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I just wanted to say thanks for the blog. My daughter Kylie (who just turned two yesterday) loves to ask if we are going to see "the babies." Thank you so much to you and Marty for bringing the joy of Sesame Street into our lives every day.

Kendal and Kylie Montreal, Canada

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I've noticed that there are fewer Muppets and people in an episode now than there were twenty years ago. Does everyone show up on the set for filming days or only certain ones? Who decides who gets to play the Anything Muppets? There are some voices I hear more than others.

Glenda

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