Fair-well Old Chums
As much as I miss the genius of Jim Henson, I realised the other day that I will miss something else just as much as Jim’s Muppet characters. I will miss the insane and brilliant pieces of comedy gold he used to create with Frank Oz.
Frank Oz is nowadays probably best known for being the voice of Yoda, but he’s also a respected and talented film director. He’s still entertaining, long after Jim Henson’s death and I hope he continues to do so for a long time to come.
But what the world has lost since Jim’s death is not only a talented puppeteer and performer, but some classic comedic pairings of his characters with those of Frank Oz. I cry a little inside when I realise that there will be nothing new created by these two fabulous men working together.
Let me give you some examples. First up the most obvious pair:
This is the only video in this collection that I’ll forgive you for not watching in full. It’s a scene from my least favourite of the Muppet movies (Muppets take Manhattan1) showing the “wedding” between Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog, probably the most memorable Muppet pairing of all time (even if it’s not one of my favourites). Though an unlikely pair, Jim and Frank made the pig’s flamboyant declarations of love and the frog’s seeming indifference oddly engaging and has created a love affair that is still going strong.
The next classic pair were Kermit and Fozzie Bear:
As well as some terrific running gags throughout the Muppet Show, this odd couple were the backbone of the first two major Muppet movies - as travelling companions in the first and as brothers2 in the Great Muppet Caper3. I think their relationship is part of what made Muppet Treasure Island feel like old-school Muppets.
Rowlf and Fozzie:
These guys had some great musical moments together (check out I got rhythm on YouTube for another classic bit). Frank rarely got to show off his musical talent, playing the fool in a lot of songs or singing shrilly in his Miss Piggy voice. It made for some great comedy moments though.
Sam the American Eagle and Rowlf:
Sam is one of the most hilarious characters to come from the Muppets, and can instantly make any other character funnier, just by being the worlds most over the top straight man. Once again, it’s almost like Frank is playing up a lack of musical talent, and it’s brilliant.
Moving briefly to some Sesame Street pairings, and the most obvious (and maybe even more famous than any of the above) is the classic duo of Bert and Ernie. With Jim playing the prankster and Frank the straight man, there was no situation too simple to be made into a hilarious farce - and even kids could get it.
I’m just not emotionally secure enough to do this Ernie.
And some rarer but no less fantastic pairings came when Kermit4 ran into the Cookie Monster:
These two men made comedic character pairings to rival some of the greatest in history: think Laurel & Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Aykroyd and Belushi, French and Saunders, Fry and Laurie, The Mighty Boosh, or Lano and Woodley.5 All things must come to an end I guess. The loss of Jim Henson alone was a dreadful blow, but the loss of the joyful playful scenes that these two men could create together make the loss that much harder to accept.
Of course I don’t mean to detract from the other brilliant pairings that the Muppet show produced. Statler and Waldorf come to mind as another well known pair (voiced by Jim and both Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt). Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are the other two that spring to mind. Their sketches are just as fun, but I believe that Jim and Frank had a spark of something greater in their performances.
I’ll leave you with one other pair that might be less obvious, but is one of the defining partnerships of the Muppet Show - and is firmly entrenched in public consciousness. The pairing of Jim Henson’s head and characteristic voice, and Frank Oz’s out-of-control hands for the Swedish Chef: