Abuse and Arm Rods: The Wild History of the Muppets
The Muppets are one of the world’s most wholesome treasures, but there’s a dark side of every rainbow connection. Sure, they’re mostly made of felt and dreams, but they’re arguably more human than some humans, which means their history is full of sordid tales and just plain weirdness.
The Original Kermit
The legendary frog’s first incarnation was made out of Jim Henson’s mother’s old coat. If Norman Bates had decided to make a puppet, this is probably how he’d go about it.
Sam and Friends
The Muppets, including the Oedipal amphibian, made their debut on Sam and Friends, Henson’s first local Washington, D.C. sketch show. It also featured early versions of Oscar the Grouch, who was then known as Mushmellon, and Cookie Monster, who was a purple skull named Yorick who loved celery, which is both way lamer and way more badass.
“Sex and Violence”
After Henson’s Muppets got their own show, they produced two pilots, one of which was called “Sex and Violence.” It was supposed to be a “parody the proliferation of sex and violence on television,” but it’s sadly not much racier than you expect from Muppets, the most scandalous skit being a pageant in which each of the seven deadly sins is represented by a Muppet. No pig tits here, folks.
Rizzo is a Midnight Cowboy
What is far too racy for the Muppets is Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar, which is why it’s unsettling to learn that Rizzo the Rat is named after Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ratso Rizzo. To be fair, the rat is much sexier than Hoffman.
“Mah Nà Mah Nà” Came From a Documentary About Swedish Sex
But probably the Muppet Show hallmark with the most sordid backstory is the song “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” which made its debut in Sweden: Heaven and Hell, a 1968 Italian documentary that’s basically about how much Swedish people fuck. The scene featuring the song shows several naked young women frolicking in a sauna and the snow, though none of them appear to be chefs.
The Electric Racism
Lips, house band Electric Mayhem’s trumpet player, was supposed to have a “Louis Armstrong kind of voice” until “there was some question as to whether or not we would offend” black viewers by essentially performing Muppet blackface. (Answer: yeah, probably.) Instead, they made him mute. That seems like a metaphor for something, but we’re not sure what.
Speaking of racism, Oscar the Grouch isn’t just his name but his race, as revealed in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. That means every time someone makes fun of Oscar for being a filthy asshole living in a trash can, they’re being a literal racist monster.
Miss Piggy Has a Dark Backstory
According to Frank Oz, young Piggy Lee was raised in Iowa by a philandering father and neglectful mother until her father died in a tractor accident. She left home to become a star but soon found herself entering beauty contests to survive and even starred in a bacon commercial prior to hitting it big with The Muppet Show. We recommend not imagining that too hard.
Scooter is a Nepotism Baby
Unofficially, Muppets Are People
It’s a longstanding tradition in the media to interview and discuss the Muppets as if they are real people and not socks on wire frames, which isn’t all that ridiculous when you consider they’ve been booking speaking engagements since the late ‘70s. Some journalists do get crotchety about it, which is how you know which ones are no fun.
But They Know They’re Puppets
Yep, the Muppets are self-aware, acknowledging on multiple occasions that they’re puppets being operated by people. They haven’t, however, all come to this realization at the same time. In some instances, other characters have to explain it to them, such as the time when Kermit broke it to Fozzie Bear that he doesn’t have bones.
Kermit Did 9/11
In 2002’s It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Kermit sees the world as it would be if he’d never been born, which is only remarkable in that the Twin Towers still exist in that version of reality. This suggests that Kermit somehow caused 9/11, and if you want to find out potentially how, there’s a deep internet rabbit hole with your name on it. Spoiler: It has something to do with Bert.
Elmo’s Sexual Abuse Allegations
In 2012, three men accused the actor who provided the voice of Elmo, Kevin Clash, of initiating sexual relationships with them when they were underage. Clash subsequently quit the Sesame Workshop, and although his accusers’ lawsuits were later dismissed, it was only because the statute of limitations had passed.
Kermit and Miss Piggy Broke Up
The Muppets’ golden couple have a long and tumultuous relationship history that includes multiple invalid weddings as well as breakups in 1990, 2011, and 2015. In 1993, they clarified that they didn’t intend to get married but did live together, meaning Kermit and Miss Piggy lived in sin.
You Can Make Your Own Muppet
In 2008, FAO Schwarz opened the Muppet Whatnot Workshop, where people could order their own custom muppets. The operation closed in 2015, but you can still find Whatnot kits on eBay for fairly reasonable prices, so go ahead, make one in the image of every family member and friend group and set them up around your apartment. It’ll make Thanksgiving so awkward.
Top image: Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia Commons