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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Muppet Zine, and Other Things It's OK to Call Gay

Posted on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Tonight at 7pm at Reading Frenzy, Jessica Max Stein officially unveils her new zine The Rainbow Connection: Richard Hunt, Gay Muppeteer. In addition to the usual book release stuff (signing, questions, etc), she’ll screen an hour’s worth of Hunt’s classic moments and puppeteering highlights. Sort of like this, but better. It will be funny, Stein promises.

To be honest, I meant to post something about this earlier, but then I started looking through Muppet clips on YouTube and was transported back to my childhood, to Thanksgivings spent in New England on my grandparents’ shag carpeting, watching the same episode guest-starring Alice Cooper, year after year. All of a sudden, it was now.

My morning, for example:

Richard Hunt was one of the creative performers behind Scooter, Beaker, Janice, Elmo, Miss Piggy and Statler. The Rainbow Connection is his muppetography. It's part life story, part history in puppets.

More Richard Hunt, Muppet outings, and warm, fuzzy feelings after the jump...

From a drab childhood in suburban New Jersey, Hunt arrived in New York an aspiring puppeteer. On a whim, he cold-called the Muppet show and landed a job almost immediately. (They happened to be holding auditions that day.) From an energetic 18-year-old, he grew into a mainstay on The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street until his death from AIDS in 1992. A "consummate performer," he never lost his enthusiasm or his grounding. “If Jim [Henson] was the head, the mastermind of the Muppets, then Richard was the heart,” said Phillip Chapman, Muppet Central Webmaster in his tribute to Hunt.

Also, Hunt was gay. Does this add credibility to the theory that Miss Piggy is a drag queen? (Actually, the internet says her character was inspired by jazz singer Peggy Lee.) That Statler and Waldorf, jeering from up in the balcony, are just a couple of aging queens? It's pretty much accepted that Bert and Ernie are a couple, right? (Insinuations aside, this clip is great.)

“The undertones are definitely there if you want to look for them,” says Jessica Max Stein, but like all the Muppets, Hunt's characters weren't intended to be one thing or another. He imbued them with enough variety, absurdity, and subtext to let kids and adults identify them, or with them, however they like.

Reading 7 pm at Reading Frenzy (921 SW Oak).

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