Sesame Street’s Joey Mazzarino Creates an Anthem

10.19.2010

This article was originally published 10.19.2010 and has since been updated with new content. Please scroll down for the most recent additions.

ABC World News has a story on a Sesame Street video promoting self-esteem and self-acceptance which has gone viral since its October 4th release. The video features an unnamed “Anything Muppet” character singing “I Love My Hair,” which is being hailed as “an anthem for black women.”

Joey Mazzarino photo courtesy SesameStreet.org

Sesame Street head writer Joey Mazzarino (who also performs recurring characters Papa Bear, Murray Monster, Stinky the Stinkweed, and Elephant) says he was inspired by his adopted daughter Segi to write the song:

“She’s like my little muse,” Mazzarino said.

As Mazzarino and his wife watched their daughter grow, he noticed a change when she started playing with Barbies. Segi started saying negative things about herself and her own hair.

“She was going through this phase where she really wanted like the long, blonde hair. … She would look at Barbies and really want the hair.”

Mazzarino [who also helped to design the Muppet character] decided to help his daughter and other young girls appreciate their beauty.

“I just want kids to know their hair is beautiful,” Mazzarino said. “I just hope little kids, little girls see this and really feel positive and great about themselves.”

ABC’s video interview with Mazzarino also reveals that Kevin Clash — performer for Elmo as well as a writer and producer for the show — had a hand in crafting the performance:

Chauncey Johnson photo courtesy stagedoordesigns.com

The singing voice belongs to Broadway star Chantylla “Chauncey” Johnson (The Color Purple, The Lion King).

Mazzarino adds that he has been “amazed” and “overwhelmed” by the public response to the video. But the most important reaction came from his daughter, who was “jumping up and down and dancing” when she saw it. “She really loved it,” says Mazzarino, “And she loves her hair now.”

The full video is available on SesameStreet.org, or you can watch it below via Sesame Street’s official Youtube channel:

Update: 10.19.2010, 7:00 PMThe Huffington Post has a related interview with Mazzarino. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: Where did the concept of the “I Love My Hair” sketch come from?

Mazzarino: I have a five year old and she’s African American. My wife and I are both white. When she was four we were going through stuff with her hair where she wanted have hair that was straight. I tried to say to her, “Your hair’s great. It’s so beautiful and you can do so many things with it.” I thought it was a problem unique to us because we were white parents and she saw us everyday. Then Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair came out and I realized it’s not just about being raised by white parents. It’s an issue for a lot of little girls.

Q: Are your surprised by the reactions of this sketch on the internet?

Mazzarino: I got a call from a state senator’s office the other day and the woman I spoke to was one of his deputy’s secretaries. She said, “I’m an older African American woman and I started to cry when I saw it.” You know you write this stuff in a dark room by yourself. I just wrote it hoping my kid would be happy with who she was. The fact that it touched not only kids but adults makes me feel great.

Q: Do you think people will be surprised that you’re white and wrote this song?

Mazzarino: I hope not because I really want the song to be about the message and not me. If they do, I hope it doesn’t affect their feelings of the song because it really comes from a place of love for my daughter.

Update: 10.20.2010 — Via The Muppet Mindset, CNN.com has posted a video interview with Mazzarino.

Update: 10.22.2010New York Magazine’s Vulture blog has an interview with Mazzarino discussing the popularity of Sesame Street’s videos, his “I Love My Hair” song, and the controversy over Katy Perry’s duet with Elmo.

Elsewhere, Mazzarino discusses the song on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Mazzarino also tells The Associated Press (via USAToday.com), “I really want to sit down with the writers and figure out what we can do with [the ‘Anything Muppet’ character] and give her a name, and really expand her out.”

Additional sources: Muppet Wiki; This Black Sistas Page; Stylist.com; StageDoorDesigns.com

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News


‘Sesame Street’ Katy Perry/Elmo Duet Video Deemed “Too Racy”

09.23.2010

The New York Daily News is reporting that a video of pop star Katy Perry singing a spoof of her hit “Hot N Cold” with Elmo (performed by Kevin Clash) has been deemed “too racy” and subsequently pulled from Sesame Street‘s official YouTube Channel.

Kevin Clash with Elmo. Image courtesy SesameStreet.org.

The video, released exclusively on the web September 20th, apparently received too many negative comments and complaints about Perry’s wardrobe, which consisted of “a low-cut yellow-green heart-shaped dress, a sheer piece of material covering her ample cleavage.”

The show’s producers have issued the following statement:

In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on You Tube.

We will not be linking directly to any video here on the blog (just to avoid potential broken links); however, dozens of YouTubers are (naturally) scrambling to get traffic off the controversy and publicity. Just do a YouTube.com search for: Katy Perry Elmo and you’re sure to find it.

In a bit of ironically related news, The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive preview video from Sesame Street’s upcoming 41st season with a parody of the very adult, violent and graphic HBO series True Blood. Sesame Street (and Jim Henson productions in general) has never shied from spoofing pop culture even at the risk of alienating their core demographic from the joke. But like the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) innuendo in classic Looney Tunes cartoons, there are some gags and references on Sesame Street that parents will laugh at but kids won’t understand until adulthood.

I don’t believe I can encode the video via WordPress, so here’s a direct link:

http://video.hollywoodreporter.com/services/player/bcpid6555681001?bctid=614605996001

Sesame Street has other preview segments for their 41st season on their official YouTube Channel, including celebrity guests Jason Bateman, Chris O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes and Colin Farrel, and two others which I must share here:

– Oprah Winfrey providing voiceover for an animated spoof of herself and her own show:

– Joseph “Run” Simmons (of famed hip-hop group Run-DMC) and Kevin Clash as Elmo as Steven Tyler performing a parody of “Walk This Way”:

And here’s a bonus video we linked to recently (for those who don’t follow us on Facebook or Twitter): Kevin Clash and Elmo visit Baltimore:

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News

Additional source: Blastr.com


Kevin Clash on Jim Henson

08.28.2009

Variety has a feature on Sesame Street, which will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys on August 30th. Here’s an excerpt:

[The] biggest stars on “Sesame Street” are the Muppets themselves (Henson’s trademark puppet creations) — multicolored creatures of felt and fur that collectively promote the show’s overarching message of racial and ethnic diversity.

“It’s all from Jim Henson‘s point of view,” says Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo, likely the most famous redhead — save for Lucille Ball — in the history of American television. “He wanted a rainbow of characters to represent everyone.”

Adds [Producer Carol-Lynn] Parente, “Puppets are really great ambassadors. They open doors that are nearly impossible for other groups to open up.”

“The puppets are truly remarkable creatures,” says Sonia Manzano, who joined the cast in 1970. “Their characters are so fully formed it doesn’t take you long to get involved in their world.”


Kevin Clash Signs At KY Book Fest

04.19.2009

WBKO News of Bowling Green, KY did a very brief interview with Kevin Clash, voice and puppeteer of Sesame Street’s Elmo. Kevin made an appearance at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest to sign copies of his autobiography, My Life as a Furry Red Monster.

Video of the interview is available at WBKO.com.

And if for some reason you’re not able to get the video to load or the page is removed in the near future, here’s what Kevin had to say about getting to meet kids when he’s performing Elmo live: “They really don’t know me. They see me as somebody that’s carrying around their best friend, so they really don’t even acknowledge me half the time, which is fine with me. I think it’s really sweet. I get to be an audience to watching them talk with Elmo, so it’s really nice.”

Elsewhere, TV Guide goes behind-the-scenes for the filming of a Sesame Street segment which includes NBA star Kobe Bryant beatboxing with Elmo (performed by Kevin), and Elmo also appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon interacting with guests Ice T, Morgan Webb, and even sings the Sesame Street theme backed up by the band which you can view via Hulu.com (fast-forward to the 22-minute mark).

Previous news: 3.29.2009 — Kevin Clash Upstages As Elmo.


Muppets/Jim Henson News Round-Up

04.06.2009

– I’ve done a pretty extensive update of my previous report on Jim Henson Exhibits in 2009. Several new links, events, and guest info has been added.

– The 3.29.2009 release of Follow That Bird: The 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition includes a “New Interview with Carroll Spinney,” voice and puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch. Chud.com’s review of the DVD says: “It’s fun to see the elderly Caroll Spinney reflect on his work at Children’s Television Workshop. He remembers about meeting Henson and developing the Grouch and Big Bird. It’s great work all around and it stands up over the years.”

Fan report and photos from meeting Muppeteer Dave Goelz (via MuppetCentral.com).

LooseToon Blog by Steve Vitale reports on an Atlanta 2008 event featuring Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire. Includes photos and video. The same blogger also reports on an earlier 2008 event featuring Jane Henson.

– Sesame Street’s Elmo (performed by Kevin Clash) will appear on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday, April 15th. See The Muppet Newsflash for more details.

Additionally, Elmo and Abby Cadabby will appear Tuesday, April 6th on The Bonnie Hunt Show, which Muppet Newsflash also has details on, along with Elmo’s April 2nd appearance on NBC’s Today.

– The Jim Henson Company’s adult improv puppetry extravaganza Puppet Up! Uncensored has two live performance dates April 18th and May 22nd in Hollywood, CA. The Puppet Up! troupe includes several talents with voice-over credits (click here to see a previous report on the cast). Visit PuppetUp.com for ticket info.

Additionally, The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA is hosting a special screening of Puppet Up! Uncensored: Live in Melbourne, Australia on April 25th. Visit Puppet.org for more details.

And even though it’s not exactly on-topic with the voice actor theme of this blog, it *is* Muppets-related and it’s just so bizarre I have to share it… you must see these photos of designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s Muppets-inspired clothing-type things at Paris Fashion Week via DailyMail.co.uk, InventorSpot.com, and TrendHunter.com.


Kevin Clash Upstages as Elmo

03.29.2009

You must watch this recent Associated Press video interview with British comedian Ricky Gervais and Elmo (as performed by Kevin Clash) and see how deftly Kevin’s quick wit and improv skills catch both Gervais and the interviewer off-guard.

Kevin published his autobiography, My Life as a Furry Red Monster, in 2006. The book received praise from both Muppets/Sesame Street fans and media critics alike, and more information is available on the RandomHouse.com official site. Also, check out these two YouTube videos with Rove McManus and Elmo both interviewing Kevin about his book.


‘Wonder Pets’ Danica Lee Interviewed

03.16.2009

Danica Lee, the 10-year old, twice Emmy-nominated cast member of Nickelodeon’s Wonder Pets talks with The Ashbury Park Press about getting to meet Kevin Clash (voice and performer of Elmo) and what it’s like being the voice of Ming-Ming on Wonder Pets.

Ming-Ming follows in the footsteps of Tweety Bird, another yellow bird with an unorthodox speech pattern. Ming-Ming’s lisp is played for laughs, as the duckling speaks lines too sophisticated for her years. “I never had a lisp; they actually wanted her to have a lisp,” said Danica of the show’s creators. “After a while, it became natural, so now I can speak in two voices, and that’s kind of cool. It’s also funny because Ming-Ming is supposed to be 3 years old and how would a 3-year-old know all those words, the vocabulary that I’m saying?”

It can be startling to hear Ming-Ming’s perky voice emerge from Danica Lee, especially for preschoolers who might think Ming-Ming is a real duckling.

Upon request during the interview, Danica tried out her Ming-Ming voice on a 4-year-old fan.

“This is sewious!” Danica cried. “We need to save the baby animals wight now!”

Her young fan seemed unnerved, and she couldn’t really grasp the concept of a “voice actor.”

“Oh, don’t ruin it for her,” [Danica’s mother] Lisa Lee said. “Let her enjoy the magic of it.”

Danica herself has been enjoying every bit of magic on “The Wonder Pets!”

“I get to do so many things I love,” she said, petting a plush Ming-Ming doll. “It’s so much fun.”

Click here to read the complete interview.