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’s Leslie Carrara-Rudolph Live Show & Archive Interview

09.16.2010

Image courtesy Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and The Center for Puppetry Arts

Sesame Street performer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby-Cadabby) is performing “Wake Up Your Weird With Lolly & Leslie” at The Center for Puppetry Arts in downtown Atlanta, GA from September 16-26, 2010.

Here’s the show description from puppet.org:

WAKE UP YOUR WEIRD WITH LOLLY & LESLIE
By Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Los Angeles, CA
2010-11 Family Series

Performances Thursday – Sunday through September 26

From the Emmy nominated performer of Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby!

Discover your own unique creative gifts with Sesame Street Puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and her friend Lolly! Together with her other puppet friends, Leslie will help the young and young at heart “wake up their weird” with this interactive performance-style workshop using puppets, storytelling, live music, improvisations, art, and movement. Explore the power of the voice, the body, and the imagination as the three main resources for “spreading joy.”

Tickets are available via PUPPET.ORG.

The Center for Puppetry Arts hosted the following Twitter interview @CtrPuppetryArts with Leslie on September 15th between 2 and 3 pm (EST).

Fans were asked in advance to submit their questions via Twitter by tagging them with #LeslieChat.

Thanks to @CtrPuppetryArts for permission to host the archive of the interview here on Voice Actors in the News.

Moderator @CtrPuppetryArts and fan-submitted questions are in italics, with Leslie’s answers in bold.

===============================

30 minutes until our Twitter Chat with Sesame Street performer, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph.

Hi Puppet Fans! Leslie will be joining us soon. Going to get started in just a few minutes!

For those you who might not know, Leslie is here in Atlanta to present her new puppet show, “Wake Up Your Weird!”

She is also the Emmy nominated performer of Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby!!

Welcome, Leslie! Thank you so much for joining us today!

Before we get to questions– What else should our followers know about you?

They should know that I just ate a Varsity hamburger and slawdog and a homemade pumpkin chocolate cookie.

They should know that I’m from Northern California, and am mostly based in NY, but still have a place in Glendale (Southern CA).

My husband, Paul Rudolph, got a job on Sesame Street as the vocal director, so he lives in NY with me & our deaf & blind bishon.

Q#1 What is your routine to combat puppeteer shoulder?

A: Stretching, push-ups (to be physically even). My right arm is steel and left can turn to veal! And swimming!

Q#2 What was your career path before Sesame Street? Was performing on Sesame Street always a dream/goal of yours?

A: My dream was to be the ultimate entertainer for kids & to have my own kids show one day.

A: (con’t) I even designed my own major to do it!

A: I wanted to work with kids at risk. My goal was to be a special ed teacher and to perform!

Thanks, @katiecofield for that question!

Q#3 What kind candy does Lolly plan on sampling while in Atlanta? Did the Comedy Beaver join her on this trip?

A: Every kind of candy! She’s upset we skipped Cracker Barrel. Check out her [Facebook] fan page– Lolly Lardpop.

A: Yes to the Comedy Beaver!

Q#4: Leslie, what is your favorite part of your job?

A: My point of view. I have the best seat in the house when it comes to watching the children’s faces and how they react!

Q#5 As a performer for kids’ shows as well as grown-up fare, how do you define “adult entertainment? Can’t “adult” be clean too?

A: My puppets don’t swear or have to be sexual to be funny.

A: My adult entertainment is in respect to politics or social issues that aren’t aimed at children.

A: When I was in Stuffed and UnStrung, the Henson improv group, I often struggled with some of the content. The audience improv requests were too blue at times for my taste.

Thanks to @larabron, @ToasterBoy, @cpillsbury, @smittygirl for your questions! Keep ’em coming!

*Pause* Leslie just had to take a call from Elmo.

RT @ToasterBoy: Can you explain the significance of Karen (Red Fraggle) Prell’s shoes as they relate to your career?

A: Her boots were given to me on the very first day of shooting on the Muppet show, so I could be tall enough next to Frank Oz.

RT @lekogirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Do you construct any other puppets on the side for personal projects?

A: All of them at first! Then when I can afford it I have a real builder do it.

A: Except for Lolly– she’s complaining that she isn’t getting any upgrades

RT @mekidd5: @CtrPuppetryArts Leslie, what is your favorite part of what must be a VERY interesting workday?!

A: Too many favorites! At Sesame Street, the whole family, guests, and the children from Make A Wish.

Q: Can you tell us more about “Wake Up Your Weird”?

A: Wake Up Your Weird is an interactive performance style / workshop that focuses on the voice, the body, and the imagination!

Wow! So many questions! We have time for about 2 more!

RT @smittygirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Any particular performers who inspired you to be a puppeteer?

A: The Muppets, of course! And, Wayland Flowers was brilliant. If Madame and Lambchop had a baby, it would be Lolly!

@lekogirl Are you a builder or a performer?

RT @lekogirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Any words of wisdom for puppetry students?

A: Whatever aspect of puppetry you are doing, always make it about your heart or passion.

If you just say that it’s going to be part of your life, the rest will follow!

Well, that concludes our Twitter interview! Thank you, Leslie, for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today!

A big thanks to everyone who participated and listened in!

=================================

As a bonus, here are a series of videos recorded in Atlanta featuring the adventures of Lolly Lardpop (as performed by Leslie) courtesy of her official Facebook fan page:

UPDATE: 9.24.2010 — The Marquee Episode Continues…

AccessAtlanta also has a review of Leslie’s live show.

Visit Leslie’s official site at LeslieCarrara-Rudolph.com and be sure to bookmark PUPPET.ORG to keep up with The Center for Puppetry Arts’ recent and upcoming shows, screenings, museum exhibits and other events. They currently have three (THREE!) long-term museum displays related to the work of Jim Henson which are a heartily recommended must-see for all Muppets fans.


Original Kermit Muppet Donated to Smithsonian

08.26.2010

For Immediate Release

Kermit the Frog Comes Home to Washington

Sam and Friends Characters Donated to the National Museum of American History

August 25, 2010

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History accepted 10 characters from Sam and Friends from Jane Henson, on behalf of the Jim Henson family, in a special donation ceremony.

Sam and Friends debuted on local Washington, D.C., station WRC-TV in 1955 launching what would become a global phenomenon—the Muppets. The show featured a host of unique characters, including the original Kermit the Frog, who was more of a lizard-like creature, constructed with ping pong ball eyes and green felt from a coat discarded by Jim Henson’s mother. This version of Kermit does not have his signature collar, and his feet are rounded.

“Jim Henson embodied the innovation and ingenuity that is inherent in American culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Beyond the entertainment value Henson’s creations provided, his work helped educate and inform his audiences, an influence that continues today.”

'Sam and Friends' Smithsonian archive collection (image courtesy newsdesk.si.edu)

Joining Kermit on display at the museum this fall are other characters from Sam and Friends, including Pierre the French Rat, Henson’s oldest surviving puppet, first drawn in 1954 as part of a comic strip for his high school yearbook; Yorick, a purple skull who was a precursor to hungry monsters like Cookie Monster, made of papier-mâché; Mushmellon, whose wide face and grouchy eyes bear a distinct resemblance to Oscar the Grouch; and Sam, the main character who never spoke but lip-synced to popular music and comedy records of the time.

Henson saw enormous potential for puppets on TV and he came up with the word Muppet in the mid-1950s. Seemingly a combination of puppet and marionette, Henson insisted that he chose the term simply because he liked the way it sounded. Central to the design of a Muppet is the construction of the face—creating a pattern with the eyes, nose and mouth called “the magic triangle”—which establishes a point of focus that helps to bring the puppet to life in the eye of a video camera and to the viewers watching at home.

“It is wonderful that Sam and Friends should find themselves back here in Washington, D.C., where they first appeared,” said Jane Henson, Henson’s wife. “And now they get to greet old friends and meet new ones at the newly renovated and exciting National Museum of American History.”

[Associated Press video]

From the early beginnings of Sam and Friends—of which only a few episodes survive—the Muppets went on to evolve and achieve worldwide popularity. The Muppet Show was introduced in 1976 and reached 235 million viewers in more than 100 countries. The series won three Emmys during its five-year run as well as spawning feature-films like The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets take Manhattan. Muppets is a registered trademark of The Muppets Studio LLC Ltd.

The Kermit the Frog that is already in the museum’s collection was first loaned in 1979, in celebration of Sesame Street’s 10th anniversary. In 1994, Jim Henson Productions designated Kermit as a gift, making him a permanent fixture in the museum’s performance collections.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

For more information about the life and work of Jim Henson, visit The Jim Henson Legacy website: www.jimhensonlegacy.org

CNN.com also has a feature article (with photo) from this event.


Muppets Bunny Feast

04.02.2010

The latest video from Muppets Studio features Big Mean Carl…and bunnies:

It’s so weird and edgy that I can’t help but like it. It reminds me of the more bizarre sketches from The Muppet Show. I think Jim Henson would’ve loved this.

The voices are performed (as near as I’m able to ID them) by Bill Barretta (Big Mean Carl), Steve Whitmire (singing Bunny, Statler), and Dave Goelz (Waldorf).

Via MuppetCentral.com

Related post: 2.09.2010 — Beaker vs teh interwebz


Beaker vs teh interwebz

02.09.2010

It’s fan-favorite Muppets character Beaker vs YouTube viewers with a rendition of Kansas’ classic ballad “Dust in the Wind” in this latest destined-to-go-viral video from Muppets Studio:

This video features performances by Steve Whitmire as Beaker and Statler, and Dave Goelz as Waldorf.

Thanks to “ErnieBertGonzo” for the voice info via MuppetCentral.com.

Related video: 12.11.2009 — Meep Meep-Meep-Meep!


Muppets Legend Jerry Nelson Releases Music Album

01.13.2010

Muppeteer Jerry Nelson, performer of many popular Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters has released a musical album of original songs entitled Truro Daydreams.

Released in December 2009, the entire album is available for download on Digstation.com ($9.99 for the full album; .99 for individual tracks).

Nelson himself provided some background on the recording in a Nov. 2009 post on Muppet Central’s forum:

Last June, I went into Nola Sound Studio with some friends and recorded something I have looked forward to doing for a long time. Ten of my songs that were written over the years were put down to be made into a CD. Most are story songs and some more personal than others. It took all summer and autumn to mix and master all ten songs but now they are in the process of being made into my first album entitled, “Truro Daydreams”.

From the song samples on the website, it sounds like bluesy, bluegrassy, folksy, rockabilly upbeat fun. Highly recommended. I’ll be downloading a copy myself soon.

Nelson retired from performing his Muppet characters in 2004 due to health reasons, although he still performs some of his Sesame Street characters such as Count von Count and The Amazing Mumford.

Thanks to The Muppet Mindset for the heads-up via Twitter.

Related post: 1.06.2010 — Muppeteer Richard Hunt Biography Reading


Event: Muppeteer Richard Hunt Biography Reading

01.06.2010

Author Jessica Max Stein, who published an 84-page biography on Muppeteer Richard Hunt in August 2009, will conclude her follow-up “zine tour” with a bookstore event in Chicago, IL on Sunday, January 10th, 2010.

If you live in the Chicago area, please visit JessicaMaxStein.com for more details on this event. Portland’s Blogtown has an overview of one of Stein’s 2009 events.

Richard Hunt worked with Jim Henson’s productions for 20 years up until his death in 1992 of AIDS-related complications. He performed such popular Muppet characters as Scooter, Janice, Beaker and Sweetums, Fraggle Rock’s Junior Gorg and Gunge, and Sesame Street’s Don Music and Forgetful Jones.

Stein’s ‘zine The Rainbow Connection: Richard Hunt, Gay Muppeteer is available through MicrocosmPublishing.com.

Stein’s blog offers an extended interview with Richard Hunt’s mother Jane and her partner Arthur Miller, including archive photos.

Related post: 4.06.2009 — Muppets/Jim Henson News Round-Up