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It’s time to play the (sexy) music

Watching old episodes of The Muppet Show with my three-year-old, I’m reminded of the Katy Perry Sesame Street scandal from a few years ago. Granted, Gonzo and the gang have always been more envelope-pushing than their daytime puppet counterparts, but it is nevertheless a little bit off-key-sounding to hear Kermit describe Raquel Welch as “sexy” (and check out her sassy costume in this dance number!). The Green One sums it up quite succinctly at the end of the episode (I paraphrase): “Raquel Welch, you may not have changed your image by being on the show, but you’ve certainly changed ours!”

In another episode, James Coco, at his most fabulous, has big ideas about how to add “sex appeal” (his words, not mine) to the show: by bringing in dancing girls. (Rolf as Dr. Bob: “I can’t take out this patient’s appendix.” Nurse Piggy: “What can you take out?” Dr. Bob: “The blonde on the right!”)

Also? Check out this discussion about Gonzo macking on Big Bird in the Leslie Uggams episode. For Big Bang Theory fans, Gonzo is most definitely the Howard Wolowitz of the Muppet crew.

So far I haven’t had to field any questions about where babies come from, so all this sexy talk is clearly going over my son’s head. He’s more interested in Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band. (BTW, are they stoned or what? A discussion for another day.)

And if you need a reminder about how to annoy your Muppet-averse boss in two minutes or less


Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. The original pilot episode’s title was The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence.

  2. Matt, that is excellent! We have not seen it (sadly, it’s not on our borrowed-from-the-library discs). I hope it’s not like Meet the Feebles (*shudder,* really Peter Jackson?!)

  3. No, it’s pretty close to what the show became. The big difference is that instead of Kermit, it had a pretty nondescript Muppet host. He got axed. I think it was released as an extra on one of the box sets. It might even be on youtube (as is a fantastic documentary called Of Muppets and Men).

    Can you tell I’m a Muppet fan?

  4. Have you seen Emmet Otter Jug Band Christmas?? “And the sauce Mama makes / just stays there forever / if you ever get it under your naiiiiillllls!”
    Watching all these Muppets reminds me of the misremembering phenomenon Jon Klassen described at Boston Globe-Horn Book last year:

  5. I love Emmet Otter! And thinking about it now, it might be the best book to film adaptation of a children’s book. They were pretty faithful to the Lillian Hoban illustrations (I had the book before the show came out/on). I don’t think I’m misremembering the detail of the river bank in Emmet. That set is amazing! Thanks for the link to Jon’s speech. I think he has a real future in public speaking.

  6. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    I recently saw a production of Avenue Q for the first time:

    Avenue Q is definitely conceptualized and promoted as an adult Sesame Street… but it sounds like The Muppet Show may fall somewhere in the middle as far as envelope-pushing goes?

  7. Muppet super-fan Matt Phelan, do you care to weigh in on the Sesame Street/Muppets/Avenue Q spectrum?

  8. I haven’t seen Avenue Q, so I can’t say. However, the Muppet Show was definitely conceived to be more of a show for adults (it aired at night). Henson thought of it more in the vein of the stuff they did for SNL’s first season rather than Sesame Street. Lots of shows that are now thought of as being for kids (Looney Tunes, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and to some extent The Simpsons) were actually originally aimed at adults.

    As far as envelope-pushing goes, Jim Henson was a genius.

  9. I guess I see Avenue Q as straight-up parody, with an extra-double-dose of snark (plus hilarious/disturbing/hilarious puppet sex scene) but none of the sweetness of the Muppets. Plus, I saw that show about ten years too late; I enjoyed it, but in the end I wanted to tell those whiny puppets to get a life, people. Last night we watched Sandy Duncan get fake-drunk in a Muppet monster bar while singing “What’s a nice girl like me / doing in a place like this?” Awesome.

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