I must start out by saying that I met Muppeteer, Kevin Clash, back in the spring of 2001 when I was an intern for the Jim Henson Company in Hollywood. Kevin Clash is the performer of the little red monster from Sesame Street, Elmo. He was in L.A. for one day to audition puppeteers. I had watched Kevin perform on television since I was a small child, seeing him on Captain Kangaroo, The Great Space Coaster, and then Sesame Street. We talked for a few minutes before he suggested we take some pictures of me with some of the Muppets. Those pictures of me with Kevin, Elmo, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and Animal are special to me and my family.
I was so excited when I heard that Kevin Clash and Elmo were coming to the SOKY Bookfest.
The morning of the bookfest, Isaac insisted on bringing his dog sock puppet he made a few weeks ago with his grandmother. We were running a few minutes behind. My wife, Polly, dropped Isaac and me off at the entrance to the convention center. I walked up to the information booth and they said Elmo was in ballroom ‘A’. Although the rows of seats in the front of the room were taken, there were plenty of tables available. We saw Kevin sitting at the back table waiting to begin. I told Isaac, “There’s Kevin.” He looked over and waved his sock puppet at him as we sat down. A few minutes later, Polly and Jonas, our two-year-old, would join us.
After Kevin was introduced, he said he would keep it brief, knowing the kids came to see their furry red friend. He talked about his parents’ encouragement and his mentors, Stu Kerr and Kermit Love. He said he always dreamed of having a character that he would perform side by side with Kermit the Frog and the other Muppets. He talked of how most of his characters didn’t make it on Sesame Street, except for the cool Hoots the Owl.
After a few minutes of giving the audience a little background, he pulled out the red duffle bag. The kids held their breath in anticipation. Elmo came out of the bag and hopped onto Kevin’s arm, laughing the whole time. “Hello Everybody!” I watched the faces of Isaac and Jonas. They were smiling and laughing along with their friend. Elmo led the audience in singing the Sesame Street theme and an old favorite of mine, “Be My Echo.”
After singing with the audience, Kevin opened up the floor for a question and answer period.
Q: “Where does Elmo live on Sesame Street?”
A: “456 Sesame Street.”
Q: “How does Elmo learn to touch things?”
A: “The same way that you do.”
Q: “What was it like working for Jim Henson?”
A: “Ya knew Jim was the boss, but he was so generous. When he had a success, like ‘The Muppet Show,’ he shared that success with his puppeteers. He was great to work for. He was more than a boss, he was a friend.”
Q: “What is Elmo’s favorite song?”
Q: “Who were some of your favorite stars to work with?”
A: (I can’t remember all the ones he named) Whoopi, Rosie, Maya Angelou, “Robert DeNiro was fun.”
Q: “Does Elmo still have his blankie?” (from The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland)
A: “It’s more of a thread, now.”
With every sound or word Elmo would make, Jonas would roar with laughter and say, “Dats funny! He funny!”
Jonas and his favorite comedian.
Isaac had his hand raised. (I had asked him when we first found out Elmo was coming what he’d ask Elmo, if given the chance. That night, Isaac told me he’d ask, “Can you come spend the night with me?”) When Isaac was handed the microphone, he held it like a pro and spoke the simplest of human phrases, “Elmo, I love you.” Elmo replied back, “Elmo loves you too! Elmo will see you in a minute.” Isaac said, “I have a question.” Elmo said, “Go ahead.” Isaac clarified, “No, I have a question for you, KEVIN CLASH.” Kevin, said, “Oh, okay. What is it?” Isaac shyly said, “I watched Labyrinth.” “Did you like it?” Isaac shook his head yes. Kevin then kindly asked, “Do you have a question?” Isaac was so overwhelmed, all he could get out was a shy sounding, “Labyrinth.” I don’t think the majority of people knew what Isaac was talking about, but Kevin talked a little about working with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly on the 1986 Jim Henson movie.
Isaac and his red furry friend.
At the conclusion of the questions, Kevin said he had with him an adult-sized, black denim jacket that was one given to the cast and crew of Sesame Street for the 40th season of the show. He was going to give it to the person that could answer a trivia question. I said to myself, “You can’t blow it. You should know whatever he’s going to ask...Please be easy...but not TOO easy.” Kevin asked, “What is Snuffleupagus’ little sister’s name?” My arm shot up and I let out a Horshack, “Oooh.” Kevin pointed at me and said, “Alright, what is it?” “Alice.” “You got it. You get the jacket and I think it will fit you. I’ll even sign it.” It was better than Christmas.
The coveted jacket.
After that, everybody got in line for Elmo to greet the kids. While in line I listened to girls that looked “tweenish” talk like Kevin was as cool as Zach Efron. I smiled thinking that some kids still think the Muppets are cool and it’s not just babies or old fan geeks like me. Jonas was wanting down to run around and we knew that time was running out. Isaac kept trying to get on the speaker platform with his puppet saying he wanted to entertain the people.
When we finally got to Kevin and Elmo, Isaac threw his arm around Elmo and with a “Smile!” I captured the moment. Jonas laughed as Kevin and Elmo tried to get him to look at Daddy’s camera. While Jonas won’t remember this, at least we caught his meeting with the Muppet superstar on camera. He’ll thank me later.
The kids were exhausted and hyped up from the glazed donut holes they shared on the way to the SOKY Bookfest. It is not a good combination. Polly and I knew they would never wait in line to have Kevin sign his book, “My Life as a Furry Red Monster.” While Polly took them to Chick-fil-a for lunch, I’d get Kevin to sign our copy of the book and the jacket.
Luckily, one of my friends showed up with his family and I got him to take a quick shot of me and Kevin as he signed my things. I whispered, “To compare our weight from 2001 to now.” Kevin said, “Right.” Having my picture with one of my favorite performers EVER, I thanked him and quickly made way for the next Elmo fan.
While checking out, I would run into one of my co-workers, Meteorologist Shane Holinde. He and I had classes together at Western Kentucky University. He told Kevin he had enjoyed The Great Space Coaster while growing up. Shane was a big fan of Goriddle Gorilla (Kevin’s main character on the show).
While I had a BLAST seeing Kevin and Elmo, it was really like Jim’s creations themselves - “a means to an end.” I wanted to give my two boys a day they would always appreciate. I want our lives together, how ever long or short it may be, to be filled with moments that are fun and full of love. Maybe when they are older, they will think of their dad taking them to see this adorable television icon, Elmo, and know how much I love them. Much like I fondly think of my Mammaw when I watch a “Veterinarian’s Hospital” sketch from The Muppet Show, and the love and time she put into making pajamas or doctor scrubs for my Rowlf.
I’ll never forget the day’s smiles and laughter. Thanks again, Kevin. I feel like “Dad of the Year.”
Kevin Clash and Me
P.S. Isaac is fascinated with Labyrinth right now. He told me yesterday that he wanted to grow up to be a puppeteer and make Labyrinth 2. He said it would have another girl and baby boy in it. I’ve waited over twenty years for a sequel. I guess another twenty can’t hurt.