Sunday, June 7, 2009

In which we Start Shrieking a Lot.

The bogus interview being a staple of teevee parody shows n skits, we threw in a bogus interview with a werewoof. Being tragically short of trained actors or werewoofs, it seemed logical to use a Cookie Monster puppet purchased from the same toy store as Wags the Obnoxious Etcetera Etcetera. It also seemed logical to put that puppet on my right hand, since I had run out of options for recruiting talent, Talent, or ta Lent.

Barb and I used to amuse ourselves on roadtrips with bogus puppet acts, which as they were performed in the privacy of our car for our own private entertainment (as the disclaimers on home entertainemtn require) were often at the expense of co-workers, other performers, academics, distinguished Lexington landed gentry, and anyone else who popped to mind. This was mindless riffing to while away the miles up n down I-75; so we had our own private rhythm, timing and general understanding of where the other one might go riffing. We amused each other with Monty Python pepperpot voices, abandoning fake British accents after attending a particularly unfortunate local production of something-or-other that featured the worst stage British in recorded history. So, the hell: it was a throwaway bit, it was within budget (most of which was being spent, when it was spent at all, on soundtrack), it was amusing in concept to co-opt a kid's puppet, badabing badaboom badabam. Done, moving on, next.

Except that when we watched the show playback, Barb said "That was pretty funny."

We had years of critiquing and noting each other's work; and I am not a performer, hate performing, and go out onto a stage only when I am dragged kicking and screaming. So I would have preferred to remain safely off camera, and was still deluding myself that the show would get to full improvisatory state in another two or three weeks; but the ten or twelve weeks of the show's broadcasts to date had pretty conclusively demonstrated that we'd gotten about as much performance out of our friends n crew as we were going to get -- and I for one wanted more than what we were getting.

It seemed to me that the show still wasn't crowded enough to overcome the audience's 1AM torpor. We were steadily increasing the additional production gags -- the crawls, the chroma, the music and sound gags -- and had pretty much found the Millie character, and some viable comic foils -- but the next step was obviously to pick up the pace of the show. And with only one trained performer, the pace was entirely dependent on Barb's timing. And with a live show/no audience, Barb's timing was driven by the pacing dictated by the script and by the cues from her foils. So if we wanted to speed things up, we had to give her a foil who could work fast with her, who she trusted and could play with, and who could take some of the heavy lifting performance load off Barb.

With no other alternatives, that would be me. We still kept up the good fight trying to recruit our Real Actor friends, who were grudgingly admitting that MT did appear to have some legs; but they were still unavailable for show. Lots of hair being washed at 1AM. Well, it was plausible, not worth wrecking friendships over, and we were still committed to pulling up stakes and moving Onward within a year so the friendship-wrecking would likely sort its own bad self out.

So ... the pieces are now all here.

Millie gets the show running. When she is setting something up, she starts at medium tempo and revs up to fourth gear or so -- when she is establishing the segment's concept, she starts normally and as it heads into ridiculosity her speed and pitch increase.

"Keith" slows the show down. "Keith" tries to get the show back on track. "Keith" is a foil for Millie, but does not interact with "Bob".

Millie occasionally incites "Keith's" crew against him, usually "Dougie", by playing the "studio crew" against the "control room crew". "Dougie" becomes Millie's partner-in-crime in the studio; when he moves into the control room and takes over audio, "Dougie" might side with either Millie or "Keith", depending on his mood. Millie can charm him, but "Keith" signs his time card. "Dougie" can interact with "Keith" and Millie, but not "Bob".

"Bob" works at a leisurely tempo. He doesn't change much; he's the straight man. "Bob" generally does not instigate; things happen to "Bob". Millie uses "Bob" to illustrate a ridiculous concept. "Bob" allows things to happen. Eventually "Bob" starts subverting this rule, as real-Bob starts working some of his innate snarkiness into his performance.

The puppet becomes the Clampett runamok. The puppet will run at full intensity, and will be used to wreak havok. The puppet should be used sparingly; no more than once a show, and not necessarily every show. That's 'cause the puppeteer has an irregular work schedule, and is having to work some late Saturday nights, although not as frequently now that he's shifted from theatre operations to convention operations. The puppet can fluster Millie, because the puppet is the only character that will not play by the rules. The puppet can do whatever it wants, but only once a show. Eventually, "Bob" and "Dougie" will also become anarchists when required.

There's some sense in this role for this particular puppet. The original Sesame Street was far more anarchic than the mid-80s version, and is unrecognizable compared to the current politically correct edition. And the Cookie Monster was the Id-beast loose: the only puppet with the googly eyes, constantly threatening to explode out of the scene and destroy not only the set but anybody else in the scene who wasn't Kermit. That puppet was designed to lunge and leave debris in its midst; so our borrowing would be un homage to its origins.

Yeah, right. Only problem is, I'm not a particularly good puppeteer -- and the shrieking voice is not picking up well on mic; can't make out what the thing is saying half the time. I want the puppet's closeups to be generally shot with the minicam, with the lens zoomed back as wide as possible and the camera pushed forward to get the shot. That would distort the perspective, so that when the thing is pushed into the camera it will balloon onto the screen, like the manic Daffy Duck of the late 30s and 40s. Keith reminds me that he's the director, and that maybe if I'm not happy with my performance I should go work on that instead of setting up shots. Then he takes charge on the set: "Okay, let's get Millie and the Blue Guy in place."

Well, that's as good a name for him as any.


  1. I have always thought that Cookie Monster got more sanitized as I grew up. He'd still om nom nom all the cookies, but he was increasingly presented as more of a star rather than a run-amuck force of gluttony. Which was fine, I guess, as a kid, because he was still entertaining.

    Then I saw his appearance on Martha Stewart's show. It was sadistically hysterical. If you haven't seen it it's usually presented in two parts on Youtube. Martha's own performance was stellar... what a cruel hostess she was for poor Cookie, tying him up like that with the objects of his desire only inches from his grasp!

    The Blue Guy was always a great part of the show simply because he had no rules. You could have him doing anything, except, applying a steak to Count Bob. :)

  2. By all accounts, Frank Oz was so introverted that it was painful to try to engage him in conversation. Put a puppet on his right hand, and it was magic. Puppets are often used in therapy to help people say what they can't say: it's safe because the puppet says it.

    The arts, and the performing arts, are traditional havens for young people with an abundance of raw talent and a serious lack of coping skills. As we/they get older, sometimes we get lucky and mature a little along the way. That mitigates the rawness of the art that's made.

    When Frank performed his characters with Jim Henson and his characters, the scene was really about the purity of friendship. His solos were about the terror of the real world. His early response was to blow it up; the Cookie Monster, as a transitional figure, took "responsibility" for his actions, through direct tactile action -- no cannons concealed in his hands, he grabbed and nommed. Then we get to the complexity of Miss Piggy and Yoda Mark 1, who reshape their environments into something they control.

    While I never cared for Alastair Cookie, I can't begrudge the evolution of the character. Marcel Proust had his madeleine, and I have my Cookie.

    People forget that Martha Stewart does the best job of making fun of "Martha Stewart".

    The steak bumper was a typical MT "oh, yeah, the bumper -- what do we do?" Wasn't even discussed -- just "I got it, give me the steak and roll tape."

  3. I have to say the "Whatever Martha" show isn't as loathsome as most of my friends seem to think... if you can handle Alexis' potty mouth, that is. Bravo for Martha for letting them make fun of her.

    The bumps were actually usually really entertaining. I liked the steak one... I think you blow a raspberry after dropping the steak? My video has too much generation fading to really tell on the audio portion.

  4. I actually think Bob probably lost it, and you might be hearing him snork. Bob used to lurk off camera and try to break Barb up during the bumps, so she was returning the favor. Meanwhile, I'm jamming the slab of meat into his neck -- all I told him was "Don't move" -- and then when I announced that it wasn't working very well, Barb was trying to tickle him off camera, or something.

    Because we had graduated to the Good Movie list, we decided to do the Dracula show live, for fun and old times. By then, we knew that we would leave the show in four weeks, and that this would be the last live Millie's Monsterpiece, so everybody was pretty psyched to knock that show out of the park, so to speak.