The last new episode of The Muppet Show may have aired over 30 years ago, but thanks to the wonders of VHS and cable TV, children growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s still got to enjoy Muppets gracing their living room screens. As a kid, I spent countless hours in front of the TV watching best-of compilations and Muppet specials that my mom or grandfather taped for my brother and me. I also caught episodes as they aired in syndication over the years on TNT, Nickelodeon, and the Odyssey Channel (though sadly the show hasn’t been on TV since 2001). In addition to syndication, Time-Life released a number of Best-of DVDs, featuring 3 episodes a piece, and Disney has released seasons 1-3 on DVD (though Seasons 4 and 5 are mysteriously still in the vault). Thankfully we live in the age of YouTube and many nice people have uploaded their copies of the episodes for our viewing pleasure.
Somewhere along the line, Muppets got a reputation for being childish and cutesy. Sure, most of the puppets are downright adorable, which is certainly what first grabbed my attention as a child, but adulthood has given me a whole new appreciation for the wonderful but WEIRD entertainment that Jim Henson and his fellow performers gave us with The Muppet Show.
Here are 10 of the weirdest sketches that have stuck with me for one reason or another through the years:
This sketch’s simplicity is its best asset, and it seems to have been a favorite of Jim’s, as it was also performed over the years on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show in addition to its performance on The Muppet Show. It features a bendy, tubular puppet dancing in rhythm to jaunty trumpet music, but the puppet becomes frustrated by a smaller variation of itself, who can’t calm down and stay in rhythm. The larger puppet continuously kicks the smaller one out of the frame. Just as you start to feel bad for the little guy, he brings the sketch to a rousing close by blasting his larger counterpart away. As Henson himself once said, “It all ends in one of two ways: either someone gets eaten or something blows up.” We’ll see some more of that theme in this list…
2. Hugga Wugga
Talk about bizarre. This sketch, set in a steamy, swamp-like environment, begins with a mean-looking alien marching around like he owns the place, singing his Hugga Wugga song, which sounds like a war chant. A second alien appears and sings a different song until he is bullied into singing the Hugga Wugga song by the first alien. Suddenly a third alien appears—a cute, yellow creature, who completely changes the tone by singing a sweet version of “You Are My Sunshine.” He refuses to be intimidated and taunts the first alien, who eventually blasts his head off! But that is not the end of our little yellow guy! The seemingly headless alien continues to sing his song, perplexing the bully, who ends up getting blown away himself in the end. Our yellow friend proudly finishes his song-“Do not take my sunshine away”– providing yet another win for the little guy. To this day whenever I hear “You Are My Sunshine” I picture that yellow guy. Fun fact-The yellow creature makes a cameo appearance in Muppets Most Wanted as the “thingy-thing” that Constantine gives to Miss Piggy in “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu).”
This Muppety take on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is just as weird to me now as it ever was. “Have you SEEN the scene? Even when you know what it is, you don’t know what it is!”
That about sums it up, thanks Scooter. Burble burble.
5. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
The Muppet Show loved putting weird twists on old standards. In this sketch, the Cole Porter tune that Frank Sinatra made famous becomes a duet between Behemoth (Who now goes by the name of Gene) and his still-living lunch, who is trying desperately to fight his way out. This sketch really creeped me out as a kid. It kind of still does.
6. Mahna Mahna
This is one of the most popular sketches associated with the Muppets, but it’s definitely weird. Like “Java,” it was performed on other programs both before and after it appeared on The Muppet Show. In a theme somewhat reminiscent of the Java sketch, the Mahna Mahna Muppet is expected to stay calm and do his part in backing up the cutesy pink Snowths as they do-do-do-do-do along. Whenever he tries to improvise, they give him the glare of death until he calms down. I’m sure many significant others who have been on the receiving end of a death stare can sympathize. Mahna Mahna gets the last laugh as he leaves the stage and exits the building, then puts a call in to Kermit, who brings the phone out to the stage, which allows our fuzzy pal to utter one final “Mahna Mahna.” Many people mistakenly believe that this catchy tune is an original Muppet song, but (and here’s where it gets even weirder) it actually debuted in a “pseudo-documentary” about wild sexual behavior in Sweden. The song accompanies a sauna scene in the movie. Here’s a safe-for-work excerpt: Now you will probably never hear that song the same way again.
Rowlf the Dog gets uptight Sam the Eagle to participate in this song, under the guise that it is cultural because it’s from Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera, The Mikado. Rowlf performs most of the song while Sam plays the role of “Dickey Bird” and must repeatedly say “willow… tit willow…tit willow.” Sam feels increasingly awkward about it, but never quite gets the joke and ends by asking, “Why are they laughing at me?” All Rowlf can do is cover his face as he giggles. Cheeky! The song actually made it onto The Muppet Show soundtrack, which I had in cassette form and listened to all the time as kid. I didn’t get what was funny about it then and found the song boring, so I usually fast forwarded the tape to something else. I’m glad I’ve rediscovered this strange and silly clip, and that is part of what makes The Muppet Show even better as an adult. I love discovering gags I didn’t understand as a child, and finding new meanings in sketches.
8. All of Me
Another wacky interpretation of a standard. The character who sings the song literally takes all of his parts off of his body one by one, handing them over to his lover, who giddily enjoys stuffing them in a box until there is nothing left to give except the shell of his body. So of course, he jumps into the trunk as she seals ALL OF HIM inside. Sure, it’s presented in a humorous manner, but adult-me sees an abusive, one-way relationship. We’re staring to get a little bit more serious here…
9. Windmills of Your Mind
As a kid, I found the “screaming thing” in this sketch strange, but also ridiculous and funny. As an adult, the simple act of watching this sketch now gets my anxiety revved up within the first 10 seconds. The Muppets took a haunting, Oscar-winning song and turned it into a frantic, psychotic plea for help. We start with the screaming thing telling us “I’m very relaxed. I’m terribly calm and tranquil, and very, very relaxed indeed…(cue fast music) ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT ON THE INSIDE…” and he proceeds to sing the song with ever increasing speed while his legs flail about and the world goes in circles around him until he crashes into an actual windmill. He starts shaking like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown and reassures us that on the outside, he is very calm—but then he screams and runs away and ends up flinging himself off of Statler and Waldorf’s balcony! Whoa dude.
10. Time in A Bottle
This was my first exposure to the Jim Croce classic (The Muppet Show was actually my introduction to many great tunes), and it has remained a favorite of mine over the years. As a kid, I liked the pretty yet haunting melody, but as I grew older I gained an appreciation for the longing and pain that the song invokes. In the sketch, a scientist sings the song as he makes and takes potions that make him increasingly younger, but he goes too far and returns to his older self in the end, because no matter how hard you try, you can’t save time in a bottle and you can’t recapture your youth. Sad!
I don’t want leave you on such a depressing note, so enjoy this bonus weird clip which features a scantily clad Raquel Welch doing a sexy dance with a giant spider. There are plenty more weird sketches in the Muppet catalog, so feel free to comment if you have a particular weird sketch that sticks in your mind.