Spend some time watching Sesame Street or The Muppet Show and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are very human people behind, or beneath, those puppets. It’s also easy to lose track that behind those people with those puppets, there is also a team of writers working hard with words to keep the illusion of character alive on the stage … eh, television screen.
Joseph Bailey, who pennedMemoirs of a Muppets Writer, is one of those scribes.
His book, which seems to be self-published, is an inside look at his career with Jim Henson and the company of writers and performers who worked hard to create a unique slice of comedy that entertains (and in the case of Sesame Street, educates) with wide appeal. Bailey brings the reader into the world of the Muppets, but his own career began first with Sesame Street, and it is fascinating to see what went on beyond the curtain as writers sought to create scripts with educational goals as well as entertainment value.
Later, with the Muppets in London (where The Muppet Show was produced after all the American television stations turned Henson down), Bailey brings us into the mayhem of the studio and inside the cramped offices of the Muppet writers. He brings the folks behind the scenes to life — writers and producers and performers such as Richard Hunt, Jerry Juhl, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson. Jim Henson also gets some of the attention from Bailey, particularly after his unexpected death. You get the sense that Bailey was consciously not writing a “tell all” about Henson, though, and sought to protect Henson’s legacy.
Bailey is a writer, and it is inside the workings of the writing mind that he brings us in this book.
In particular, there are times in the book where he deconstructs his scripts and scenes, giving us readers an inside look at both the intent, the rewriting, the humor and more, and that kind of experience is valuable. Plus, he shares some history of various Muppet characters, and how they came to be (ie, Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle, etc.) Bailey also explains how Henson and the Muppet creators understood the medium of television in a way that many others did not, and used its elements to its full advantage.
Bailey lived and breathed the Muppet Show for many years as one of the men with pens (and earned an armload of writing awards for his work), and his memoir is a nice inside look at what that was like to be inside that somewhat crazy world as puppets took the world by storm.
Peace (inside a fuzzy puppet),