Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Life's Like a Movie; Write Your Own Ending

What do the Muppets seem to be missing? There are weirdos, monsters, rampaging pigs, and heckling old men galore. There are explosions, flying motorcycles, and precarious sets that come crashing to the floor without a moment's notice. There are running gags, whoopee cushions, and woman-chasing drummers. So what are they missing, judging from this (obviously) abridged list of sometimes-tacky characteristics? Maybe just a touch of class.

Enter Rowlf the Dog.

Now, don't get me wrong. Rowlf makes silly puns, both as himself and as Dr. Bob, the "quack who's gone to the dogs" in Veterinarian's Hospital. In fact, Rowlf had his down-to-earth, slightly "punny" personality long before The Muppet Show came into existence. As the Muppets' first nationally recognized character from his stint on The Jimmy Dean Show, Rowlf became a lovable star, thanks to his somewhat sarcastic remarks and humorous exchanges with Jimmy Dean (pre-sausage fame), even receiving more fan mail than Jimmy himself. Long after these interactions, he still would use his "canine humor" to tell Fozzie that he'd been "chasing the truck all the way, and boy, am I exhausted." And if Rowlf didn't have that kind of a persona, he probably wouldn't be my favorite.

(A sarcastic piano player? Big wonder why he's Megan's favorite Muppet.)

But Rowlf isn't just a facetious pup. He's a classy musician, who brings such acts to the Muppet Theater as Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Tit Willow". There are other musicians in the Muppet realm, sure (dr. teeth and the electric mayhem, anyone?), but Rowlf is the true connoisseur of fine music. He encourages Fozzie to help him play "English Country Garden" and admires the fantastic work of one Victor Borge, with whom he plays (a version of) Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

Let's not be afraid to be silly, everyone. Let's not be afraid to take those risks that others will say we're probably crazy to take. Maybe we are crazy. The Muppets sure are. But let's do it with a little class, too. Take a lesson from Rowlf and, by extension, from the imaginative and talented creator of the Muppets, who gave Rowlf his voice, Mr. Jim Henson himself. As his son recalled, "Kermit was my father's best known character, but a lot of people think he was more like Rowlf in real life ... except he couldn't play the piano as well." Let's push the boundaries of what we think we can do, but let's not forget to appreciate the finer things that add so much to life's sweetness.

 Frank Oz and Jim Henson with Rowlf


"I go home, read a book, have a couple of beers, take myself for a walk and go to bed." -Rowlf the Dog

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