I got the idea, at least in part, from the book Street Gang, in which Michael Davis, at least once, refers to Jim Henson and Frank Oz as, "one of the greatest duos in comedy history," and I realized that that is totally true, and yet they hardly ever get any recognition as such. Oh, they get lots of recognition for other things--like puppetry and filmmaking and so forth--all of it well deserved, but they hardly ever get any recognition as a comedic duo.
I think there are two main reasons why that is: First, they were puppeteers, so I think a lot of people dismiss their work as being "just" for kids, even though relatively little of their collaborative work was intended specifically for children (Sesame Street being the exception rather than the rule). Second, they were probably the best puppeteers in the world in their time, so people tend to attribute their accomplishments to the characters that they played. To put it another way, you're probably much more likely to find Bert & Ernie or Kermit & Miss Piggy on a list of the greatest comedy duos of all time than you are to find Henson & Oz on such a list.
So I wanted to do something to celebrate the comedy stylings of Henson & Oz, and so I came up with the idea of posting a series of Bert & Ernie sketches and then just doing a little commentary on them as appropriate. There are quite a few duos in the extended Muppet family that I could have focused on. There are many reasons why I chose Bert & Ernie, but these are the main reasons: (a) I knew that there is a great deal of Bert & Ernie material available online through official outlets, and I want to avoid unauthorized bootleg videos as much as possible; (b) I really want to celebrate the comedy of Sesame Street as well because, again, I think a lot of people--even those who enjoyed the show as kids--get to a point where they decide that they've outgrown it and start dismissing it as "just kids' stuff" and don't appreciate how genuinely funny it is and how well the comedy stands the test of time; (c) a lot of people within the Muppets' inner circle have said that the friendship between Ernie & Bert largely reflected that between Henson & Oz. I don't want to go so far as to say that it was the most representative relationship of all the characters they played together, because that would be presumptuous, but Frank Oz did say once that some of his favorite times were performing Bert to Jim Henson's Ernie.
Anyway, there are other reasons, but those are the main reasons that I had in my mind initially. Originally I was going to do a month of Bert & Ernie in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but then I realized that there were way too many good sketches that I'd never be able to choose just a month's worth. Then I went to church on New Year's Day (because it was a holy day of obligation) and the homily was partially about using signs and symbols to remind ourselves of who we are. Of course, the pastor was talking about it in a religious context, but I realized that it could apply to my Bert & Ernie project as well. Not only are they cultural icons, but they are icons to me personally as well. They symbolize devoted friendship and acceptance of people who are different and forgiveness of the people you love when they annoy you, which are all qualities that I value and aspire to. So while that wasn't consciously in my head when I started out, that's part of the rationale as well.
Also, eventually I am probably going to post some of the newer sketches with Steve Whitmire as Ernie and Eric Jacobson as Bert since they're still a part of the Henson-Oz legacy. I'll probably even do some of the claymation pieces they've started doing in the past five years or so, but that'll be a while yet. I am trying to go in a roughly chronological order.
There are some sketches that have either Bert or Ernie in them but not both, and I'll probably do some of those, too. A sketch that includes Ernie & Cookie Monster or Ernie & Grover is still Henson & Oz.
I'm doing five days a week because, in most places, Sesame Street airs on Monday through Friday, and when I was a kid, you were pretty much guaranteed to see AT LEAST one Bert & Ernie sketch on Sesame Street EVERY DAY! It was an embarrassment of riches. Kids today are lucky if they get to see two Bert & Ernie sketches a WEEK, and then more often than not they're the claymation bits. Don't get me wrong; I think the claymation stuff is great. I just don't want the kids of today forgetting that Bert & Ernie are Muppet residents of Sesame Street and relegating them to the status of the Teeny Little Super Guy. *ahem* Sorry, just wanted to get my cranky nostalgia out of the way.
So, there you have the reason, and we have the rhyme in today's sketch:
Ernie gets Bert to play a rhyming game.
This is one of my all-time favorites. I can express why in one word: "HIPPOPOTAMUS!"
I think part of what makes this sketch so funny is that it's so avoidable. Often, Bert is powerless to put a stop to Ernie's tomfoolery, but in this situation, all he would have to do is stop talking, then Ernie would have nothing to rhyme with.
For a long time I had this sketch confused with another one in which Ernie plays the drums and Bert echoes the rhythm; it starts off with Bert reading "A Tale of Two Breakfasts". I haven't decided yet if I'm going to feature that one because it's not available through official Sesame Street channels. It is available as a bootleg on YouTube, though.
Once again, there seems to be evidence of ad-libbing in this sketch, with Ernie's "what, what hmm?" If I'm right about that, this means it was up to Frank Oz to bring the sketch to its conclusion. I wonder if the director signaled him when to stop or if they just trusted his instincts. Either way, kudos to Jim Henson for thinking up all those rhymes off the top of his head. And they were mostly comprehensible even if they didn't exactly make sense. Granted, the man was a creative genius but nevertheless, that's not easy to do.
It happened fairly often in the early days of Sesame Street (certainly more often than it happens now) that they would leave small mistakes in the scene, and the performers would just keep going. That seems to be the case in the middle of this sketch. I love it when they do that. It's reminiscent of live theater, and it shows how good the performers were/are, that they can just keep going without breaking character. Sometimes it even makes the sketch funnier, as in this Waiter Grover sketch.