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Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part VIII: My Great Muppet Caper… Again by Nicholas Napoli

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part VIII:
My Great Muppet Caper… Again
Boom-Shakalaka! Boom-Shakalaka! What a great movie! Easily one of my top favourite Muppet movies of all time yet at age ten I had no idea what an adaptation was. To me this was all just one big new Muppet movie with explosions, pirates, treasure and Kermit with a cool tattoo on his chest. Before I go any further I have a secret to share with you guys, I’m truly sorry if I offend any of you with what I’m about to write next. Please trust me that this is not how I wanted this to turn out but life works in mysterious ways. Back in 1996 even though I considered myself the biggest Muppet Fan in the world if truth be told I had never seen a single episode of The Muppet Show. I was exposed to Muppets Tonight before I ever saw the Frog host his own show. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to watch The Muppet Show it was just that at the time it wasn’t that easy to track down your favourite shows. I had seen various sketches and clips on compilation videos but at that time no The Muppet Show season sets were available not even individual episodes and there was no way to download them yet so sadly the universe was against me on this one.

Why have I got so personal you might be wondering, simply so that you can understand that unlike most traditional Muppet fans I wasn’t exposed to secondary characters over the course of 120 episodes. Sam the Eagle, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, The Muppet Newsman, Pops, Link Hogthrob amongst others were considered background characters to me. Beauregard doesn’t make that list because he won me over driving that taxi in The Great Muppet Caper as did Sweetums when he fell down the manhole. I was familiar with Sam the Eagle by that age but he wasn’t one of my main Muppets, I could have done without him. I considered Sam the Eagle to just be a mean Eagle who called all the Muppet weirdoes, the guest who wanted to start the wedding without the bride and groom and the strict teacher in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Then I watched Sam the Eagle take on the role of Samuel Arrow and he instantly became one of my favourite characters. Thanks to Muppet Treasure Island I now had a whole new appreciation for secondary characters… it wasn’t just about Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, Scooter, Rizzo, Dr Bunsen, Beaker, The Swedish Chef and Animal anymore it was about all of them.

What does all this have to do with my second great Muppet caper you might be wondering and long story short I was about to meet one of those secondary characters. As usual as I always do I’m jumping ahead of myself and there is so much I needed to do first. I need to help my Mom and Sister collect their luggage, find our taxi, drive to our apartment, settle in and unpack… it goes by so quickly when you’re just writing about it. Unlike last time I did not have to worry about Herbert or finding a rat inside my pillow because I was staying in a cool bachelor pad…. with my Mom and my sister.               


The next day I went to my doctor’s appointment, he looked at my original x-rays, checked my reflects, took my money and said he agreed with my original doctor.  Maybe I was making all these pains, memory loss and craziness up… was I simply trying to get attention? Well that was it at least now I can finally concentrate on the primary reason I had come to England… to meet the rest of the Muppet family.    
That night after visiting the doctor, the Disney Store, Forbidden Planet and Hammleys the three of us returned home excited to look over all the Muppet merchandise I had bought… maybe that was just me. I had bought this really awesome Muppet t-shirt which I had never seen anywhere before, it was gold, it had Gonzo and I couldn’t wait to get back home, wear it and make all my friends jealous. Honestly I was very disappointed that the doctor I had come all the way to London to visit had not been able to help me. When I’m down the only way to cheer myself up is with the Muppets and so all I could think about was the fact that I might actually have a chance to meet them all very soon… in fact I was meeting them in two days time.

The next day we decided to do some shopping and… you don’t care about that so let’s just say I had a fun day and went to sleep. MORNING! Today the Muppets were filming at the Australian House in London and after walking around in circles and worrying that we’d never find the place all of a sudden we stumbled upon it… I have no idea how we could have missed it in the first place.

The three of us marched up to the entrance and I very professionally said “we’re on the list” the men standing there looked at me and one replied “we’re just the window cleaners you want the entrance on the other side of the building”. Five hours later after we managed to walk to the other side of the building we were greeted by an awesome dude who led us inside. I felt so Hollywood when he asked us to make sure our phones were off and to remain completely still and silent whenever the Director yelled “action!”… I was more excited than a bag of peanuts.
As we entered I looked around the room hoping to find Bill and finally in the distance there he was and suddenly he saw me too. We both smiled and began running towards each other but I hadn’t noticed all the cables on the floor and got my feet tangled amongst them and fell to the ground face first. Bill helped me up and not only was I happy to be meeting him again but best part was I was introducing my family to him too. After years of annoying my family singing like The Swedish Chef, pretending to be Mahna-Mahna and constantly saying “O’Kay” I was finally going to make all that up to them. After catching up Bill apologised as he had to get ready for the next scene and dashed off not before making sure we were comfortable in our seats and my Mom was lucky enough to sit on Bill Barretta’s The Muppets…. Again (as it was still called) chair.

When we think about the Muppeteers making a Muppet movie what is the first thing that comes to mind? Them performing the Muppets but they do so much more than that as Bill was proving every single second that past. Bill was all over the place making sure everything was perfect for the next shot. He was making sure the sets were right, the positions were accurate, the Muppets were there, the crew were ready, he was fixing a light on the ceiling, brushing Miss Piggy’s hair, cooking lunch for the crew with The Swedish Chef, stopping a fight between the Snowths and even teaching a group of kids 4th grade maths. Bill Barretta is one hell of a Doozer!

All of a sudden my eyes meet with those of the third Muppet I have ever seen alive in front of me. There he was standing tall and making sure everyone was aware of the fact that he was not British. It’s ironic to think that the first time I ever met Sam the Eagle was in England and Sam now joined Kermit and Pepe on my list of Muppets I’ve made a fool of myself in front of. 

Five or six years ago I was hanging out with my friend and his brother in their living room and Lee turned to me and asked “have you heard of Ricky Gervais before? Honestly I hadn’t but after we watched three of his stand-up comedy routines back to back I knew I’d never forget who he was. This guy was hilarious and even though I’m British I’m not a fan of English comedy but with Ricky Gervais I was willing to make an exception. A few days later my other friend Davi and I began watching The Office (U.K) and I became an even bigger fan of Mr Gervais. An Idiot Abroad then began airing in the U.K and to all you Americans I’m not sure if you get that show in America but if you don’t make sure you watch it… it’s National Geographic meets The Muppets. I’m always thinking Muppets and since I was now a Ricky Gervais fan all I could think about was Ricky Gervais performing with the Muppets. Imagine my surprise when I turned around and Ricky Gervais was sat just behind me. Honestly I’m not just saying this because I’m on a high having met him but Ricky Gervais is one of the only few interests I have outside of the worlds of Jim Henson.

I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me but at the same time Ricky Gervais was rehearsing his lines did I really want to bother him? For the very longest time I had thought of this joke and all I wanted to do was tell Ricky Gervais. It was one of those random things on my bucket list and as always thanks to Bill I was able to tick another one off. I approached Ricky and introduced myself with the intentions of making him laugh with my joke. I really wanted a picture taken with Ricky so I could rub it in all my friend’s faces as they are much bigger Ricky Gervais fans than they are Muppet fans but I knew I could not take pictures on set. I told Ricky Gervais my joke and felt like a contestant on American Idol nervously waiting for a response. Ricky Gervais laughed at my joke and I could not believe I had actually made the King of Comedy laugh. Ricky Gervais being as busy as he was working on a movie was still nice enough to tell me that once he finished shooting he’d happily step outside to have a picture taken with me but sadly I left before he was finished. After I crossed off making Ricky Gervais laugh from my bucket list and thanked him for his time I turned around to walk back to my seat when all of a sudden I spot my Mom and Stacey speaking to Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson and Matt Vogel!!!
Remember how for the last part of the last millennium Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and Sam the Eagle seemed as though they had left the Muppets. They had always been there but their screen time had become so minimal compared to what we were used to that it felt like they were just making time to hang out with The Muppets. In 2001 Miss Piggy surprised everyone by making an appearance at Muppet Fest but the bigger surprise was that Miss Piggy was being performed by Eric Jacobson for the first time officially and I didn’t even realise it after attending Muppet Fest via YouTube. Eric had brought life back to Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and Sam the Eagle and honestly you can’t have any Muppet production without featuring at least three of those characters and thanks to Eric they were all back.

Then there are all of Jerry Nelson’s characters who have happily lived on all thanks to Matt Vogel and his amazing talent. I’m a huge fan of full bodied Muppets and this is the guy who performs Sweetums and on occasions even Big Bird himself! Jerry Nelson’s characters have always been around but for the past few years getting an appearance by Floyd, Robin, Crazy Harry, Lew Zealand and especially Uncle Deadly was a rare treat. In the last Muppet movie I realised Lew Zealand had stepped up from hiding in the background and I’m so glad because apart from being a fantastic character Lew Zealand is a beautiful puppet.  Who would ever think that in 2011 we would be seeing Uncle Deadly with a strong role on the big screen? We didn’t think it would happen but it happened and just as Jerry Nelson was gifted with a great range of different talents so is Matt Vogel who has been able to keep all of Mr Nelson’s characters alive.

Jerry Nelson is a master puppeteer, an outstanding performer and an extraordinary singer, a man of many talents. I remember when I was six years old my parents rented for me The Muppets Presents Children’s Songs And Stories and there I met Robin for the very first time as he joined his uncle in singing about Rainbows.

I wanted to make an original good first impression with Eric and Matt so after counting to five and calming myself down I was able to step forward and make a fool of myself. “It’s a pleasure to meet you guys” I said to them and then we began having a little chat after Bill informed them what a big Muppet Fan I am. Anyway what do you think was the first thing I said to Eric Jacobson? “I’ve been a huge Miss Piggy fan my whole life and when I was younger I would have these dreams about her but eventually they stopped until you brought her back to life” was I having another seizure? Bill, Eric and Matt looked at me and then Eric broke the ice by saying “as long as I’m not performing her in your dreams” we all had a good laugh and then I looked at Matt Vogel and there was no way I was going to tell him about my Sweetums dreams… I’m trying to repress those.

I then turned to Matt and for some reason completely forgot which characters he performs which is real easy to remember when you know all of Jerry Nelson’s characters. I looked at Matt and all I could think about was that this man was the future Big Bird and my brain was simply stuck on that fact. I had Floyd, Uncle Deadly, Crazy Harry, Robin, Lew Zealand all in front of me and I couldn’t remember them. It was humiliating and reminded me of the Dr Phil Van Neuter fiasco back in 2012. Matt, Eric and Bill then had to run off as they were getting ready to shoot the next scene, I looked at my Mom and Stacey, smiled at them and sat down to enjoy the show when all of a sudden Ty Burrell walks in front of me.
I introduced myself to Ty Burrell whilst looking at my Mom who I knew was a big Modern Family Fan but my Mom was to star struck to talk to him. Ty was really nice because even though he was making his way on set he still stopped to listen to me go on about what a great show Modern Family is, how the writing and acting is superb, how the cast are all top notch and everything else. I think Ty Burrell is one of the funniest dads in TV history and the exciting part was that tonight I had a new episode of Modern Family to watch and it was now going to be a totally different experience.

Todd Lieberman is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met not only did he ask me and my family if we were comfortable whilst he tried to produce a movie he actually asked us numerous times. His hospitality seriously stood out, I couldn’t believe the producer was asking me if I was thirsty, he had already done enough by allowing me inside but on top of all that he was extremely cool with us. The whole crew were awesome and everyone was working so hard on what they were doing only three people were standing around like idiots doing nothing and the three of them were called Napoli.
It was getting late and even though I was having the time of my life my Mom and my sister looked extremely tired and honestly it was well past nine O’clock. We were discussing if to leave or not when all of a sudden I see my dear old friend Kermit in the distance. I run up to him hoping he remembered me from last year and when I got to Kermit I gave him a big hug. Kermit looked at me in disgust and spat in my face before kicking my leg causing me to fall to the floor. What was wrong? Did Kermit not remember me? Kermit then bent down and pulled my head up from the floor by my hair and said to me “never hug me again you over grown Muppet fan baby” and with that he walked away. What had just happened? Why was Kermit so pissed at me? I then realised I had not met Kermit I had met the fourth Muppet to join my list…

Mom and Stacey then approached me and said they were leaving as it was getting late and wondered if I was heading back with them or staying until they kicked me out. After taking that beating I was ready to leave and honestly it was a good thing I did. The three of us said goodbye to Bill, Todd and the rest of the crew and began heading home after the best day of our lives… maybe that only applied to me. As we made our way back home we soon realised we were lost, it was dark and for the first time since arriving in London the streets were almost empty. All we wanted to do was get back home and reminisce about our day but like I always do I was just about to make everything much more difficult. I began having a seizure in the middle of nowhere and as I began to blackout all I could think about was how lucky I was to have left in the company of my Mom and Stacey. I remember I began to shake and everything started to go black as my Mom and Stacey panicked around me having no idea where we were.
Would I survive the trip? (well…duh) will Stacey visit Madame Tussauds? Will my Mom’s cigarettes run out before we leave? Tune in a few weeks from now to find out what happens in another thrilling conclusion of Napolis In Looooondon!

- Nicholas Napoli

Thanking Nicholas so much for Part VIII.

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part IX

 coming soon!


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