I'd never seen a muppet operated in person until Friday at Hasbro's San Diego Comic-Con booth. In my heart and in my mind I still have never seen a muppet operated in person — I just saw Super Grover.
Thanks to the two tiny additions made to my household last year, I've been watching a fair amount of Sesame Street lately. I remember watching Jim Henson's long-running edutainment spectacular religiously as a child, but three decades have changed the way I view the cuddly felt creations I once believed in without question.
These days I find myself watching the children interacting with the googly-eyed monsters more than the monsters themselves. I watch them to see if their eyes ever stray below the screen, where a man or woman is operating the mechanisms and speaking the words that make them come to life. In a traditional puppet theatre the operators are hidden behind curtains or conveniently-placed scenery, but when you're face-to-face with Elmo, how can you not stare at the man crouching beneath him?
These children, I thought, are amazing actors. If I were in their position I'd be staring into the eyes of the muppeteer, attempting to crack him up, lose his cool, or say something out of character.
Or so I thought.
Grover was at the Hasbro booth on Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. Super Grover, to be exact. Not a man operating a puppet. Grover.
Oh the man was there. He was crouched down on the floor as plain as day. You can even see him in the photo above, if you look closely. It's just that when he's only a few feet away, you do not see him. He might as well be invisible. Your attention is riveted to that magnificent helmeted figure. Your ears know that warbly voice isn't coming from his mouth, but your brain shifts it upwards, placing it where your heart knows it should be.
I don't know who was operating Super Grover at the Hasbro booth at San Diego Comic-Con. I couldn't describe him to you if I tried. Was it Eric Jacobson? I have no clue.
In any other profession that would be insulting. To a Muppet operator I can only imagine it's an honour, helping maintain a dream that started in front of my mother's television set some 30+ years ago.