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Rec Room: William Brewer: Jim Henson’s “Monsterpiece Theater”

August 20, 2010

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By **William Brewer**

In a brief bout of nostalgia, I recently began to re-watch episodes of Jim Henson’s sorely underrated, hippy-dippy 80’s children’s show Fraggle Rock. Realizing that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Jim’s death, I am reminded of his many contributions to American popular culture, including some of the most hilarious literary satire I’ve ever encountered, in Sesame Street’s “Monsterpiece Theatre.” “Monsterpiece Theater” was a long-running segment that included a Cookie Monster version of retro PBS host Alistair Cooke (or Alistair Cookie) as he re-imagines literary classics for children. One segment in particular is especially amusing to me—a parody of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot re-named “Waiting for Elmo.”

This sketch wonderfully cuts through the pretension of Beckett’s existential masterpiece as only a Sesame Street episode could possibly do. A part that made me laugh out loud comes when Alistair Cookie introduces the play as “so modern and so brilliant that it makes absolutely no sense… to anybody!”

This odd, idiosyncratic series of sketches is extraordinarily funny, and the artistic references range from Shakespeare to David Lynch. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I feel that this segment is especially relevant in addressing a new generation of waning interest in literature by serving as an introduction to some lovely and timeless works! It remains a prime example of Henson’s unique ability to bridge sophistication with elementary education, and he will always remain a symbol of profound benevolence for me. If you can spare the time, I also recommend “The 400 Blows” and “The Old Man & The C.”

William Brewer is an editorial intern at Guernica. Read his last post “here”:

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