It’s a funny story, how a puppeteer goes from creating fuzzy Muppet knock-offs in his Baltimore home to working side by side with all-time greats Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Funny, sweet and even heartbreaking.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey gives you the full story of Kevin Clash, the man behind Dinosaurs’ Baby Sinclair, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Splinter, and of course, Sesame Street’s Elmo.
The beloved, innocent little red ball of affection is definitely Clash’s whole world - but he’s also a big part of millions of little kids’ worlds across the globe.
This doc, from directors Constance Marks and Philip Shane, gives the viewer a taste of Henson’s earliest Muppetry, and shows Clash discovering The Muppet Show and Sesame Street in the 1960s.
Clash was just a kid when he cut up his dad’s raincoat to make his first puppet, and by high school he was creating and performing with a large repertoire of colourful characters.
A chance phone call placed by Clash’s mother to Muppet architect Kermit Love got the aspiring puppeteer an invite to the Muppet factory, which was actually documented and is seen here, among a whack of other great footage.
From there, Clash and Love struck up a great relationship, and Clash was eventually introduced to Henson himself.
Before getting to work with his hero, Clash had gigs on the local cable station, worked his way up to Captain Kangaroo and finally operated Cookie Monster at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But Clash’s career truly takes off when he is handed Elmo (who at the time was a caveman-like simpleton with a grouchy voice) by another puppeteer and asked to find a way to make him work.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and featuring a slew of interviews from family, puppeteers and Clash himself, Being Elmo is beautifully paced, highly entertaining and informative.
The amount of archive footage and photos of young Clash also serve to flesh out the details nicely.
There are details of Clash’s private life that are touched on but largely glossed over, such as his divorce and relationship with his daughter, but Elmo’s “dad” is so darn sincere and sweet that you simply shrug it off.
It’s an inspiring tale, and though we’ve heard before that if you have a dream, you shouldn’t give up on it, it’s still a great story and well worth the watch.
Published in Volume 66, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 1, 2012)