Life As A Furry Red Monster
Chapman (September 5, 2006) - His furry red face
is as recognizable as the Mona Lisa or the President; he is in fact such
an icon in our society that it is hard to remember when Elmo wasn’t
part of our culture. And while it is easy to think of Elmo as that perpetual
three-year-old that lives on Sesame Street there is someone behind Elmo,
or perhaps someone underneath Elmo.
The 224 page
Life as a Furry Red Monster” tells us all about that someone
and how his life has been transformed by a little puppet named Elmo. For
anyone who doesn’t have children, nieces or nephews let me relieve
you by saying this book was not written by Elmo. Repeat, this book was
not written by Elmo. No first person referrals or incessant yet contagious
giggling, this book is about Kevin Clash, you know, that person “underneath”
Elmo. With the help of Gary Brozek, Kevin shares his private thoughts,
past glories and pitfalls all while telling us what he has learned from
explains the purpose of the book best, “What Being Elmo Has Taught
Me About Life, Love, and Laughing Out Loud.” I know what you are
thinking, what can I, a long since pre-school graduate need to learn about
life from Elmo? Well according to Kevin, quite a bit. Each chapter is
defined by the lesson that Kevin has determined that he and the rest of
us could learn from Elmo. From love to courage, to creativity and tolerance
it seems that all of us could use a lesson from a three-year-old’s
your opinion of Elmo (love him, hate him, or tolerate him) you have to
admire his ability to rise to the top. And yet as Elmo continues to grow
in the Sesame Street spotlight, Kevin remains on the sidelines. Like a
parent, quietly observing his own child, Kevin is amazed at what Elmo
is able to accomplish in the rough and tumble world that is the twenty-first
century. Unlike Elmo who freely speaks his mind and demands constant attention,
Kevin is only happy just to be a part of it.
his humble beginnings, we learn about Kevin as a young child and how his
parents influenced him to be something more than just an African American
kid growing up in the city. They encouraged his somewhat bizarre habits
of collecting fur, fabric and other odds and ends to build his one-of-a
kind puppets. At a young age, Kevin had a natural talent for entertaining
and yet he himself never sought the spotlight. Content with being the
boy behind the curtain, or the boy who went off in his own direction,
Kevin uses this time to develop a craft that would become his ultimate
dream. A long time fan of puppetry and Sesame Street, Kevin shares with
us how his mom actually gets him into the professional puppetry gig. And
how his own tenacity brought him to New York City and then eventually
to Sesame Street. The only things missing in this book are shared photographs
of Kevin’s early childhood and puppets.
Jim Henson’s Ernie, Kevin is the antithesis to Elmo. Quiet, unassuming,
content to observe he finds that by portraying the rambunctious three
old is his own outlet for his “other” side. Despite Elmo’s
dizzying popularity, Kevin is humble, and we read about these moments
of humbleness when Kevin shares with us his first moment’s with
his daughter, or the first time he saw a Tickle Me Elmo on the shelves
of the toy store. Elmo may be the money maker for Sesame Street, but Kevin
assures his readers that he is only one of many hands the helps to stir
book gives us that little insight into what it is like to be a puppeteer
of one of the most famous Muppets of all time. For those of you who are
aspiring Muppeteers yourselves, you will especially enjoy this book. Pay
careful attention because Kevin, as producer and puppeteer recruiter he
has some wonderful pearls of wisdom for what he looks for in a potential
co-worker. We get to learn some of who Kevin really is. Who and what has
shaped him, who and what inspired him and most importantly what kind of
a man he is today.
As each one
of Elmo’s little life lessons unfold we learn a little more about
Elmo, Kevin and perhaps a little more about ourselves. By reading this
book we find out that there is more to Elmo than tickling, giggling, and
his goldfish Dorothy. Elmo has layers of love, joy, creativity, tolerance,
courage, friendship, cooperation, learning, and optimism. Kevin Clash
understands this and now he finally has a voice to share it with the rest
following is an excerpt from part of the book's first chapter entitled
"Love". Special thanks to Broadway Books for giving Muppet Central
permission to reprint an excerpt from "My
Life As A Furry Red Monster".
may not look like it, but that Elmo's a love machine.
tell me, "My child lives for Elmo," I tell them that Elmo
lives because of their child's love for him. I don't just mean that
Elmo is alive in their child's imagination, though that is certainly
a part of it. That child and Elmo aren't just experiencing love; they're
creating more of it to go around, and in doing so they make the world
a better place.
It works like
this: Elmo feeds off the love he receives from kids, from the adult
characters on the show, and from his fellow Muppets. He doesn't just
take that love in as a fuel and use it up. Instead, he drinks it in
and gives it right back in spades. He's a kind of love-energy power
station, and the more love he takes in, the more love he produces for
the rest of the world. The more love he produces, the more love he receives,
and the cycle completes itself over and over again. Talk about a renewable
I first saw
this powerful cycle in action shortly after Elmo debuted and was gaining
in popularity in the mid-1980s, when I did an appearance with him at
a school in the Bronx. A group of preschoolers were gathered in the
library, all of them bundles of fidgeting energy with their legs swinging
like metronomes. As soon as Elmo said, "Hello, everybody! Elmo
loves you!" it was like a floodgate had opened, and Elmo and I
were awash in a surge of little children. I could almost feel an electric
charge in the room, as their shouts of "I love you, Elmo!"
reverberated off the cinder-block walls. Elmo laughed and opened his
arms wide and tried to scoop up all the love and hug it to his chest,
all the while repeating "Elmo loves you, too."
on the set of Captain Kangaroo.
That may have
been the first time in my adult life when I finally comprehended the
ancient notion that what you put out in the universe comes back to you.
Since that day, I've learned to try to put as much Elmo and Kevin love
out into the world as I can, knowing that it will have a very positive
ripple effect. Elmo and the children taught me that one. Somewhere along
the road to adulthood, we seem to forget this little secret about the
power of love, but it's worth remembering.
tell Elmo that they love him, they all have different styles of expressing
their emotion. Some of the more demonstrative kids throw their arms
around his neck, snuggle their faces against his, and with an eyes-closed,
sigh-heaving, hand-me-my-Tony-Award gesture that projects to the very
last row of the theater's balcony, they proclaim their undying devotion
to Elmo in prose as purple as Telly Monster. "Oh, Elmo, I love
you more than chocolate ice cream! More than I love the new baby! Please
come and live in my house forever!"
are a little more matter-of-fact, as if they've been married for twenty
years and they're picking up their keys and their bag and heading out
the door with an affectionate but perfunctory "Love you."
Still others are more shy and reserved, like the bashful and nervous
teen letting his or her feelings be known to their crush for the first
time. I often wonder how these children will express their love as adults
and how many of them will remain demonstrative and unembarrassed, or
if they'll naturally pull back into more conservative styles as they
grow older. It would be ridiculous if we all greeted each other the
way the more enthusiastic kids greet Elmo -- imagine how long it would
take to get that first cup of coffee at the office with all the morning
greetings in full swing! -- but still, doesn't imagining a love-filled
world like that put a smile on your face?
approach Elmo differently depending on their age, but they also are
inevitably influenced by the kinds of physical demonstrations of affection
they receive at home. Elmo wants to reach all kids, and sometimes he
can be like that overly enthusiastic puppy who finds everything in the
world so fresh and new and wonderful that he can't contain himself.
Just as kids may squeal in delight when they first see a puppy and then
retreat in leg-hugging, face-shielding fear when the puppy starts to
jump on them, Elmo can evoke the same response. Over time, I've learned
to think quickly on my feet, to gauge the kinds of responses I'm getting
from a child and either tone down or amp up Elmo's enthusiasm level
accordingly. I constantly have to remind myself that even though they've
seen Elmo countless times on television, they're meeting him face-to-face
for the very first time.
thing is, no two kids are alike. I've seen the quiet ones respond with
smiles and giggles that escalate to a full-on Elmo love attack -- the
eardrum-piercing, vibrating, arms-wide, hugging and squeezing and kissing
frontal assault. Other shy kids need a little bit of time to warm up
to Elmo and his "de-monster-ative" displays of affection.
But in the end, they all come around.