Friday, October 8, 2010

Eyewitness: 'Sesame Street' Naughty Before Katy Perry

Eyewitness: 'Sesame Street' Naughty Before Katy Perry
David Fagin

AOL News (Sept. 29) -- In the early part of the 2000s, I had the privilege of working behind the scenes on "Sesame Street" for a few seasons.

And after seeing the fervor among viewers caused by the leaked video of Katy Perry's revealing outfit during her performance of "Hot N Cold" with a way-too-happy-looking Elmo, I'd tell those offended by the clip that they should be thankful it's taken this long for the sexual innuendos on the classic children's program to surface.

Don't get me wrong. Like most grown-ups, I'm a huge fan of Sesame Street. No other children's show on television ever came close to the Muppets' brand of mixing humor and learning.

But the fact is that adult themes have bubbled in and around the show ever since it first aired back in November 1969.

While I can't dish the best dirt that went on behind the scenes, for fear of going straight to Muppet hell, I'll give you a few "lighter" examples:

For starters, just for laughs -- and probably because taping any television show can be an incredibly boring and drawn-out process -- certain members of the crew used to place postcards containing images of scantily clad women on the rack inside Mr. Hooper's grocery store. Of course, the viewer at home could never make out what, exactly, was on those cards, and that made it all the more fun.

Along the same lines, the prop department had its fun naming the products that stocked the shelves of good ole Mr. Hooper's store, such as "Poop Away" toilet paper. (I won't even tell you what the fiber cereals were called.) Once in a while, a box of condoms would mysteriously appear between cereal boxes.

During one taping, an episode in which a morally bankrupt and dejected Cookie Monster slumped slowly off-screen after being falsely accused of stealing cookies, the sound effects guy let out a shotgun blast. Of course, that sound never made it to tape, but it had the crew in hysterics.

One of the best things about working on "Sesame Street" is the Christmas parties. They're legendary. Each year is a new theme. One particularly fun year, the entire set was turned into a 1960s go-go bar, complete with dancing girls shakin' it in Big Bird's nest.

Whatever the theme, each and every year, Elmo and his pals would perform R-rated skits that would leave the audience in stitches. One of my favorites was the time Ernie and Bert finally came out of the closet. Good times.

And, of course, let's not forget a more publicly visible display of Muppet mutiny: Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, the Tony-winning writers of "Avenue Q" -- the hit Broadway show that depicts puppets doing things most people wouldn't dare do -- got their start working as interns on "Sesame Street."

On the air, you just have to watch the show on a regular basis to pick out all kinds of "double entendres" and things that make you go, "Hmm." The folks at Sesame Workshop sort of acknowledge this in their statement -- released after they decided not to air the Katy Perry bit that more than a million had already watched on YouTube: "Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, for the child and adult."

The good news is that "Sesame Street," even after 41 years, continues to be a huge draw for both parents and their children. And perhaps the recent flap will only encourage more of them to tune in and stop being such grouches.

Editor's note: Sesame Workshop declined an invitation from AOL News to submit a comment on this piece.

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