My mom quilts. One year, for Christmas, I gave her a book on Muppet quilts; I don’t know if any of you are familiar with this concept, but making quilts for people for prominent life events is a Muppet tradition, with all sorts of people making individual squares which are then sewn together into exquisite works of art with a distinct Muppet flair. You can see why I figured my mom would really like this, since Muppets are a large part of our family history. And one of the things in the book was the official AIDS quilt panel that his grieving coworkers made for Richard Hunt.
His name is not as well known as Jim or Frank, of course. However, vast numbers of the second-tier Muppets were performed by him, at first. In the Muppet Theater, you may think of Kermit and Piggy first, but it won’t get you long until you remember Scooter. In the Electric Mayhem, first of course is Dr. Teeth, but Janice is not far behind. Bert and Ernie? Yes, but also the Two-Headed Monster, where he was mostly paired with fellow second-tier performer Jerry Nelson. (Though Nelson, who we’ll get to, was also the Count and therefore leapt to first-tier for that role at least.) And, of course, he famously decided he wasn’t interested in a certain little red monster.
Somewhere, I may still have the tape I recorded off TV called “Miss Piggy Flirts With the Dead Gay Guest Stars.” This was the Liberace episode and the Rudolf Nureyev episode. I could’ve included Jim Nabors, who we’ll be getting to later this month, except that I didn’t know he was gay and also he wasn’t dead yet. Still to my knowledge the only one Richard Hunt hit on was Nureyev; no one seems to have told us if it was successful or not, which I suppose is none of our business anyway.
One Muppet who definitely had an interesting life, of course, was Janice. As I mentioned, she was performed by Hunt, and from what I know of Muppets that strongly indicates that he gave her a lot of her personality. She is my prime example of why people who want to make “the Muppets but adult” need to watch more of the Muppets. Both The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan feature lines where Janice is still talking after everyone else stops that indicate that she is off doing very interesting things without the others and possibly, but not necessarily, without her clothes. And frankly, one of the best line deliveries of all time is how Hunt says “artistic.”
It isn’t just that second-tier Muppet performer still makes you one of the best puppeteers around. Though that’s true, certainly. It’s that the minor Muppets are the ones that fill out the world there. Imagine the Muppet Theater without Statler. They’ve retired Sully on Sesame Street, but having a Muppet construction worker in New York made sense. Gladys the Cow? Not many people’s favourite—after Peter Tork died, I stopped saying anyone was no one’s favourite, because the Peter Tork fans argued with me—but still a wonderful part of the Sesame Street family. As was Richard Hunt himself.