Neil Patrick Harris Chats With Brian Henson

From The San Francisco Chronicle

January 25, 2011
By Sarah Adler


Even as many San Franciscans enjoyed an unseasonably sunny afternoon or were caught up in NFL playoff madness, a sold-out crowd gathered in the dimly lit Cobb’s Comedy Club to watch Neil Patrick Harris talk with Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson and chairman of the Jim Henson Co., as part of this year’s Sketchfest comedy festival. Harris, an award-winning actor and puppet fan (his only fan letter as a child was to Jim Henson, and he has a puppet-making area in his garage), prodded his guest on topics both technical and magical. It was a perfect fit for the 10th anniversary of Sketchfest and brought out a bit of the inner 10-year-old in everyone who was there.

Cole Stratton, 34
Profession: Actor and founder of Sketchfest
Neighborhood: Los Angeles

Why are you drawn to puppetry?
With really good puppeteers, you forget that it’s a puppet. The characters really come to life, especially the ones you would not normally ever see. That’s the magic of the Muppets. When I was young, I remember being obsessed with Fozzie Bear from “The Muppet Show” (I even referred to is as “The Fozzie Show”). I thought he was hilarious. So from an early age, I credit Fozzie Bear with getting me into comedy.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Fozzie because he’s a failed stand-up comic bear. There is such a wonderful sincerity and oddness about him.

What do you remember most from watching “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street”?
From “Sesame Street,” I learned about letters, spelling and numbers in a way that wasn’t boring. And always to be nice to people. From “The Muppet Show,” I learned that the show must go on. Things were always going wrong backstage and yet they always managed to put on a good show and make it come together with great showmanship. Now as a producer for Sketchfest, it’s fun to think back on those lessons and live by them.

Emiko Oye, 36
Profession: Jewelry artist
Neighborhood: SoMa

Why are you drawn to puppetry?
I have always loved puppets. It makes you feel like a kid again. I love things that are cute. If you’re having a bad day and you see a puppet, everything melts away and you’re happy again.

Who is your favorite character and why?
I have always had a thing for Ernie. I like his shape and his innocence.

What do you remember most from watching “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street”?
The message is always so good at heart.

Chris Sereno, 46
Profession: TV producer
Neighborhood: San Jose

Why are you drawn to puppetry?
I am drawn to Jim Henson and his son’s legacy. About seven years ago, I bought this master replica of Kermit the Frog (used on photo shoots; a few thousand were sold), so I brought it down here today to have it signed by Brian. I also have a lobby card that Jim Henson signed, and now it’s signed by his son too.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Kermit the Frog. He’s iconic and represents fun, laughter and family.

What do you remember most from watching “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street”?
I remember a sense of family centeredness. My parents, brother and I would watch “The Muppet Show” on Sunday nights together as a family. It was a really joyous and happy time for all of us.

Rebecca Garcia, 34
Profession: Paralegal
Neighborhood: Livermore

Why are you drawn to puppetry?
It’s a medium that makes you feel intimate, it’s tangible, it makes you emote with something that is not living but has human qualities. The artistry of puppetry is breathtaking.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Hoggle. “Labyrinth” is my all-time favorite movie. I love anything that takes you away from reality. Hoggle is the one character in “Labyrinth” that evolves. He first comes off as a really gruff character and doesn’t care about anybody, but then he’s given a chance of friendship. He takes that chance and surrenders into that friendship. In the end, he’s no longer a loner and has a whole new group of friends.

What do you remember most from watching “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street”?
Friendship. These shows became my friends growing up. There were five kids in my family, and my mother would sometimes use the shows as our babysitter. She felt safe putting us there for an hour or two, because it made us happy, creative and it was fun family time.

Mohamed Elhassan, 35
Profession: Electrical engineer
Neighborhood: Oakland

Why are you drawn to puppetry?
It’s what I grew up watching. I associate puppets with joy and comfort. And then when you get older, you like the technical aspects. And then you see a Muppet movie, and there are puppets riding bikes with no visible support and you think, ‘This is the most awesome thing I have ever seen in my life!’ ”

Who is your favorite character and why?
Rowlf, Fozzie and Kermit – the trifecta. Kermit reminds me of myself; he’s very serious and trying to hold it all together. He’s a fun guy, but he doesn’t want to get too out of control. Fozzie is trying so hard and he loves what he’s doing so much. And Rowlf is just a cool cat for a dog. He plays the piano – he’s a jazz dog, and how can you not like a jazz dog?

What do you remember most from watching “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street”?
My entire moral code that didn’t come from my religion came from these shows. My parents taught me right from wrong, but everything else came from the Muppets. The best lesson was to always try even if you might fail – and if you’re going to fail, fail in the most spectacular and comedic way possible.

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