Author: Ariel Landrum
On a sweltering Sunday afternoon in July, I stepped into the cool, creative world of the Jim Henson Studios for a show that promised a unique blend of puppetry and improv comedy. The show was Puppet Up! – Uncensored, it was nothing short of a riotous romp that left me in stitches and with a newfound appreciation for puppetry.
The Henson name has been synonymous with puppetry for over half a century, with beloved franchises like The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock shaping the childhoods of millions. But Puppet Up! is a different beast altogether. It’s a show that takes the wholesome image of puppetry, infuses it with a dose of adult humor, and turns it into a wildly entertaining spectacle.
The show was born out of a desire to break away from the script-bound nature of traditional puppetry. Brian Henson, son of the legendary Jim Henson, and improv expert Patrick Bristow created a unique hybrid of puppetry and improv comedy that has sold out shows and thrilled critics for over a decade.
As I walked around the historic Jim Henson Studios before the show, I was struck by the place’s rich history. Originally established by Charlie Chaplin, the lot has been home to many iconic productions and has served as the headquarters of The Jim Henson Company since 2000. Learning about the studio’s prolific history and legendary credits, including Carole King’s Tapestry and John Lennon’s Rock & Roll was a treat.
The show itself was an absolute riot. It was a whirlwind of hilarity, hosted by Bristow, with puppeteers Donna Kimball, Raymond Carr, and Dan Ring. Armed with their quick wit and nimble fingers, the puppeteers brought to life a series of skits and songs based on audience suggestions. One moment, they were serenading an animator in the audience with a spontaneous song, and the next, they were recreating a couple’s first date with a hilarious puppet twist. The show even included a modern, puppet-infused take on the classic thriller, Psycho. The humor was unapologetically adult, with a healthy dose of vulgarity and cursing that made the audience roar with laughter. This clever use of visual effects set the tone for the upcoming skits, showcasing the show’s ability to seamlessly blend puppetry with modern technology.
Puppet Up! treated audience members with various puppets that graced the stage. From space aliens and adorable bunnies to mischievous babies, each puppet was unique and brought its flavor to the show. But the real showstopper was the appearance of the puppets that served as backup dancers for Cee Lo Green’s 2011 Grammy Award ceremony performance (which resulted in Green’s future musical performances with The Muppets). Seeing these famous puppets in action, dancing, and cavorting on stage, was a surreal and exciting experience. The puppeteers’ ability to infuse each puppet with a distinct personality and charm was truly impressive, adding another layer of enjoyment to the show.
What made Puppet Up! truly unique was the dual nature of the performance. On the one hand, you had the puppeteers in front of you on stage, navigating around each other and their puppets. On the other, you had the puppets themselves performing in front of a camera and broadcasting on large screens. Switching between the two perspectives was a fascinating experience, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the puppeteers’ craft while enjoying the puppet show as you would on TV.
A highlight of the show was a surprise appearance by Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo! Seeing a legendary puppeteer like Clash in action was nothing short of awe-inspiring. His skill and charisma were palpable as he brought his movie theatre usher puppet to life, who was “famous” for his dancing. He used visual effects to have the screen replicate his movements, creating an illusion of multiple puppets on the screen engaging in the fun dance. This clever use of visual effects set the tone for the upcoming skits, showcasing the show’s ability to seamlessly blend puppetry with modern technology.
The next skit was an impromptu James Bond-themed movie intro for a hilariously titled audience movie suggestion, ‘Don’t Bend Over.’ The villain of this piece was ‘The Shooter,’ a proctologist with a sinister twist. The seamless transition from the dance routine to this skit, aided by the immediate application of visual effects, was a testament to the puppeteers’ quick wit and the show’s innovative approach to improv comedy. The experience of watching Clash and the other puppeteers perform was a thrilling reminder of the magic of puppetry and the limitless possibilities of live performance.
But of all the skits, my absolute favorite was when the audience suggested that the puppets perform an act to Drop It Like It’s Hot by Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell Williams. The moment the music started playing, the stage was taken over by a troupe of bunnies. But these weren’t just bunnies – they were residents of a geriatric community, complete with their unique dance routine. As the beat dropped, these adorable elderly bunnies shook their bunny butts, spanked each other, and perfectly captured the essence of being old yet young at heart. The skit was moderated by a Weasel puppet, who humorously pointed out that the person running the music had mistakenly not chosen the radio-edited version of the song, adding another layer of comedy to the act. It was a hilarious and heartwarming spectacle, with the audience roaring with laughter, and once again proved the creative genius of Puppet Up!.
As a memento of this unforgettable experience I couldn’t resist buying were two hot dog puppet characters that had featured in the show.
Puppet Up! – Uncensored is more than just a puppet show. It’s a testament to the power of creativity, improv magic, and puppetry’s enduring appeal. It’s a show that pushes boundaries, challenges conventions, and delivers a rollicking good time. If you’re in Los Angeles, add it to your must-do list. Trust me; you won’t regret it.