When I was the right age for Sesame Street, Grover was the man. Elmo was not the force of nature he is today. I didn’t really get the whole Tickle Me Elmo craze and I’ve heard parents complain about his baby talk being a bad influence on kids but I really didn’t have an opinion on this furry red icon. When I first heard about this documentary I really didn’t have a burning desire to see it but saw enough interviews with the man behind the muppet and my interest was piqued. Being Elmo is a wonderfully inspiring story that should be seen by anyone with a dream.
Kevin Clash grew up in Baltimore and early on developed a love for the work of Jim Henson. He began creating his own muppets from objects around the house and taught himself to be a puppeteer. He got his first break on a local television show and was invited to the Muppet Workshop by master muppet maker Kermit Love. Love teaches Clash the tricks of the trade and the two develop a beautiful friendship. Love introduces Clash to Jim Henson himself and after working on several Henson productions and Kaptain Kangaroo, Clash finally gets his dream job, working on Sesame Street as a puppeteer.
One interesting fact is that Clash was not the creator of Elmo. He was originally played by another puppeteer with a totally different personality. Elmo was originally very caveman in demeanor, but Clash brought tenderness to the character. He decided Elmo should be all about hugs and love, which is what made him so accessible to children. There is a scene where a very young Make-A-Wish participant is on the set to meet Elmo which is hard to get through dry-eyed. Clash says that when children meet Elmo, they never see the man behind the muppet. Something magical happens when you encounter a muppet, their puppeteer is invisible despite being in plain sight.
It’s great to see Clash continue to give back. He is seen in France teaching European puppeteers the subtle touches that take the muppets to that magic level. He is also shown meeting with a young boy who dreams of one day following in his footsteps. Clash gives the boy a tour of the workshop and talks to him about the tricks of the trade as if they are peers. One imagines this meeting is similar to the one between Clash and Love decades before. It makes you wondered if we’ll become familiar with characters this young boy creates one day.
One thing this documentary highlights for anyone who wants to make it in the entertainment industry, is that you can’t just want it, you have to work really hard to reach your goals. Clash didn’t wait to be discovered, he had been working tirelessly to become the best puppeteer he could be, working professionally while still in school. He even hints that his own family had to take a back seat to Elmo. The only help Clash got was from his supportive family, allowing him to reach for the stars. He was allowed to use anything around the house to make his muppets and his mom was the one who initially reached out to Kermit Love. It’s a film filled with love, something you don’t get to see that often, and it’s beautiful to see a story about how someone got to live their dream.