Friday, December 2, 2011

Thank you, Jason

Parshat VaYetze
6 Kislev, 5772
December 2nd, 2011

Story number one.
Once upon a time there was a young man who had a real facility with puppets. In college, in the fifties, this man dreamed of a new kind of puppet – much more lifelike, for more than just kids, and was even asked to start a 5 minute television show. This show, called Sam and Friends, featured a lizard or amphibian-like puppet by the name of Kermit.
Despite his initial success, it took this man, Jim Henson, ten years of slogging through commercials before he was invited onto a PBS show called Sesame Street.  Mostly because of Henson’s puppets, Sesame Street became the greatest children’s show of all time. Another five years and Henson was able to spin off a new show, based on his vision that puppets were for everyone, called The Muppets. The Muppets themselves jumped straight into the childhood and life of millions of American kids, including me. When Henson died tragically in 1990, he was a legend to my generation.
It’s crazy just how much those puppets made a difference to us. Our world was one of pressure to achieve – pressure which has only increased to this day. The Muppets were somehow the opposite of that – heroes whose heroism was their tragic inability to do anything right: Fozzie’s jokes, Gonzo’s stunts, Kermit’s plans for the show, Piggie’s plans for Kermit. What kept them alive was a vision of kindness and loyalty to each other, which somehow got them through everything, and a huge dose of humor, which made the tough times a treasure. The Muppets taught us to how laugh at life. In middle school, that lesson means a lot.

Story number two.
I went to high school with guy by the name of Jason Segel. We weren’t friends, but he was a real decent human being. Being that we were in high school, this was something of a feat.
When it was time to graduate, I was surprised to find out that he had decided not to go to college, but rather pursue acting. I was socialized to regard college as about as negotiable as death and taxes, and I remember thinking him kind of insane.
But sure enough, Jason started to work and get real billing. Eventually becoming part of the Judd Apatow steamroller, Jason is now one of the most successful comedic actors in the country.
Jason, according to interviews, actually has a room in his house dedicated to the Muppets. So, post his success, he approached Disney with the first Muppet script in over a decade. The movie came out November 23rd, and my brother at I were there for the midnight showing. It is a fact that I cried when Kermit sang, “The Rainbow Connection.”

The life of an adult is one of which children cannot conceive. Our prospects become fuller as we get older, and paths that were beyond our young understanding reveal themselves. Life has more, rather than less, in store for us as we grow up. But it is equally true that our vision of what happiness is born young, and stays with us for life. The expectations of how we should feel, what we should value, what lets us know that we are safe, are loved, are alive – these are creations of our childhood. Eikhah says, “hadesh yameinu kekedem” – make our days new like they were in the beginning: bring us to the happiness we dreamed of as children, and that we slog through work to find as adults. What the Muppets had was what I think of as true happiness.
So thank you, Jason. The movie was great. You brought the best of our childhood back to us.

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