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Henson's 'Puppet Up! Uncensored' in the spirit of Muppet Show's bawdy backstage banter

Brian Henson - Jim's son - at his office at the The Jim Henson Company in Hollywood
Brian Henson - Jim's son - at his office at the The Jim Henson Company in Hollywood
John Rabe

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In a "heart felt" interview, Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with Brian Henson about "Puppet Up! Uncensored," a half-improv/half-Muppet classics performance Saturday, June 17 on the Charlie Chaplin Soundstage at the Jim Henson Company studio lot.

"The funniest stuff - easily, always - was what the puppets were saying before they called 'Action!' and after they called 'Cut!' And you can imagine that Gonzo and Kermit and Miss Piggy are pretty adult in their sense of humor. My father had a very naughty, irreverent sense of humor."

I don't blame you if you're a little shocked that any show at The Jim Henson Company needs to be labeled "Uncensored." But remember that Jim Henson's first success was not "Sesame Street," but "Sam and Friends." It wasn't dirty, but it was aimed at adults.

"Sam & Friends" send up Edward R. Murrow's fawning "Person to Person" interviews

"Puppet Up! Uncensored" is a mix of improv sketches and classic bits that live only on kinescopes. Brian Henson, Jim's son, says, "I started this about ten years ago as an experiment, and I wanted to develop a new tone of comedy for puppets, like what my dad had done with The Muppet Show in the mid-1970s. And it had gotten to a point where the writers couldn't figure out what was funny with puppets. The puppeteers were getting too script bound. And it was starting to feel stale. So my wife actually suggested that I get in touch with The Groundlings (improv group)."

What was intended to inspire the writers and performers actually became the new performance style. Members of the audience shout out prompts, and the puppeteers take it from there. "We weren't trying to be shock comedy, and we certainly aren't. But what we found when we were improvising and in these workshops is that the improvising between puppets was really delicious and fast and funny, and it was best when it was uncensored. And also because we're asking for audience suggestions and if the audience is really enjoying the show, the person who yells the loudest, it's probably gonna be an inappropriate suggestion for children."

Like this scene, that features a Nicaraguan reproductive expert and her translator talking about "where babies come from:"

This Puppet Up! video is pretty safe for work

Henson, 53, began controlling marionettes in his father's films in 1981 and quickly proved a formidable performer. He went on to work in animatronics and as a director on many children's films and television series, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dinosaurs, The Witches, and The Muppet Christmas Carol

Listen to the interview in the audio player for much more, including details of "The Happytime Murders," an R-rated thriller he'll start filming this summer, starring Melissa McCarthy. In the movie, puppets are the hated minority in Los Angeles. "When they bleed, they fluff," he says. "They go, 'Is it felt or flesh?' And you DO NOT call puppets a 'sock.'"