The Muppets sure are busy these days. Their new movie — their first in twelve years — opens in theaters on Thanksgiving and Jim Henson’s famous creations have been popping up everywhere to promote it. They’ve made a billion parody trailers, a cover album of their old hits, and cranked out tons on TV cameos including, most strangely, an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw. In the wake of this marketing, I’ve started to see articlesonline and hear rumblings from friends and other critics that this behavior represents conduct unbecoming of The Muppets. That somehow the Muppets should be better than pimping their movie on pro wrestling.
That’s ridiculous. It is impossible for The Muppets to sell out. Why? Because the Muppets have been appearing in advertisements a lot longer than they’ve been appearing in movies.
From the earliest days of his company, Jim Henson boosted the income he made working in television by producing commercials. Although the word “commercial” doesn’t appear once in the Muppets’ Wikipedia page, their work in television ads throughout the 1950s and 60s were important both to the growth of Henson’s company and the growth of his characters.
Before he was the Muppets’ resident piano player, for example, Rowlf the Dog was a pitchman for Purina dog food. He was specifically created for the company’s ads starting in 1962.
Rowlf wasn’t the only Muppet to get his start in commercials and transition into a featured character on television. See if you recognize this iconic Muppet in one of his first appearances, hawking potato chips before he developed a taste for sweets.
Many of Henson’s vintage commercials are shameless, and it definitely feels a little strange to watch a beloved childhood icon extolling the virtues of Esskay thick-cut bacon. But Henson’s ads were also very mature for their time, both in form and content, and they sported a cutting edge sense of humor. For example, watch this inspired ad for La Choy canned chow mein, featuring the adorably clumsy La Choy Dragon. The background gag with the store clerk and the fire extinguisher looks like something that would feel right at home in a 2011 commercial — and this spot is almost 50 years old.
While we often think of vintage marketing as quaint and dated, Henson’s commercials remain fresh and sometimes shockingly subversive. Check out this one for Ideal Toys’ Muppet puppets for kids. Listen particularly to the incredibly dark lyrics of the song the puppets sing. If this commercial aired today, it — and maybe the entire Muppet brand — would be banned instantly.
Bear these ads in mind the next time you kvetch that the Muppets have gotten away from their core values. In fact, every time Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang cleverly shill for Alamo Rent-a-Car or MasterCard they’re just getting a little bit closer to their roots.
Do you think The Muppets have sold out? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter. And for more on Jim Henson’s commercial work, check out the fabulous Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image through January 16.
Before Todd Margaretreturns to IFC for a third season on Thursday, January 7th, he is taking over New York Comic Con the same way he took over the London office of Thunder Muscle energy drink.
Get ready for the comeback to end all comebacks, because Todd Margaret (David Cross), is back, three years after he blew up the world and he has the panel at NY Comic Con to prove it. On Friday, October 9th at 5:30 PM, stop by Room 1A10 at the Javits Center in New York City for IFC Presents Todd Margaret: A Sneak Peek at the Return of a Cult Hit and watch the first two episodes of the brand new season.
As fans of the series know, total chaos ensued when bumbling American Todd Margaret was sent to London to promote Thunder Muscle. The result was the end of the world, but somehow Todd survived. He’s returning for a third season, but there’s a twist: he’s a very, very different Todd.
See how it all plays out at this sneak peek screening at New York Comic Con before the new season premieres on IFC in 2016. And check back for more updates on the return of Todd Margaret.
Are you ready for Gigi Rotblum? Armed with a hefty bank account left to her by her late hubby, the 76-year-old yenta is grabbing life by the balls and shocking everyone within earshot with her no-nonsense attitude.
But it turns out there’s a man behind the granny — Yes, the star of the new IFC series Gigi Does It is actually actor David Krumholtz, who you probably know from shows like Numb3rs and movies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Krumholtz causes all kinds of trouble when he encounters people while undercover as his prosthetically enhanced alter ego.
In honor of the premiere of Gigi Does It, join us for a look at a long line of celebrities who’ve gone undercover for laughs.
Krumholtz isn’t the first big-name celeb to become unrecognizable for a good, old-fashioned prank, but he’s definitely our new favorite. Accompanied by her trusty male nurse, Gigi isn’t afraid to give an art gallery curator her creative opinion on the works in his collection, or to tell a bunch of grannies how she slipped a nip in front of her grandkids. (Click here to watch a free episode of Gigi Does It.)
Despite his immense stardom, Drake is a polarizing figure. There are many people who have no patience for him or his music, and to weed these people out for himself, the hip hop star went undercover on the street in California. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel and his “I Witness News” team were on hand to watch the whole thing play out.
3. Channing Tatum
Everyone loves Channing Tatum. It’s not rocket science. But add in a special early screening of Magic Mike XXL, male strippers, and an added surprise, and it’s no wonder people couldn’t contain themselves. The added surprise was Tatum going undercover as an old man conducting a survey with the attendees. People laughed when he later gyrated on the lap of a woman in the front row, but the party really took off when he revealed his true identity.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ah-nuld can’t really go anywhere without getting noticed. So in order to promote the After School All-Stars charity, the Terminator star disguised himself as a trainer at a Gold’s Gym who just happened to sound exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully his intense mustache didn’t scare folks off from ever setting foot inside a gym again.
5. David Beckham
Ellen DeGeneres likes to use her powers for good, making some of the celebrity guests on her talk show go in disguise to prank regular folks. For David Beckham, the comedienne had him pose as a Target employee and say and do ridiculous things to get customers to smell his cologne. Like Schwarzenegger, however, people caught on pretty quickly that it was really the soccer star under that fake mustache and glasses.
6. Ashton Kutcher
The That ’70s Show star made a career out of pranking people with Punk’d, so he decided to use his skills in this arena to sell some tablets. The actor became Coordrey, a product engineer for Lenovo, in order to get customers to purchase their new product. Normally we would denounce those who would shamelessly use their powers for commercial purposes, but this is pretty amusing.
7. Kim Kardashian
Raise your hand if you would like to tell Kim Kardashian what you really think of her — to her face, no less. Some people inadvertently got to do that when the princess of the Kardashian clan went undercover on an episode of Celebrity Undercover. The premise was that candidates were being interviewed for a job as Kim’s assistant, while the reality star herself got to hear what everyone was saying about her.
8. Bryan Cranston
Cranston pulled the perfect prank at Comic Con 2013 by walking around the show floor as his Breaking Bad alter ego Walter White. The mask was so spot-on, no one realized it was the actual Heisenberg underneath.
9. Johnny Knoxville
The Jackass maven had a huge comedy hit by disguising himself under prosthetic make-up to play a cranky senior. Perhaps he should drop by Gigi’s place for a cocktail or two.
10. Sacha Baron Cohen
Whether as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of pranking people with his outrageous characters.
Just because a band is fictional doesn’t mean it can’t be as popular as its real world counterparts. (Admit it, you still have that Zack Attack album buried in your closet somewhere.) Whether spoofing a famous act, or creating their own inept sound, these fake bands often wear their love of the music world on their sleeves. Documentary Now!‘schronicling of the soft rock giants Blue Jean Committee is just the latest example.
It’s no surprise that the folks behind the show (Fred Armisen in particular) have a long track record of finding the funny in the music industry. (It takes musical talent, along with some serious comedy chops, to pull off the smooth lyrics of “Catalina Breeze.”) So, while Blue Jean Committee, or A Mighty Wind’s The Folksmen, could easily have been on this list, it’s not a shock that the folks behind them are. If you love music and comedy in equal measure, you’re going back to that well more than once. Here are some of the funniest fake bands to ever turn it up to eleven.
15. Citizen Dick, Singles
Citizen Dick, the band from Cameron Crowe’s alt rom-com Singles, was both a spoof of, and a turning point for, the Seattle grunge scene of the early ’90s. While many of the bands from that scene were cult hits, the Singles soundtrack helped turn them into superstars. It’s no surprise that the made-up band, fronted by Matt Dillion’s Cliff Poncier, could hold its own with so many grunge standouts, considering 3/4ths of its members were in a little group called Pearl Jam. Heck, Dillion even wore Pearl Jam’s bassist Jeff Ament’s clothes for most of the shoot. Now that’s commitment.
14. Titannica, Mr. Show with Bob and David
With hits like “Try Suicide” and “Try Again,” no one rocked harder than Titannica, the heavy metal band made famous in one of the downright weirdest sketches from the cult hit Mr. Show. But no matter how messed up their music was, the boys of Titannica knew it couldn’t hold a candle to the creep show that was their biggest fan, a chipper kid with the body of a wet cigar. This sketch is a surreal lesson in the power of music.
13. Sonic Death Monkey/Kathleen Turner Overdrive/Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, High Fidelity
You can watch Jack Black become a star in the final minutes of the 2000 cult hit High Fidelity, as his character Barry takes the stage to front his frequently renamed band. While Barry may not be able to decide on a sound for his band, Jack Black knows how to deliver when given the chance. A fun movie about and for music lovers, this scene is the cherry on top. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re playing, as long as you leave it all on the stage.
12. Dethklok, Metalocalypse
When Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small was working on his previous Adult Swim hit, Home Movies, few would’ve guessed that he’d be responsible for one of the most face-meltingly metal bands to ever grace the small screen. And Small didn’t just dream up Dethklok – he writes and performs every one of their songs with co-creator Tommy Blacha. While Dethklok has surpassed mere superstardom on their show, becoming the seventh largest economy in the world, their popularity in the real world isn’t far behind. Small and Blacha have fronted more than one tour as the band, and recently played the comedy/music festival Festival Supreme, created by none other than Barry Jive himself, Jack Black.
11. David Brent and Foregone Conclusion, BBC’s The Office
In The Office Christmas Special, which served as the final episodes of the beloved BBC series, co-creator Ricky Gervais revealed his character David Brent had finally chased his dreams of stardom too far, by recording a cover version of the hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” But while the show was wrapping up, this sojourn into music was just the beginning for the former general manager of the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg. Gervais has kept up with his most famous character, recording a song for Comic Relief and creating a series of YouTube guitar tutorials. This all culminated in a tour with the made up band Foregone Conclusion. Rumor has it, he’s even been prepping a movie to cover Brent’s presumably delusional journey through the English music scene. While knowing when to say goodbye is a gift, it’s not something David Brent would be capable of, so why should we expect any different from his creator?
10. Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution, Arrested Development
Playing in Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution was a great excuse for some family bonding time, while promoting a worthwhile product to boot. At least that’s what David Cross’ Tobais Fünke thought on the first season of Arrested Development, forcing his family to play in the pharmaceutical funded family band. More a promotional vehicle than a hit maker, any chance to see the dysfunctional Fünke family interact is worth inclusion on this list. The music may not be worthwhile, but the fury behind Maeby’s eyes is.
9. The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash
The Beatles were no stranger to parody, as you’ll see later in this list. But what separated The Rutles from the legion of spoof bands that plagued the world as the ’60s turned to the ’70s was the guidance of Monty Python Hall of Famer Eric Idle, and a will to not just send up, but really satirize the boys from Liverpool. The band first premiered in 1975 on Rutland Weekend Television, a sketch show fronted by Idle, and immediately took on a cult following. George Harrison was such a fan, he ended up appearing in The Rutles‘ feature film All You Need Is Cash.
8. Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, Saturday Night Live
Long before Fred Armisen made his name on Saturday Night Live, he was a drummer for underground punk bands. The Clash in particular was an inspiration, and even with a right turn into comedy Armisen’s love of punk never diminished. That’s evident in this SNL sketch about a very Sid Vicious-like rock star who hates everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. Initially just a one time performance, the bit struck such a chord that Armisen reunited The Bizzaros for his last sketch as an SNL cast member. Still not done with his alter ego, he’s since taken the band into the real world, playing gigs as the foul mouthed punk rocker with a love for the Iron Lady.
7. Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
If your band is responsible for world peace, you probably deserve a spot on this list. While Bill and Ted start off as musically inept, one visit to the utopian future brought about by their sweet jams reveals them to be more than a mere rock band. They’re modern day messiahs, which is most excellent.
6. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show
For many of us, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was the first exposure we ever had to a rock band, real or otherwise. For the better part of four decades the Electric Mayhem has kept at it, managing to cover everything from classical to “Crocodile Rock” with a drummer so wild he has to literally be chained to the set. Even Keith Moon wasn’t kept in shackles.
5. Faith +1, South Park
It’s tough to pick between the two most famous bands to ever be fronted by foul mouthed fourth grader Eric Cartman. While the boyband Fingerbang is for sure a classic, Cartman’s Christian rock band Faith +1 combines his megalomania, cynicism and racism into a beautiful collage of sacrilegious majesty. And considering South Park is far from done, who knows what other bands creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have up their sleeves.
4. PoP!, Music & Lyrics
Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as one half of a Wham!-esque group in this charming rom-com. And he learned from the best — Martin Fry from the new wave group ABC served as Hugh’s vocal coach.
3. Sexual Chocolate, Coming to America
Both “good and terrible,” Randy Watson may not have been the legend he believed himself to be, but to fans of Coming to America, he and his perfectly named backup band were responsible for one of the funniest scenes in this classic comedy. Eddie Murphy was at his peak here, donning the puffy faced prosthetics necessary to truly inhabit the pitchy son of Jackson Heights. And having Morris Day of The Time fame on guitar didn’t hurt either.
2. The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers
As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, The Blues Brothers, along with their creators John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, were forces of nature. The two comedians and friends first premiered their creation on Saturday Night Live, promptly launching a sensation. At one point, Belushi found himself the star of the week’s number one film (Animal House), number one television show (Saturday Night Live), and singing on the number one album (Briefcase Full Of Blues). Belushi and Aykroyd would soon add a hit Blue Brothers movie to that hot streak. Combining their perfect chemistry with a whole lot of soul, Jake and Elwood transcended comedy, and helped relaunch the popularity of the blues genre itself.
1. Spinal Tap, This Is Spinal Tap
If the last two entries show you anything, it’s that the ’80s were the high water mark of fake bands in popular culture. And yet, with all the classics that came out in that decade, there was never any doubt who would sit at the top of this list. Spinal Tap isn’t just a movie. They aren’t just a band. They’re the id of rock music, manifested into reality by the all-star team of Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. In the ridiculous world of rock and roll, which already operates in a perpetual cycle of self parody, finding the balance of comedy and reality is no easy task. By using the form of a documentary, director Rob Reiner allowed his brilliant cast to improvise their way through the movie, creating the gold standard of fictional bands in the process. The film also introduced the “mockumentary” form to a mainstream audiences, which has gone on to become one of the most popular styles of comedy over the last three decades.
That ’70s Show‘s resident snarkster Hyde represented the rebellious counterculture of the 1970s. But how well do you know the man who stood up to The Man? Take the ultimate Hyde fan quiz below and find out.