Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remembering Jerry Nelson

With the loss of Jerry Nelson, we lost  not only a great man but also one of the greatest performers in puppetry history. People may not know him by name but if you talk about his performances as the Count it's hard not to get a smile out of them, remembering the various sketches in which he featured. The Count was perhaps his most famous character, but  Jerry has done far more than perform just that part.

A 'best of Jerry Nelson' would be nearly impossible considering all the work he has done for various Muppet projects. Looking back at Jerry's career I've picked out several of my favorite performances. Of course, they are only samples of the many hightlights of his career that show the level of quality of his work and I fully recommend further viewing of Jerry's performances on the website or their Youtube channel.

Jerry Nelson as The Count

One of the most famous Nelson characters and one of the most famous Sesame Street Characters in general, Count von Count is one of the more unusual characters in the world's most famous streets. Inspired by Bela Lugosi's classic portrayal of Count Dracula, this purple Muppet loves counting more than anything and will stop at nothing in order to do so. Initially portrayed as a somewhat scary character with hypnotic powers and a evil laugh, the Count was soon tone downed a bit in order not to scare the young audience.

While counting was the Count's first love, singing was something he also enjoyed. A perfect with Jerry's love for singing the Count sung many classic Sesame Street such as the Lambaba, the Song of the Count and even parodying Elvis in a Blue Suede Shoes inspired song.
Besides allowing Jerry Nelson to sing a lot, the Count also allowed Jerry to interact with children during the many segments in which the Count interacted with young children.

Mr Nelson as Mr Johnson

Best known as the customer that gets waited on by Grover in the many restaurant sketches, this Muppet actually has a name, Mr Johnson. Although he usually met Grover when dining in his favorite restaurant, the sketches later deviated to airplanes, baseball games and his house amongst others.

Mr Johnson was one of Jerry's long lasting Muppet characters with his most recent performance being last year when he performed a sketch parodying the Spider-Man musical alongside Grover's original performer, Frank Oz. 

The reasons these sketches work so well is the dynamic between Grover and Mr. Johnson. While Johnson is usually a patient and nice man, Grover's well meaning help usually ends in a lot of misstakes, ultimately angering the fat blue Muppet with Grover not realizing what he's done wrong. Interestingly enough, when these sketches started, it was the other way around.

Jerry as Floyd Pepper

The bass playing member of the Electric Mayhem is maybe the most famous of Nelson's Muppet Show characters. A very laid back rocker named after a combination of the band name of Pink Floyd and the Beatles Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band who usually watched the madcap behind the stage antics with amusement. With most of the main Muppets always seeming busy and easily panicking Floyd stood out by his cynical and relaxed attitude.

With Jerry Nelson's love for singing it shouldn't have come as a big suprise that he was asked to perform as one of the band members. Often singing lead, Nelson's singing performances are every bit as memorable as his comedic parts. This is perhaps best shown in the clip below where he's performing a beautiful cover of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Besides performing with the band, Floyd was also seen backstage more than the other members of the band.  While this was due to the fact that the other band member's Muppeteers already puppeteered several main characters it did provide a link between the band and the other members of the cast and made the Electric Mayhem seem more than just a house band.

Jerry as Gobo Fraggle

When Fraggle Rock was created, Jerry got cast as one of the 5 main Fraggles, Gobo. Gobo's a curious guy, just like his Uncle Traveling Matt. Acting as the leader of the Fraggles, he's the one who's brave enough to enter Doc's workshop and retrieve his uncle's postcards. Like many  of Nelson characters, he also liked to sing, which came in handy in this musical series.

Jerry Nelson's Gobo was often paired with his best friend Wembley, puppeteered by Steve Whitmire which highlighted a recurring theme of Jerry's career: he was often paired with another Muppeteer to form a comedic duo. Often these pairings were friends whose character contrasted each other which resulted in great comedic relief.  Some of the more famous pairings include Jerry Nelson's Mr. Johnson and Frank Oz's Grover, Nelson's Biff and Richard Hunt's Sully, Nelson's Biff and Richard Hunt's Two Headed Monster and.
Nelson's Gobo Fraggle and Steve Whitmire's Wembley Fraggle.

Jerry Nelson as Jerry Nelson

Like most other Muppeteers, Nelson has also appeared as himself in several productions. He appeared, alongside his daughter in the Great Muppet Caper and played the part of an  Ice cream vender a few years ago on Sesame Street. He also played the part of the giant in the Sesame Street News Flash about Jack and the Beanstalk.
 His voice may be more familiar with most people though as he did  a lot of the famous voice overs on the Muppet show including those of Vetenarian's Hospital and those of the famous PIGS....IN...SPACE! sketches. He recently reprised this role as announcer of the Muppet Telethon in the Muppets 2011. Besides these projects he also recorded his own CD, "Truro Daydreams", 2 years ago.

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