Impacting the World

Originally posted July 1 2008

Weird experiences tend to bring clarity to your way of thinking.  There’s a certain reorganizing process that your brain goes through when you hear or see something absurd.  The things you always took for granted need to be examined more closely when these events happen

Let me explain.  One of the stranger experiences I have ever had in my life was a job interview that took place in Philadelphia (don’t worry, I’ll post about the whole experience later).  I was driving the daughter of the man I was interviewing with home from State College (yea, that’s right).  I sort of knew that this entire family was a little off, but I just thought they were one of those highly efficient families that everyone else is jealous of because they’re so on the ball.

During the course of this painful 4-hour drive to the lesser city of Pennsylvania, I was failing at making conversation with my prospective employer’s daughter.  Any topic of discussion was stifled by a chasm of differing experiences.  She didn’t go out to bars, she didn’t like Penn State football, and she didn’t watch TV!

I always find that when someone says, “Oh, I don’t watch television,” it’s most likely true, but often times it is said it such a way that is meant to elevate the speaker’s ego.

“I have much more important things to do with my time than you.”

I garnished this fact from her during the car ride because my I-Pod was on shuffle.  As we marinated in a mildly awkward silence for most of the trip, my I-pod briefly provided the spark I needed for conversation.  “Rainbow Connection” sung by Kermit the Frog trickled through the speakers of my Chevy Blazer. Anyone with a TV would know this tune!

“Ha!  This is kind of embarrassing but I love this song,” I proclaimed.

“What is this?” she asked curiously.

“It’s…it’s ah…‘Rainbow Connection,’” I explained, still somewhat amazed at the question.  “It’s the most famous Muppets song like…ever.”

“Oh.  My parents never let us watch the Muppets.  They said that they had bad attitudes.”

I understand that mental processing while driving slows dramatically, but it took me a while to figure that statement out.  After about 45 minutes of contemplation, I realized I hadn’t spoke to her at all since she made that admission.  You know that feeling you get when you’re so wrapped up in a conversation with your own mind, you really could care less about interacting with other humans?  Yeah, I had that going on hardcore for the better part of the hour.

The sentence blasted thought reverberations bouncing off every corner of my skull like a racquetball in a cement mixer.  Bad attitude? 

I will say that from the get go, I was a little bit biased.  I had watched Sesame Street intently as a child (and even still now as a young adult).  My family’s favorite Christmas movies all revolved around the Muppets in some way.  I acknowledged my bias.  I accounted for it.

I leafed through every Rolodex and file cabinet of television memories that I had in the back rooms of my brain, searching for a scrap of evidence to support this wildly inaccurate claim.  At the end of the car ride, my focus was more intent on disproving her statement than the job interview at hand.

Looking back on it now, I should have asked my prospective employer why the hell he thought the Muppets had a bad attitude and why in the name of all that’s good in this world would he ever think I could work for someone who somehow held the ideals of the Muppets and Jim Henson in a negative light.

But I didn’t because I needed the job.  (Tucking wiener between legs now)

The fact is though is that the girl’s statement was the definition of wrong.  It was unfathomably, unequivocally, un-some-other-big-word-ingly WRONG.  Jim Henson’s Muppets did not have a bad attitude; they had the absolute best attitude.  They encouraged using your imagination.  They celebrated the friendships of those who look different from each other (if you can’t see the tolerance shown through Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog’s inter-species romantic relationship then you need to take off your Aviators).   Perhaps, most stunningly of all, the delivered these messages in a manner that was entertaining for children and adults alike!

This is where the weird moment made me re-evaluate myself.

I started to think how incredibly expansive Jim Henson’s legacy was and is.   Besides creating the characters children all around the world learn from and relate to on a daily basis, he was an Oscar nominated film director, an Emmy Award winning television producer, and the most revolutionary puppeteer of all time.

Very few people know, but he was actually one of the first people to use humor in commercials.  Back in the 1960’s most commercials just told you about the product and where to buy it.  Henson came out with one of (I think) the funniest commercials ever made to this day. (It’s the first one in the video)

He surrounded himself with people who shared his vision for creating a more positive world.  They in turn helped him expand his influence into Sesame Street and the Creature Workshop (notable alumni of the creature workshop: the Ninja Turtles and Yoda).

So what have I done?

What do I aspire to do?

I often wonder about the meaning of life.  I think it’s a subjective thing.  There’s no one answer that everyone will say “Oooh…that’s it.  Yep, right there.  That’s the meaning of life.  That guy’s got it.  He figured it out for everyone.”

Even though I don’t have the depth or breadth of life experiences necessary to make an accurate guess, I can only speak to what I think the purpose of life is as I see it here and now.  My meaning of life is to leave the world a substantially happier place than it was before I came.  Maybe that’s why I’m a comedian.  Laughter is a easy thing to measure.  But I’m just at bars and nightclub.  In one room, in one city…

Jim Henson was a man who left the entire world in better condition than he found it.  And that’s what I aspire to do.  But not in the same way…

Maybe a bunch of fart jokes aren’t the best route to take…but everyone has to start somewhere!

Some day we’ll find it.  The Rainbow Connection.  The lovers, the dreamers and me.

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