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September 26, 2012

By Sonia Manzano

The Unexpected Lessons You Learn on Sesame Street

Ed. Note: Sonia Manzano has played Sesame Street’s Maria since 1971. Her first novel, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, was recently published by Scholastic Press and can be purchased here. Special thanks to Sonia for taking the time to contribute to the Sesame Workshop blog.

You never know what you’ll come away with watching Sesame Street.  Even me – and I’m on the show! I recently watched two episodes and came away with a new appreciation of Muppets, a lesson in comedy, and a sweet memory of my mother.One episode was called Me Am What Me Am.  You might guess from the title and grammar that it featured the Cookie Monster and his identity crises.  Had he suddenly become the Veggie Monster?  Told with the conceit of being exposed via an entertainment news show, Extra Sesame Street (hosted by Mario Lopez), Cookie keeps getting caught eating vegetables and accused of becoming a Veggie Monster.

In the end he eats cookies proving he is who he is, and for good measure, eats a lamppost as well.

I can’t help thinking that this show might’ve also been written to assuage the general public’s fear that Cookie Monster became the Veggie Monster. Kids weren’t worried about the change. It was the adults!

I found myself comforting grown men and women as they blubbered into their adult drinks that the Cookie Monster they knew as children was still with us.

Relatives I hadn’t heard from in years in the states and Puerto Rico called, forcing me into giving bi-lingual explanations as to what was what!

I don’t think this much concern about the truth of a character has been raised since little Virginia O’Hanlon’s infamous question about Santa Claus was answered,  “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Clause,” in the Sun Newspaper in 1897.

How wonderful we have such loyal fans that follow the lives of our characters with such fervor.

In the other show, Baby Bear Comes Clean, Baby Bear promises Papa Bear that he won’t carelessly soil the shirt he’s wearing.  Alas, his resolve is weakened by a slurp of blueberry porridge ice-cream offered by Zoe that results in a purple stain. His attempts to get it clean begin the classic snowball gag wherein each attempt to solve a problem makes the problem worse.  We’ve all seen it in sit-coms.  You know – the vacuum cleaner salesman comes to the housewife’s door and offers to clean up a tiny spot with some new miracle cleaner.  The hilarity comes in when each attempt to clean makes a bigger mess than before.  In our show Baby Bear’s cohorts finally convince him to paint the white shirt purple.  Then, even Abby Cadabby’s turning the shirt white doesn’t help because she can’t keep it from running away.

Gordon’s advice to Baby Bear is to come clean with Papa Bear — which reminded me of similar advice given to me by my mother when I was a little girl.

She had sent me to the bodega to buy a three-cent coconut candy.  When I got there the proprietor was nowhere to be seen and remembering mom’s constant financial woes I swiped the candy.  Running upstairs we shared our snack and just when both our mouths’ were full, I revealed what a clever girl I had been in stealing.

She choked.  Then instructed me to come clean with the man who owned the store and pay. I did.

So – as Grover would say, “there you have it.”  Watching two shows reminded me of the fervor of fans, the structure of a snowball gag, and even memories of my mother.  Not bad for two hours of television watching.

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