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Elmo Puppeteer Kevin Clash Plays Not My Job

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell, and here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Carl. Thanks everybody.


SAGAL: This week, we are diving deep, deep into the archives to bring you back some of the best Not My Job interviews ever recorded.

KASELL: Think of me as a pearl diver, naked except for loincloth and knife between my teeth.

SAGAL: Or if that's too distracting, listen to this. Puppeteer Kevin Clash looks nothing like his famous alter ego because he is not tiny, furry and red. But both of them came along when he joined us in September of 2006, along with Sue Ellicott, Charlie Pierce and Tom Bodett.


ELMO: Well, what kind of title is WAIT WAIT?

SAGAL: It's not a very good one.


SAGAL: But, you know, if we...

ELMO: Elmo second that emotion.


SAGAL: There you are. Thank you, Elmo. Now, Elmo, you're there with your friend Kevin. Hello, Kevin.


SAGAL: Now, Elmo, of course, is known all over the world. You show the picture of that red monster to kids everywhere and they just start smiling. Kevin, your appearance, of course, because you're a puppeteer, not as well known.

CLASH: Right.

SAGAL: Could you describe yourself for the audience? I know they can't see you or at home.


CLASH: Well, I'm 6 feet...

SUE ELLICOTT: Long red hair.

CLASH: I weigh about 195.


CLASH: You know, I know you're going to talk about the book that I wrote, "My Life as a Furry Red Monster."


SAGAL: Now, one of the stories that you tell in that book is how Elmo came to be. His origin story, which was that basically they just had this Muppet that nobody had ever found much of a use for, and they threw him at you one day and this giggle emerged.

CLASH: Right. And they just said, OK, fine.


SAGAL: I understood, actually you say this in the book that the giggle, Elmo's famous laugh didn't actually go over that well.

CLASH: Well, no, Lisa Simon, who was one of our producers at the time, who is now a phenomenal director. She took me out to lunch and said, you know that laugh, you're just doing it a little too much.


CLASH: Yeah.

SAGAL: And what did you say?

CLASH: Well, I smiled and I kept doing it.

SAGAL: There you are.


SAGAL: That's sort of an Elmo thing to do. Now, Elmo, of course, in addition to having his own segment on "Sesame Street," Elmo's World and all these other things, of course there's also the famous Elmo toys. This is the tenth anniversary of Tickle Me Elmo.


SAGAL: The first Tickle Me Elmo, which was one of the most astonishing phenomena in the history of toys. There were fistfights over this toy.


SAGAL: Did you have any idea that would happen when you first agreed to do that toy?

CLASH: No, I had no idea. I mean, I normally, because I'm so busy, they have me go into a recording studio and really put down as many toys as I can do. And they'll go through and say this toys does that, this toy does that. And of course, this little red monster, it laughs and you squeeze it three times and the third time it vibrates. And I said "Oh really?"


SAGAL: It sounds like fun, you said.

CHARLIE PIERCE: Interestingly enough, Peter, now at the tenth anniversary, some of the people involved in the first Tickle Me Elmo craze are just coming up for parole.


TOM BODETT: Well, Kevin, this is Tom. I was thrilled to hear you were going to be on the show this week. Before I knew that, my youngest boy had his first birthday last week and relatives, who we have no control over, send us gifts.


BODETT: And I came down the other morning to find a Chicken Dance Elmo doll on my kitchen counter.

SAGAL: Oh no.

BODETT: The first time that went off, it was pretty cute. And the second time maybe just slightly less so.


BODETT: You know, about the fiftieth time, you know, I thought...

CLASH: You were probably trying to find me.

BODETT: Yeah, well...


BODETT: I just wanted to ask, you know, do you have any regrets?


CLASH: Well, no, because I know now that, you know, Fisher Price puts an off button on these things.

SAGAL: Where is it?



SAGAL: Hey, before we get to the game, could we talk to Elmo for a minute?

ELMO: Hello?

SAGAL: Hello, Elmo, how are you?

ELMO: Elmo's fine.

SAGAL: We heard an amazing thing about you, Elmo, that you...

ELMO: Really?

SAGAL: Yes, we did, we heard this, that you, Elmo, testified before Congress once.

ELMO: Yes.

SAGAL: Was that scary for you?

ELMO: No, because it was very important, because Elmo was there to help put instruments back in the schools.

SAGAL: Yes, it was an arts program in the schools.

ELMO: Yes.

SAGAL: Did Elmo have counsel with you at the table?


ELMO: Yes, and he kept putting his hand over the mike and whispering sweet nothings in Elmo's ear.


SAGAL: I know the...

ELMO: Elmo was waiting for him to say something very important, but he kept blowing in Elmo's ear.



ELMO: But we got the money.

SAGAL: That's the important thing.


SAGAL: Well, Kevin Clash, and Elmo, we're delighted to have you both here, because we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

KASELL: Shut up. Shut up, I'm going to cut your mike.


SAGAL: So, recently, GQ magazine talked to some of the more famous guests who have appeared on Bill O'Reilly's Fox show, "The O'Reilly Factor," to tell their stories about what happened to them in the no-spin zone.

We're going to ask you three questions based on their recollections of what it's like to go mano-a-mano with the big guy. Answer at least two of the three correctly; you'll win for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Kevin Clash playing for?

KASELL: He's playing for Amber Lieberman of Elmhurst, Illinois.

SAGAL: And I'd encourage you, since Elmo's with you, you could collaborate as you see fit.


ELMO: OK, hello, Amber.

SAGAL: All right, first question. O'Reilly gets a little cute with the taped introduction he uses for some guests. Which of these is a real example?

A: Al Sharpton, who is shown talking about the tragedy of hunger in America and then shown chowing down on a Big Mac and fries? B: Susan Sarandon, who was introduced by a tape, juxtaposing her, making a political speech with her screaming her head off at a hockey game?

Or C: the head of an environmentalist group was introduced by a clip not of him but of the villainous EPA inspector from the movie "Ghost Busters?"

CLASH: OK. I would have to say B.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Susan Sarandon?


SAGAL: OK. Elmo agrees?



SAGAL: He's amenable. You're right, very good.




SAGAL: So she...

ELMO: Elmo didn't pick no dumb puppeteer.

SAGAL: No, no.


SAGAL: Elmo hangs out with the smart people. I should say, by the way, that a lot of these people told GQ that before and after the interview, whatever happened, Bill O'Reilly was actually very nice with them.

But Susan Sarandon did this interview, went home, watched it on TV and she sees herself speaking in front of some political rally and the next thing you know she's screaming her head off. She says yeah, there's me screaming like a mad woman and waving my fist. I'm thinking I look like a lunatic. Then I froze it and sure enough, it's me at the Garden at a hockey game.


SAGAL: Next question: former Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt noticed one way that she says shows O'Reilly likes to assert his power over his guests. Was it A: even though O'Reilly is 6'5" tall, his guest's chairs are still always lower than his? B: before the show, his producers show up with a release that absolves O'Reilly from any, quote, physical or mental injury the guest may incur on the show, unquote?


SAGAL: Or C: in the green room, there's a large plate of tempting treats, marked for Mr. O'Reilly only, and he never comes in to take one?


ELMO: Elmo will take this one.

SAGAL: All right, go ahead, Elmo, what do you think?

ELMO: Let's see, Elmo would have to say B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, and that would be that they make them sign a release form, a liability release. You know about liability, Elmo?

ELMO: No, but Elmo just pick B.

SAGAL: All right, you're going to pick B.


SAGAL: Because you're an instinctual monster, I understand. No, in fact, it was A. He makes all the chairs shorter than his so he can tower over them even more.

ELMO: That's very scary.

SAGAL: Isn't it though?


SAGAL: Now, Elmo, Kevin...

ELMO: Yes.


SAGAL:'ve gotten - well, actually Kevin, hello.


SAGAL: Don't do that. I swear it sounds like you were overlapping. All right.


SAGAL: Now, this is what happens. Your team, we'll put it this way, the team of Kevin and Elmo has gotten one right and one wrong. You have one left to go. Get this one right; you'll win our prize for our listener.

One guest, Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine noted that at the end of one interview, O'Reilly said, "OK, I'll give you the last word," but then proceeded to talk until the interview was done. When Sullum asked "well what happened to the last word?" O'Reilly replied how? Did he say A: it's amazing how many people fall for that?


SAGAL: Did he say B: I thought the pained look in your eyes was work a thousand words? Or C: I got to stop saying that?

CLASH: I would have to say C.

ELMO: Yeah, Elmo says C, too.



SAGAL: So you both agree?


ELMO: Yes.


SAGAL: All right, so Elmo and Kevin's choice...

PIERCE: It's the new Christmas toy: Mess With The Host Elmo.

SAGAL: It really is.


SAGAL: You picked C. Oh my god.

ELMO: Sorry.

SAGAL: You picked C. The answer is C. Congratulations, you got it right.



ELMO: Yeah, baby.

SAGAL: Very well.

PIERCE: Yeah, baby.

SAGAL: Elmo, you did well. Carl, how did Kevin and Elmo do on our quiz?

KASELL: Kevin and Elmo had two correct answers, Peter, so they win for Amber Lieberman.

SAGAL: Congratulations, well done, to both of you.


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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