Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Johann Hari - The Lost Interviews: Kermit The Frog

Kermit The Frog has made an unusual journey in his fifty-six years of life - from a childhood in the Okefenokee swamps, where his mayfly-addicted mother died of bogflu, to lead performer in the late Jim Henson’s stellar but now-defunct Muppet Show. But when he glides past a large marble bust of Miss Piggy in marbled hall of his palatial Miami Beach home to greet me - a two-foot shimmer of green - he looks like something else again: a Gap model, perhaps, or the ballet dancer he once wanted to be. He holds himself with a perfectly straight posture, and speaks in a soft voice that forces you to lean forward a little to hear him.

Most people, when they look back at his career, are staggered by the diversity of his characters. After a number of years struggling to make ends meet as hard-bitten crime reporter for the Sesame Street news, he went on to front the prime time Muppet Show, appearing in numerous Hollywood films and being interviewed by all the greats (myself modestly included). His big break came when his friend and colleague Cookie Monster asked him to sing backing vocals on “C is for Cookie”. During the recording session, George Martin and Brian Wilson (who were co-producing the record) noticed the unique quality of his voice, and within weeks Rogers & Hammerstein had written “Bein’ Green” and a star was born.

After Sesame Street, Henson was looking for a new platform and came up with the idea of the Muppet Show, a weekly star-studded variety show featuring the biggest showbiz names of the time. The obvious choice for compère was Kermit, but the frog was suddenly stricken with self-doubt, worried that the still deeply racially divided America of the 1970s would not tolerate a frog fronting such a high profile prime time show. I ask him why he had such a low opinion of himself at the time. He looks at me with sadness in his eyes, but with a wry smile on his lips. “It's not that easy bein' green, having to spend each day the colour of the leaves, when I think it could be nicer being red or yellow or gold or something much more colourful like that.” I think I know what he means.

When I ask him about his life, he smiles, but it's a small smile, looking to the side. Then he says carefully: "I've had a pretty extraordinary life so far. I've met kings, queens, presidents and pigs. I've worked with some of the greatest talents of all time - from Bob Hope and Rudolph Nureyev to Quentin Tarantino and Robert DeNiro. I've made movies, TV shows, music, and the occasional tabloid headline. And through it all, I've been surrounded by some of the finest friends and fans a frog could ever want."

His upbeat attitude belies difficult, not to say tragic, beginnings. His mother had him and his 3,265 siblings when she was very young, and crashed into mayfly addiction soon after. He was forced to fend for himself in the harsh surroundings of a Southern American swamp. When he turned eleven, he had an epiphany, and realised he had to escape the swamp if he was to have a chance of making something of himself. Walking into town, he had a chance meeting with a young Jim Henson, also down on his luck and looking for a chance. Over coffee, the two of them realised they shared the same vision. I ask Kermit how he felt when he realised he had found a kindred spirit. “If just one person believes in you, deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you, hard enough, and long enough, it stands to reason, that someone else will think “If he can do it, I can do it.””

I ask him if he still thinks about the swamp. He looks up, seemingly surprised to be asked the question, fixing me with a glare before softening. "The swamp will always be a part of me. The swamp is who I am and where I come from. It’s my birthplace and my hometown, my refuge and my strength, my past and my future.  Plus, it’s one heckuva great place to hide from pigs." He falls silent for a moment, and I realise he has inadvertently touched on the delicate subject of his much-publicised love-life. For it was while working on the Muppet Show that he first met Miss Piggy, diva and prima donna, porcine Juliet to his Romeo.

I pause too, wary of stepping over an invisible line. The on-off-on again nature of his relationship with Piggy has been examined from every angle, and I am concerned that by taking the interview down that route, my credibility might be damaged. Kermit seems to sense my unease, and smiles. “Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?” I ask him what he means, but he has said enough on the subject and waves me to silence, turning to gaze out of the window. I worry that the interview might be over, but after several minutes he appears to remember I am here, and turns his attention back to me. I am relieved, and not a little irritated – after all, does he not know who I am?

And then he apologizes for getting angry, sweetly, with another of his full smiles. He's like a whirring empathy-machine, constantly trying to soothe and charm and woo the people around him: at the end of the interview, I see him doing it with everybody else in the offices too. Meeting Kermit is like drinking a strong alcoholic drink on hot, stormy day - it's soothing and intense and anxiety-making all at once, and leaves you feeling a little woozy.

As the interview comes to an end, and I start to pack up my notebook (realising as I do that, once again, I have been so engrossed I have forgotten to take notes), he grips my elbow and fixes me with that intense stare again. “I am green and it'll do fine. It's beautiful! And I think it's what I want to be.” 

So do I, Kermit. So do I.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Modern Nursery Rhymes

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard 
to get the poor doggie a bone. 
When she got there the cupboard was bare 
as she’d spunked her entire pension on the bingo.
I've bleedin' pissed meself

Oh,the Grand Old Duke of York, 
he had 10,000 men, 
but half of them were laid off in the Defence Review 
and the rest had to buy their own boots.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, 
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. 
Stupid fat fucker was pissed off his tits 
but he still got 5 grand from Claims R Us.
These grapes are fried in cheese

Mary had a little lamb, 
its fleece was white as snow. 
The EU adopted a policy of positive discrimination and Mary lost her subsidy due to perceived racism.
Whatchew mean I iz adopted? 

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, 
she had so many children she didn’t know what to do. 
Luckily she got 36k a year in benefits 
so they had Sky+, and XBox 
and when they ran out of money 
they burgled their neighbours' shoes.
Fuck off, yeah? I like well know my rights an' shit.

What are little boys made of? 
Tartrazine and sodium benzoate and polydimethylsiloxane –
that’s what little boys are made of.
Do you want your kid to turn out like this? WELL DO YOU?

Hey, here's an idea, kids: why not add your own modern twists on classic nursery rhymes in the comments. If I like them, I'll steal them and pass them off as my own. Can't say fairer than that!!

Disclaimer: If you've already seen these on Twitter - tough shit.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pay Attention At The Back

Settle down, children. Settle down. Come on, now, settle down. Children!


Thank you.

Wayne, put that away. Yes, I'm sure Shaznay wants to see it, but that's why Shaznay already has two children of her own.

Now, today's lesson is on "Hypocrisy". Who can spell "Hypocrisy"? Anyone? No? Oh well, I suppose it was a vain hope. Does anyone know what "Hypocrisy" means?

No, Spatula, it is not the name of a ganster rapper.

I'll tell you. Hypocrisy is when someone says they think or believe one thing, but then does something diametrically opposed to that thing. "Diametrically", Rambo, you horrible little oik, means on the opposite side. Yes, like United and City, if you must.

Now, who can give me an example of hypocrisy? Anyone? Anyone at all? Well yes, I suppose Ryan Giggs saying he's a family man then "sticking his cock up some mingers hole", as you so delicately put it, Violencia, is one example. Well done. Anyone else? No, Carling, it's not like when Chavnika said she'd let you touch her vajayjay if you gave her 10 Bensons but then wouldn't let you touch it cos you could only get Mayfair. See me after class, both of you.

Well, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the country was ruled by a wise old king called Tony. Under King Tony, everything was lovely. The sun shone, the birds sang, and everyone was able to get cheap credit to buy things they didn't need. This was because Tony's friend Gordon, who was responsible for managing the economy - "economy", Fistula, it means the country's money - thought it would be a lovely idea to borrow lots and lots of other peoples' money, even though the country already had lots of money of its own. Gordon thought this would be a good idea because he wanted the economy to look as healthy as it possibly could so that he would look like a very clever man and eventually he would get Tony's job. So he borrowed and borrowed, and encouraged everyone else to borrow and borrow, so that they would feel like they were very rich and later they would all thank Gordon for looking after them so well. And because everyone felt so rich, and because the people who ran the banks thought they were on a never ending streak of fortune, people borrowed more and more and more, often borrowing more than the entire value of their house, and no one ever thought their good luck would come to an end.

Unfortunately, Gordon was a psychotic lunatic - yes, Kebabron, that means "nutter" -  and the banks were all run by people who were even greedier and even more stupid than the general population. So of course the winning streak did come to and end, and suddenly all that money wasn't there anymore. No, Pritstik, we don't know where it went. No one does. But it went somewhere, and the country was poor. Worse, we owed lots and lots of money - all that money we'd been borrowing - to lots of nasty people in foreign countries, and they all wanted their money back.

Now, for a long time the Labour Party had survived due to the fact that the majority of people in this country are very, very stupid - yes, Polycysta, that does include you, you can't even count to five without pissing yourself - and enough of them were persuaded to vote for Tony and his friends in return for lots of free money. When the money ran out, a small but significant minority of these morons realised they had been duped, and when it came time for an election - "election", Bendybus, you filthy minded squirt - Gordon lost and a man called David took over.

It very quickly became clear to David that Gordon and his gang had left us all in a dreadful mess and that if something wasn't done soon, we'd all end up being owned by the Chinese. So David and his friends set about trying to reduce the amount of money the government was spending, so that they might be able to pay back the money owed to the nasty foreigners more quickly and we wouldn't have to learn Mandarin. This seemed like a good idea to everyone who works in the private sector - that's all the companies that make all the money to give to the government so it can pay for the public sector - that's bin men and nurses and firemen and diversity coordinators and social workers - yes, Shiznit, including the one who comes round to see if your mum's injecting Mr Sheen again. After all, people in the private sector were having to make sacrifices  - prices of food and petrol and everything else were going up faster and faster, and any money they'd saved for retirement wasn't going to be worth anything, so they'd have to tighten their belts and make do. They thought it seemed only fair that the public sector workers - whose salaries and benefits had, for the first time, overtaken those in the private sector - should do their bit too.

Now, as you can imagine, this didn't go down at all well. Us public sector workers have got used to above inflation pay rises and final salary pension schemes, so why should we have to take a hit now just because there's no money left? And that's why, children, on 30th June the school will be closed and I and all the other teachers will be having a well-earned day off. Yes, it's term time, yes, it will mean you miss school even though we tell parents it's essential you are here every day, and yes, we've always bleated on about how we don't do the job for the money, but for the satisfaction of educating the next generation. Well yes, Yobetta, I know we don't do a very good job of it, but it sounds good at dinner parties. So today's lesson is "Look after Number One, and if you don't get what you want, throw your toys on the floor and walk out".

And that, children, is hyprocrisy. Any questions?

No, Gobshyte, you can't feel my tits.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Britain's Got Coalition and the Nick Clegg Connection

I have been sent an explosive email making serious allegations against a high-profile production company which relies heavily on audience participation to make money, but which (according to these allegations) has been systematically fixing the system for its own gain. I'll let the email speak for itself. None of what follows has been verified as true:

For reasons which will become obvious, I can't reveal my full identity. But let me just say that, I am a Conservative MP with many years experience in shagging my secretary. My work involves close liasion with David Cameron's TORYCO company and, as a result, I have seen what goes on from the inside and this has left me increasingly uncomfortable about the integrity of Britain's Got Coalition and the workings of TORYCO.
It's long been known that there is a quite a degree of "fixing" in BGC but press reports on "fixing" are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to TORYCO's manipulation of the electorate and hopefully, in this blog post, I can shine some light on the smoke and mirrors trickery of TORYCO.
Take Election 2010 for example. Scouts working for TORYCO first saw Nick Clegg (the 12 year old plonker) some two years ago when he was just 10 and was appearing in a farce called No Government Please, We're Liberal Democrats.
Fresh-faced, young, full of hope. Poor bastard...
Following that, Nick was privately auditioned by TORYCO scouts on several occasions and, as is usual practice on BGC, he was "invited" to audition, as a "preferred" candidate, for the part of Patsy in the Conservative's new production, The Importance of Being Arseholes. At the same time, Nick and his parents (Paddy and Vincent) were "required" to enter into a contract with TORYCO. Like all TORYCO contracts, it is heavily weighted in favour of the Conservatives. David effectively signed Nick for life and he's got little or no chance of ever getting out of it...unless David decides to terminate. As one senior Tory MP said to me recently. "These people are mugs. They'll sign away their own mother just to get into government. It's a fucking turkey-shoot and then we own their arses!"
It's no big secret that David had been looking for an idiot who could be used to take all the shit for TORYCO's bad decisions. A development package, which included professional whinging, excuse-making and U-turn tuition was arranged for Nick.
Until now Nick had been encouraged to "boy-up" and it was planned to present him as an everyday Tory-boy. But with his girliness still showing through, the image just wasn't believable. So a decision was taken to encourage and allow Nick to "release" and enhance his uselessness . Disgustingly, TORYCO planned to fuck him over. They were well aware of course, that if they fucked over a young girl all hell would let loose. But with Nick, as one MP put it, "no one has ever seen a Lib Dem get arse fucked before, it'll be a novelty." As for the core Tory voter market, it was accepted they wouldn't care if Nick appeared useless or not...most probably don't know what Lib Dem is anyway...
Nick Clegg today - look at him. Look at the EYES. 
The email continues, providing further details which point to a massive conspiracy to manipulate the British public into believing that Nick Clegg is something he is not. If true,  TORYCO has some serious questions to answer. Not that they will, of course - they'll just tell everyone to fuck off, as usual.