Title: My Life as a Furry Red Monster – What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love, and Laughing Out Loud
Author: Kevin Clash with Gary Brozek
Original Publication Date: 2006
Edition Read: 2006, Broadway Books
Total Pages: 210
Reason Read: Elmo’s World is now my world – I needed to know how this little dude took over
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“When children tell Elmo that they love him, they all have different styles of expressing their emotion. Some of the more demonstrative kids throw their arms around his neck, snuggle their faces against his, and with an eyes-closed, sigh-heaving, hand-me-my-Tony-Award gesture that projects to the very last row of the theater’s balcony, they proclaim their undying devotion to Elmo in prose as purple as Telly Monster. ‘Oh, Elmo, I love you more than chocolate ice cream! More than I love the new baby! Please come and live in my house forever!”
“Older kids are a little more matter-of-fact, as if they’ve been married for twenty years and they’re picking up their keys and their bag and heading out the door with an affectionate but perfunctory ‘Love you.’ Still others are more shy and reserved, like the bashful and nervous teen letting his or her feelings be known to their crush for the first time. I often wonder how these children will express their love as adults and how many of them will remain demonstrative and unembarrassed, or if they’ll naturally pull back into more conservative styles as they grow older. It would be ridiculous if we all greeted each other the way the more enthusiastic kids greet Elmo – imagine how long it would take to get that first cup of coffee at the office with all the morning greetings in full swing! – but still, doesn’t imagining a love-filled world like that put a smile on your face?” – Pages 16-17
Elmo puts a smile on my face. Because he puts a slow-growing, massive, bright smile across my 15 month old son, Sam’s, face whenever he catches his first glimpse of Elmo on Sesame Street, on a DVD, in a book, or in passing a toy store display. My friend Stacy informed me a while back that there is a certain age when the Elmo switch goes off in the toddler world. For Sammy, that age was about 14 1/2 months. Without his buddy Elmo’s musical DVD I discovered at the library, I would never get a shower in the morning. This normally distracted toddler with the attention span of a flea will sit and play quietly with his books and a few toys for 45 minutes straight as long as Elmo is singing to him. My prior experience with Elmo was that obnoxious laugh on the Tickle Me Elmo doll decades ago. Now? I am oddly drawn to that laugh, his presence and magnetism. I became infatuated with learning as much as possible about this furry little dude.
And so I recalled the title of a memoir written by the person who performs Elmo that I learned of through a Goodreads friend many years before. Through their review of this book, I discovered that Elmo was performed by a very tall, black guy with a deep voice. I don’t know who I thought gave life to Elmo, but that certainly wasn’t my first guess. Kevin Clash was more obsessed with puppets and TV as a young child than I was. I love love love puppets. I can totally relate to how Kevin used them to overcome his shyness as a boy. They provide a perfect front for everything you want to express but are afraid to otherwise. However, Kevin didn’t drop his interest when he grew older and was an easy target as the weirdo who played with dolls. He lived for puppets and the art of performance. He studied people and artists. He experimented with his mother’s daycare kid audiences. He created puppets out of discarded materials. He was destined to be Elmo. And his family’s never-wavering support of his dream propelled it into reality.
When my son Sam’s Elmo switch was turned on, I sat and hung out with Elmo too. I needed to know how muppeteer Kevin Clash experienced Elmo’s world. This memoir tells a very nice tale of Kevin’s supportive childhood and determined rise to the pinnacle of puppetry – Sesame Street. There aren’t any ghosts in this closet. No troubled past to overcome. No addictions – other than to puppets. A good man has been rewarded by having the ability to be Elmo on a daily basis. It is rewarding to him not because of the financial gain or critical acclaim. It is rewarding to him because Elmo gives him a vehicle to experience what I do whenever Sammy sees Elmo again. Pure love, delight and devotion. I cannot fathom how amazing it would be to get to be the reason behind that each day when encountering children from around the world.
Maybe I shouldn’t have shied away from my puppet love. Because the moments that Kevin shares of Elmo’s encounters with his fans to highlight the various tenants of Elmo’s World (love, joy, creativity, tolerance, courage, friendship, cooperation, learning and optimism) made me all mushy inside. He parallels these interactions with tales from his own life lessons and how they shaped his beliefs and eventually became a part of Elmo’s performance.
The book has the assist of writer Gary Brozek to better convey Kevin’s thoughts, but I still found them to be a bit simple and choppy in structure. The book shines brightest when covering Elmo’s reach rather than Kevin’s past. But I appreciate learning about both. Because Elmo isn’t Elmo without Kevin. And now Kevin is really just along for Elmo’s ride – laughing all the way at the joy introduced as a result. I know this for sure. Sammy would love to wrap his arms around that furry red monster and burrow his laughing face in for a long hug. So would I.