Oscar the Grouch
|Oscar the Grouch|
|Sesame Street character|
Oscar (left) with performer Caroll Spinney, pictured in 2014.
|First appearance||November 10, 1969|
|Created by||Jim Henson|
|Portrayed by||Caroll Spinney (1969–2015) |
Eric Jacobson (2015–present)
|Voiced by||Caroll Spinney (1969–2018)|
Eric Jacobson (2015-present)
|Alias||Oskie (Grundgetta’s pet name for him)|
Son (by his mother)
|Significant other||Grundgetta (girlfriend)|
Oscar the Grouch is a fictional character on the PBS/HBO television program Sesame Street. He has a green body, no visible nose, and lives in a trash can. Oscar's favorite thing is trash, as evidenced by the song "I Love Trash", with a running theme being his collection of seemingly useless items. Although the term "Grouch" aptly describes Oscar's misanthropic interaction with the other characters, it also refers to his species. The character was originally performed by Caroll Spinney from the show's first episode until 2018. Since 2015, Eric Jacobson has been the understudy for the character, and has taken on the full voice role since Spinney's last time puppeteering him.
Initially, the puppet characters on Sesame Street did not actually appear on Sesame Street itself, but were relegated to the intermediary segments. Muppets creator Jim Henson wanted them to be integrated into the series, suggesting a giant bird and creature living in the neighborhood's trash can. The character was developed by Sesame Street head writer Jon Stone and Henson, based on the personality of a “magnificently rude” restaurant owner. Puppeteer Caroll Spinney found inspiration for the voice in the driver of a New York City taxi he took to the studio. His first line was "Where to Mac?".
Jim Henson credits the character's name to the owner and namesake of Oscar's Salt of the Sea. According to Jim Henson’s biography Henson and Jon Stone frequented Oscar’s Salt of the Sea. Henson's office was on East 67th Street just around the corner from Oscar's Salt of the Sea on Third Avenue. In the early 1960s, Henson and Stone often had lunch there and observed that the owner Oscar Karp dressed in black, looked unkempt, and had a gruff disposition.
The Oscar Muppet remained orange for the first season of Sesame Street and then changed to green, which became his permanent color. This was explained within the show by a visit to Swamp Mushy Muddy.:59
According to Sesame Street's Robert W. Morrow, Oscar was created to indirectly demonstrate racial and ethnic diversity. Since his manners and tastes were different from those of the other characters, his creators hoped to address social issues by using his differences as a metaphor for racial and ethnic differences. Some viewers, however, saw Oscar as a "surrogate for poor, urban Americans" during the show's early seasons. In the early Sesame Street development there was criticism that Oscar represented residents of inner city who had grown to accept injustice when they should not have done so, and there were observers who perceived Oscar to be a negative impression of African-Americans even though the Sesame Workshop did not intend for him to represent black people. Joan Ganz Cooney was confused by this viewpoint when journalist Linda Francke informed her of its existence.
During the first season of Sesame Street, the street set was arranged in such a way that Spinney, who was right-handed, was forced to operate Oscar's head with his left hand. After the set was redesigned, Spinney was able to switch hands.
In scenes where Big Bird and Oscar (both performed by Caroll Spinney) interact in a scene together, the situation has varied depending on the number of lines one or the other is given. When Spinney performed Big Bird, a second puppeteer operated Oscar to Spinney's voice or vocal track; however, occasionally, Matt Vogel instead operated the Big Bird puppet to a vocal track by Spinney, while he performed Oscar. The puppeteers have included Jerry Nelson and Jim Martin.
In 2015, due to being diagnosed with dystonia, Spinney no longer puppeteered Oscar full-time on the show. Eric Jacobson became Spinney's understudy for Oscar; sometimes lip-syncing to a prerecorded vocal track by Spinney, and other times doing the voice himself. Jacobson started voicing Oscar for new material in Season 48 after Spinney's semi-retirement. On October 17, 2018, Spinney announced his full retirement from the character beginning the very same week as he planned to finish his final recordings on the following day. His final performance as Oscar the Grouch (and Big Bird) aired the following year for the series' landmark 50th anniversary.
Oscar can also become mobile with the help of his friend Bruno the Trashman, who carries Oscar around in his trash can. Bruno is a full-body costume which allows Oscar's puppeteer to manipulate Oscar while remaining hidden by the Bruno costume.:61–62 (While Bruno was seen fairly regularly in Sesame Street's early days, he hasn't appeared on the show in over a decade.) Also, as seen in the Elmo's World episode "Dance", Oscar's legs can protrude from the bottom of his trash can to allow him to walk around. Similarly, in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978), Oscar is seen ice skating. For several seasons, Oscar was frequently shown with his friend and pet Slimey, an orange worm. On occasional episodes he has mentioned leaving Sesame Street to attend "the annual Grouch convention in Syracuse, New York".
Oscar openly admits that he does not like anything or anybody that is nice, except young human children (the only people that he can actually act nice to without facing ridicule from his fellow Grouches) as well as older fans of the show. However, the only person he has ever liked on-camera was Maria, which he would never admit. He once inadvertently complimented a dance that his followers, The Grouchketeers, had performed for him. Oscar has shown rare acts of kindness such as trying to replace Ernie's rubber duckie when Ernie had lost it. He also went out to find the missing Big Bird in "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street". He and his girlfriend Grundgetta also love each other, though their relationship is (understandably) somewhat rocky (though he does show he cares for her). As stated above, he is usually very nice to children especially when making public appearances with Spinney. According to a recent episode, Oscar hates "Pox News" (a parody of Fox News) but his mother likes it.
In an unused sketch referencing the Hebrew version of Sesame Street, Oscar finds out that he has a cousin and apart from language, not much else is different. In a play on the name of the Ashkenazy tribe of Jews, Oscar explains to Maria (the only Human he can really tolerate on an ongoing basis) that his cousin's name is Oswald and goes by Ashcan Ozzie. The character's actual name is Moishe Oofnik, lives in his car and wouldn't move into a recycling bin for many years. Although filmed, the sequence was deleted after childrens' test audiences didn't get the pun and their parents treated it as heavily Anti-Semitic.
In Oscar's trash can
While appearing to be the size of a normal trash can on the outside, Oscar's trash can is actually bigger on the inside than the exterior would suggest, notably revealed in the film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Oscar has noted through the years that it boasts such amenities as a farm, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, and piano. Oscar could occasionally be seen rotating while descending into his trash can, implying a spiral staircase. Other items include Slimey, Oscar's pet worm (who has a baby sister named Sloppy); Fluffy, Oscar's pet elephant; Oscar's shoes; and a dimension gate to Grouchland USA, Oscar's hometown. As stated on multiple occasions, the trash can also has a back door.
While Oscar receives new names in international dubs, Sesame Street international co-productions have often created their own version of the character.
In their second season, Germany's Sesamstrasse created an antagonistic character named Uli von Bödefeld. While not a Grouch, he served the same role in plots as Oscar. When a fire destroyed the costume in 1988, a decade after he debuted, he and American segments of Oscar were both replaced by a Grouch named Rumpel. Caterpillar Gustav is the counterpoint to Slimey.
Israeli Grouch, Moishe Oofnik, Oscar's cousin, is the only character to survive the first Rechov Sumsum, appearing in its current reboot, English/Hebrew series Shalom Sesame, and Israeli-Palestinian co-production Rechov Sumsum/Shara'a Simsim.
Other Grouches include Bodoque on Mexico's Plaza Sésamo, Pancho Contreras on US Spanish version, Gugu on Brazil's Vila Sesamo, Kırpık on Turkey's Susam Sokağı, Ferrão on Portugal's Rua Sésamo, and Kewal Khadoosa on India's Galli Galli Sim Sim. Filipino adaptation Sesame! featured Kiko Matsing, basically a gorilla.
Some Grouches differ from the mostly antagonistic mold. France's 1, Rue Sésame featured Mordicus, who, like Oscar, lives in a trash can, and is slightly cynical, but is also described as lively and enthusiastic, and participated in the neighborhood band.
Appearances in other media
Oscar made what he called "a very brief cameo" in the 1981 Jim Henson movie The Great Muppet Caper. When Miss Piggy threw a truck driver (played by Peter Ustinov) into a pile of boxes and a pile of trash cans, Oscar emerged from his trash can and demanded "Hey, what's all the racket?" The driver asked him, "What are you doing here?" Oscar replied, "A very brief cameo." The driver muttered, "Me, too." Oscar also appeared in the Jim Henson holiday special, A Muppet Family Christmas, when the Sesame Street Gang comes to the Grizzly Farm House for the holidays, in the film he befriends Rizzo the Rat (whose name parodies that of the Midnight Cowboy character Ratso Rizzo) who asks the Grouch if he could stay in his trash can for the night. Oscar agreed saying that he'd never had a rat in his trash can before.
Oscar appears in the episode "Fashion" of the IFC show Portlandia.
Oscar is one of numerous PBS personalities chasing after Homer Simpson for not being able to pay a pledge in a Simpsons season 11 episode, "Missionary: Impossible". Oscar crashes through the window of the church Homer is hiding in, and demands the money while Elmo, who was hiding in the trash can with him, tells Homer he knows where he lives. He also appears in "Trash of the Titans" in a The Simpsons season 9 episode.
Oscar inspired an Apple Macintosh INIT written by Eric B. Shapiro and shown at the 1989 MacHack conference, featuring a singing animated Oscar that appeared from the trash can when the trash was emptied. The hack was so popular that some parents lost the entire contents of their hard disks to preschoolers wanting to see more of Oscar, prompting Shapiro to create a stand-alone application using the same animation and sounds. The software was discontinued after Children's Television Workshop sent Shapiro a cease and desist letter.
The fumetti comic Twisted Toyfare Theater once featured Oscar in an issue in which he sings a variation of his "I Love Trash" song about Wesley Snipes' movies. In the end, Wesley Snipes (as Blade) decapitates him.
Oscar appeared on seven episodes of the game show 1 vs. 100, which aired between January and February 2008.
In an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, an Oscar-like character emerges from a dustbin and instructs the viewer that it's "not cool" to play with scythes (in response to Irwin's stealing and misuse of Grim's scythe) and instructs viewers to "tell an adult immediately" if they find one.
In the Night at the Museum sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Oscar has an appearance with Darth Vader, trying to become part of Kahmunrah's team — only to be discovered that he is not evil, just "vaguely grouchy". The Oscar puppet that was used in filming is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
On May 29, 2009, Oscar the Grouch appeared in an ABC television special on economics called Un-broke: What You Need To Know About Money. He appeared showing the viewers what investing stocks means. It's shown that he has investment filings with Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Washington Mutual even though they are bankrupt companies, but he then says that they're not really his filings. The press kit for the special reveals that Oscar was popular with the crew for the special even during filming.
On October 11, 2009, Oscar appeared on the CBC Radio One show Q, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. Beyond talking about his time on Sesame Street, his love for trash and recycling, Oscar revealed that his father is actually from Saint David, New Brunswick and his mother grew up in Nova Scotia, thus making him of Canadian descent. He further went on to suggest that he had cheated on Grundgetta, his long-time girlfriend.
On November 12, 2009, Oscar appeared on CNN to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Oscar reveals that he would still be orange if he bathed; his green exterior is apparently moss.
On an episode of Cake Boss, Buddy and his bakers visited Sesame Street, and Danny could be seen inside Oscar's Trash Can. He tries his best Oscar impression by saying "I live in the trash." Oscar can also be seen at the end when Buddy reveals his cake, but then goes back in his trash can, ostensibly to get away from the laughing and cheering.
On a Q TV interview promoting the benefits of being "[Eco-]Green" Oscar suggests that he is actually Canadian.:13:30 He later mentions that his favorite dessert is spinach sardine chocolate fudge sundaes. His second favorite dessert is mashed bananas with ice cubes and cold beef gravy, and in Season 12 he owns a car called "The Sloppy Jalopy".
- Kroessler, Jeffrey A. (2002). New York Year by Year: A Chronology of the Great Metropolis. NYU Press. p. 306. ISBN 9780814747513.
- "Oscar's". nypl.org. New York Public Library. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
- Jones, Brian (2013). Jim Henson: The Biography. Ballantine Books. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-345-52612-0. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
- Sheraton, Mimi (October 1, 1982). "RESTAURANTS; East Side favorites for steak, seafood". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
- Spinney, Caroll; Milligan, J (1993). The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers. Villard. ISBN 0-375-50781-7.
- Morrow, Robert W. (2006). Sesame Street and the Reform of Children's Television. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-8018-8230-3.
- Morrow, Robert W. (2006). ""Sesame Street" and the Reform of Children's Television". JHU Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780801882302. Missing or empty
- Itzoff, Dave (October 17, 2018). "Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves 'Sesame Street' After Nearly 50 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
- Carroll Spinney (pt 1). YouTube. 14 June 2007. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- Houseman, Doug (1994). Late Nights with MacHack. p. 27. ISBN 1-55851-395-7.
- Denham, Daniel. "Stand-Alone Grouch". Newsgroup: comp.sys.mac.apps. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
In the Read Me for The Grouch 2.5B3 by Eric Shapiro
- Stephan, Jeff (May 20, 1994). ""The Grouch" INIT". Newsgroup: comp.sys.mac.apps. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
Sesame Street brought heavy patent infringement pressure against the author
- "Waste Reduction Week Spokes-Muppet Oscar the Grouch Missing". rco.on.ca (Press release). Toronto: Recycling Council of Ontario. September 30, 2009. Archived from the original on March 24, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
...Oscar the Grouch will return for his second year as the program’s spokes-Muppet...
- "Oscar the Grouch on Q TV". YouTube.com. Interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi. CBC Radio. October 22, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- Kaur, Harmeet. "'SNL' takes on the origin story of Oscar the Grouch in a 'Joker' spoof". CNN. Retrieved 2019-10-14.