Oscar the Grouch
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|Oscar the Grouch|
|Sesame Street character|
|First appearance||November 10, 1969|
|Created by||Jim Henson|
|Portrayed by||Caroll Spinney (1969–present)
Eric Jacobson (2015–present) (understudy)
Oskie (Grundgetta's pet name for him)
Son (by his mother)
Oscar the Grouch is a character on the television program Sesame Street. He has a green body (during the first season he was orange), has no visible nose, and lives in a trash can. His favorite thing in life is trash, as evidenced by the song "I Love Trash". A running theme is his compulsive hoarding of seemingly useless items. "The Grouch" aptly describes his misanthropic interaction with the other characters, but also refers to his species. His birthday, as noted by Sesame Workshop, is on June 1. The character is performed by Caroll Spinney, and has been performed by him since the show's first episode. Since 2015, Eric Jacobson is the understudy for the character.
Initially, the Puppet characters on Sesame Street would not actually appear on Sesame Street itself, but be 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” waiter. Based on the character outline, puppeteer Caroll Spinney was inspired by the voice of a New York City taxi driver, hailed when going to the production studio; when he first got in, the driver asked him "Where to, Mac?" and spoke with Spinney about the mayor of New York at the time (Republican John Lindsay).
His name's source is of some debate. Most sources suggest it's derived from Oscar's Tavern. In recent years, however, the family of Canadian folk musician Oscar Brand has suggested he was the namesake. Brand was an early board member for the show's non-profit production company, Children's Television Workshop. The claim has been made in an interview with the CBC around the time of Brand's 90th birthday, and by his son in the interview segment of Jeopardy. Named “Oscar the Grouch”, writers would eventually add other Grouches, an entire species explored in the film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and various television episodes.
The initial puppet, built by staff builder John Lovelady, was yellow, but since there was already a very large yellow character named Big Bird (also puppeteered by Spinney) they decided to change Oscar to orange. He was orange for only the first season of Sesame Street and then changed to green which would prove to be his permanent color. This was explained within the show by a visit to the Swamp Mushy Muddy.
Big Bird is Spinney's other lead character and is often described by Oscar as his friend during public appearances. He especially likes to prank him every morning by putting ketchup in his alarm clock. When Big Bird and Oscar are required in a scene together, Jim Martin often operates Oscar to a vocal track by Spinney so the latter can perform Big Bird. However, occasionally, Matt Vogel will instead operate the Big Bird puppet to a vocal track by Spinney, while he performs Oscar. During the first season of Sesame Street, the street set was arranged such that Spinney, who is right-handed, was forced to operate Oscar's head with his left hand. A subsequent redesign of the set (and Oscar himself, as he was ripped apart by Jim Henson) allowed him to switch hands.
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.
During the first season of Sesame Street, the street set was arranged in such a way that Spinney, who is right-handed, was forced to operate Oscar's head with his left hand. A subsequent redesign of the set allowed Spinney 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 amount of lines one or the other is given. When Spinney performs Big Bird, a second puppeteer operates Oscar to Spinney's voice. These puppeteers have included Jerry Nelson (c. 1970's) and Jim Martin (1990's-2000's). Paul McGinnis also puppeteered Oscar at the 2003 Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala.
As of Season 46, Spinney no longer puppeteers Oscar full-time on the show. Eric Jacobson has become Spinney's understudy for Oscar; sometimes lip-syncing to a prerecorded vocal track by Spinney, and other times doing the voice himself. Jacobson performed Oscar for his Sprout appearances on February 21, 2015, and also performed Oscar, un-dubbed, on a 2016 appearance on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and a YouTube video promoting the Sesame Studios channel. Spinney continues to puppeteer Oscar sporadically, such as at live events.
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. (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. Oscar tries to keep his Canadian identity secret, but admitted that he is Canadian due to his parents being from Canada. He was born in Minto, New Brunswick, with his father having been born on Parkhurst Drive, New Brunswick, and his mother having grown up in Nova Scotia. His favorite dessert is spinach sardine chocolate fudge sundaes. His second favorite dessert is mashed bananas with ice cubes and cold beef gravy.
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 a 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; Fluffy, Oscar's pet elephant; Oscar's shoes; and a dimension gate to Grouchland USA, Oscar's hometown. It also contains, most likely, many boatloads of trash.
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, 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 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 was one of numerous PBS personalities chasing after Homer 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 appeared in "Trash of the Titans".
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.
Oscar first appeared on the January 11, 2008 episode of the television game show 1 vs. 100 as a member of the mob. He was eliminated on both games, but was so popular he continued to appear for the remainder of the season as a regular member of the mob until the program's cancellation, but didn't win much money. Oscar has made appearances on Canadian public broadcasting advertising "childhood diabetes awareness days" at the Montreal Canadiens hockey games.
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.
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 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's 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.
- Jeffrey A. Kroessler, New York year by year: a chronology of the great metropolis, page 306.
- Sunday Edition, CBC Radio, 7 February 2010.
- Interview with Jordan Brand on Jeopardy episode, aired 4 March 2010.
- Caroll Spinney and J Milligan (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. Chapter 9[page needed]
- 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.
- Carroll Spinney (pt 1). YouTube. 14 June 2007. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- October 22, 2009 Interview on CBC Radio (13:30)
- October 22, 2009 Interview on CBC Radio (1:30)
- October 22, 2009 Interview on CBC Radio (1:51)
- Late Nights with MacHack, p. 27
- "Google Groups". Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- "Google Groups". Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- Oscar the Grouch on Q TV. YouTube. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5hr5xOKyormdfCmLWURxL-T5zv2vg. Retrieved September 23, 2008. Missing or empty