Kevin Clash is not a monster. He has simply lent his voice and movement to one for the past 20 years.
In “Being Elmo,” viewers get to meet the man behind one of Sesame Street’s most beloved furry creatures. And what a unique man he is, with an against-the-odds backstory as a teenage outcast in Baltimore with a passion for puppets. But that all turned around when Clash got a local gig on a morning TV show, which led to him meeting the puppeteers in Jim Henson’s circle. “Being Elmo” footage captures this precious moment in time like a fly on the wall, but it raises the question of how anybody knew to have a fly there.
“That’s the question that everybody asks for every film festival we go to,” says Clash.
Just so he doesn’t have to answer it again as he stands in front of an audience on Friday night at the Philadelphia Film Festival, we’ll tell you that the film comes from a PBS-syndicated show called “Big Blue Marble” that aired in the ’70s. “We were very lucky that we got that footage, because there’s a lot in there about what I was doing at the age of 17,” he says.
“Being Elmo” is also full of little-known tidbits, like the fact that Elmo originally spoke like a caveman. “Two puppeteers only did a couple of shows before they stopped performing the character, so nobody really got to know Elmo,” says Clash, who certainly altered Elmo’s anonymity. “I had about five or six voices that I was comfortable with; and when I saw Elmo, that was the voice that I thought would be right for him.”
Kevin Clash keeps it clean
Though Elmo may be a monster, Clash says the character never swears. Not even when the cameras aren’t rolling.
“We know what these characters represent, even if we don’t have kids around,” he explains about himself and the other puppeteers. “We crack ourselves up, but it’s to a limit, so it’s always definitely G-rated. …We respect what Jim [Henson] left with us, which is the wonderful legacy of that Muppet sense of humor that doesn’t need to go there.”