Kermit the Frog Gives a TED Talk About Creativity & the Power of “Ridiculous Optimism”

In 2015, 3.8 bil­lion years after “cre­ativ­i­ty emerged” out of “sheer­est empti­ness,” Ker­mit the Frog was tapped to give a talk on cre­ativ­i­ty at TEDx­Jack­son.

How did a local, one-day event man­age to snag such a glob­al icon?


The famed frog’s cre­ator, Jim Hen­son, spent his first decade in Mis­sis­sip­pi (though Ker­mit was born of a ping pong ball and Henson’s mother’s old coat after the fam­i­ly relo­cat­ed to Mary­land.)

The con­fer­ence took place 15 years after Henson’s untime­ly death, leav­ing Ker­mit to be ani­mat­ed by Steven Whit­mire, the first of two pup­peteers to tack­le a role wide­ly under­stood to be Henson’s alter ego.

The voice isn’t quite the same, but the man­ner­isms are, includ­ing the throat clear­ing and crum­pled facial expres­sions.

Also present are a num­ber of TED Talk tropes, the smart phone prompts, the dark stage, pro­jec­tions designed to empha­size pro­found points.

A num­ber of jokes fail to elic­it the expect­ed laughs … we’ll leave it up to you to deter­mine whether the fault lays with the live audi­ence or the mate­r­i­al. (It’s not easy being green and work­ing blue comes with chal­lenges, too.)

Were he to give his TED Talk now, in 2021, Ker­mit prob­a­bly wouldn’t describe the audience’s col­lec­tive deci­sion to “accept a premise, sus­pend our dis­be­lief and just enjoy the ride” as a “con­spir­a­cy of crazi­ness.”

He might bypass a bina­ry quote like “If neces­si­ty is the moth­er of inven­tion, then cre­ativ­i­ty is the father.”

He’d also be advised to steer clear of a pho­to of Miss Pig­gy dressed as a geisha, and secure her con­sent to share some of the raci­er anec­dotes… even though she is a known atten­tion hog.

He would “tran­scend and include” in the words of philoso­pher Ken Wilber, one of many inspi­ra­tions he cites over the course of his 23-minute con­sid­er­a­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty and its ori­gins, attempt­ing to answer the ques­tion, “Why are we here?”

Also ref­er­enced: Michelan­ge­lo, Albert Ein­stein, Sal­vador Dali, Charles Baude­laire, Zen mas­ter Shun­ryū Suzu­ki, math­e­mati­cian Alfred North White­head, author and edu­ca­tor, Sir Ken Robin­son (who appears, briefly) and of course, Hen­son, who applaud­ed the “ridicu­lous opti­mism” of fling­ing one­self into cre­ative explo­rations, unsure of what one might find.

He can’t wan­der freely about the stage, but he does share some stir­ring thoughts on col­lab­o­ra­tion, men­tors, and the impor­tance of main­tain­ing “beginner’s mind,” free of pre-con­cep­tions.

How to cul­ti­vate beginner’s mind?

Try fast for­ward­ing to the 11:11 mark. Watch for 20 sec­onds. It’s the purest invi­ta­tion to believe since Peter Pan begged us to clap Tin­ker Bell back to life.

Do you? Because Ker­mit believes in you.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Wit­ness the Birth of Ker­mit the Frog in Jim Henson’s Live TV Show, Sam and Friends (1955)

Watch Blondie’s Deb­bie Har­ry Per­form “Rain­bow Con­nec­tion” with Ker­mit the Frog on The Mup­pet Show (1981)

Jim Henson’s Com­mer­cials for Wilkins Cof­fee: 15 Twist­ed Min­utes of Mup­pet Cof­fee Ads (1957–1961)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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