Watch Prince Appear on the Muppets Tonight Show & Reveal His Humble, Down-to-Earth Side (1997)

From Frog to Prince: We will always love your music and you. Our hearts are yours. Thanks for being a friend.
 Ker­mit the Frog, April 21, 2016

There was a time when shar­ing the screen with the Mup­pets was the ulti­mate celebri­ty sta­tus sym­bol.

Prince nev­er appeared on The Mup­pet Show – 1999, the 1982 album that made him a house­hold name, was released the year after the series con­clud­ed its run — but he got his chance fif­teen years lat­er, with an appear­ance on the short­er lived Mup­pets Tonight.

In a trib­ute writ­ten short­ly after Prince’s death, Mup­pets Tonight writer Kirk Thatch­er recalled:

We were very excit­ed that Prince had agreed to do our Mup­pet com­e­dy and vari­ety show but had been told by his man­agers and sup­port staff before we met with him that we must nev­er look at him direct­ly or call him any­thing but, “The Artist” or just, “Artist”. As the writ­ers of the show, we were won­der­ing how we were going to work or col­lab­o­rate with some­one you can’t even look at, espe­cial­ly while try­ing to cre­ate com­e­dy with pup­pets!

His staff sent an advance team to make sure the work­ing envi­ron­ment would be to his lik­ing, spe­cial food and drink was laid in at his request, and the scripts of sketch­es that had been writ­ten for him were sent ahead for his approval. 

The Mup­pets’ crew grew even more ner­vous when Prince asked for a meet­ing the night before the sched­uled shoot day. Thatch­er had “visions of him trash­ing every­thing and forc­ing us to start over,” adding that it would not have been the first time a guest star would have insist­ed on a total over­haul at zero hour.

Instead of the mon­ster they’d been brac­ing for, Prince — who Thatch­er described as “only half again big­ger than most of the Mup­pets” —  proved a game if some­what “bemused” and “qui­et” col­lab­o­ra­tor:

He had fun addi­tions and improvs and loved play­ing and ad-lib­bing with the pup­pets and was very easy to talk to and work with. The whole sit­u­a­tion with his advance team and man­age­ment remind­ed me of the rela­tion­ship I had cre­at­ed between Ker­mit and Sam the Eagle in Mup­pet Trea­sure Island. Sam had con­vinced every­one that Ker­mit, play­ing Cap­tain Smol­let, was a furi­ous and angry tyrant, beset by inner demons and out­er tirades. But when we meet him, he was just good, old, sweet-natured Ker­mit the Frog… just in a cap­tains out­fit. The same for Prince. He was just a nice, fun, cre­ative guy who had built this per­sona around him­self, and had a team there to rein­force it, prob­a­bly to pro­tect his art, his per­son­al life and even his san­i­ty.

The episode riffed on his estab­lished image, shoe­horn­ing Mup­pets into a “leather and lace” look that Prince him­self had moved on from, and crack­ing jokes relat­ed to the unpro­nounce­able “Love Sym­bol” to which he’d changed his name four years ear­li­er.

Nat­u­ral­ly, they plumbed his cat­a­logue for musi­cal num­bers, hav­ing par­tic­u­lar fun with “Starfish and Cof­fee,” which fea­tures a pro­to-Prince Mup­pet and an alter­nate ori­gin sto­ry.

(The actu­al ori­gin sto­ry is pret­ty great, and pro­vides anoth­er tiny glimpse of this mys­te­ri­ous artist’s true nature.)

The show also afford­ed Prince the oppor­tu­ni­ty to chart some unex­pect­ed ter­ri­to­ry with Hoo Haw, a spoof of the coun­tri­fied TV vari­ety show Hee Haw.

If you’ve ever won­dered how The Pur­ple One would look in over­alls and a plaid but­ton down, here’s your chance to find out.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

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

Watch a New Director’s Cut of Prince’s Blis­ter­ing “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” Gui­tar Solo (2004)

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

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

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