“Never look at him directly or call him anything but ‘The Artist’,” was what Kirk Thatcher, writer and producer of the Muppets Tonight episode in which Prince appeared, was told by the latter’s managers and support staff prior to the musical virtuoso’s arrival on set. All Thatcher could think about at that moment was, “As 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!”
Prince, or as he was then known as, ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince‘, was the iconic American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist known for having a strong command over his wide vocal range, his proficiency in playing the guitar and for his high-spirited on-stage persona. A generally lively person, Prince, perhaps, had a formidable streak to him as well — or so it was projected. Naturally, Thatcher and his team were visibly nervous while waiting for Prince to show up for the rehearsals for the episode.
Prince was due to appear in the first episode of the second season of Disney’s Muppets Tonight. Whether he was a little intimidating or not, Prince’s appearance on the show, alongside talking puppets who interacted with humans and spontaneously broke into song, was highly amusing. Thatcher, evidently relieved upon meeting Prince and working with him, recalled how he was quiet in his demeanour but friendly nonetheless.
Like most other Muppets’ scripts, this one too was based on pointing out the hilarity of the existence of the human among the puppets (nothing offensive; just for a good laugh) and harping on little quirks and personality traits to make the show more humourous. Thatcher recalled the first read-through of the script with Prince, saying: “He and his people seemed to get the jokes and enjoyed the fun we were having with him and he thankfully [Thatcher’s relief was palpable] had very few notes. He just smiled and giggled quietly at the script and seemed very open to it all.”
The episode opened with the scene of Prince arriving at the studio lobby and conversing with Bobo the Bear, the security guard. As Bobo asked for his name, Prince looked directly into the camera and said: “This is going to be fun,” breaking the fourth wall and inviting the audience to resonate with his situation. The singer’s alias, the unpronounceable “Ƭ̵̬̊” became a running joke throughout the episode, with the Muppets often holding up a sign with the logo of the symbol as they talked.
In the episode, the singer made witty remarks and displayed a sense of humour by cracking jokes — a side of his that could be rarely off-screen. He was invited on stage by a group of Muppets singing ‘Delirious’, who were dressed in a similar fashion as Prince, only for him to inform them that he was past his “leather and lace” look.
In fact, Prince on the Muppets Show starkly contrasted the Prince in real life. Not only did he shine through his musical numbers on the show, but he also excelled beyond expectation in his skills as an actor. Prince’s video for ‘Starfish and Coffee’, which he shot with the Muppets, also featured on his Sign o’ the Times. For the ending note, Prince sang a version of his ‘She Gave Her Angels’ that was released on Crystal Ball. He also performed a shorter version of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ with Kermit the Crab and Rizzo the Rat alongside many other Muppets at the end of the episode.
But most importantly, and this is something that was really worth the hype, Muppets Tonight gave us the sequence of Prince dressed in the classic cowboy attire, with a faux Southern drawl to his accent, sharing cheesy one-liners with a group of Muppets around him, in the ‘Hoo Haw’ sketch. Thatcher said on Prince’s performance in the ‘Hoo Haw’ sketch, “He had fun playing a country bumpkin in the ‘Hoo Haw’ sketch and enjoyed all the Muppet silliness about his name/logo and his outlandish and sexy costumes.” And if Prince’s already vast range of genres that he operated in wasn’t enough, now we have a Prince who went full-on country. If you don’t see it, you won’t believe it. Trust us, ‘Country’ Prince is something we didn’t know we needed in our lives, but after watching this episode, it is becoming only too clear that we really did.