By Andrea Plaid
The under seven-year-old set and I may not agree on some things, but we agree on Kevin Clash. Kevin Clash is, to me, that Black guy that you want to go up to and hug because you know his embrace is enveloping with love for humanity.
And he has hugged and played and chatted with several generations of seven-unders and the adults taking care of them, though you may not recognize him. You may recognize his creation:
According to the documentary, Being Elmo, Clash’s vocation to work as a Muppeteer developed when he first watched Sesame Street in his tween years; he made his first puppet from his dad’s dress coat. (When he saw what his son did, Dad Clash simply asked what the puppet’s name was. His parents supported Clash’s calling ever since then. In fact, he started doing puppet shows for the kids in his mom’s daycare).
Clash eventually fulfilled his dream of officially working as a Muppeteer–after his stints on Captain Kangaroo and Great Space Coaster–when his work on GSC attracted puppet-builder Kermit Love. Love, who worked with Jim Henson introduced the two at a party. Clash debuted as the Cookie Monster on the Sesame Street float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day in 1979. He officially joined the Sesame Street staff in 1984.
Since then, Clash worked on Labyrinth, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles (I and II), and several Sesame Street movie production, such as Follow That Bird. However, he is most famous for the character of Elmo, which he took over from another Muppeteer who, according to Being Elmo, just couldn’t make the creature “work.” Clash’s work created one of the most memorable–and beloved–Muppets to live on the Street.
And Clash has stayed on the Street: he not only serves as Muppet Captain and co-executive producer on the show, he’s served as either co-executive producer, assistant puppet coordinator, or puppet coordinator on various Sesame Street productions. Elmo and he have trained Muppeteers around the world and have made appearances worldwide, bringing that tireless, boundless love to children and children-at-heart. In the documentary, Clash takes another young Black boy–wide-eyed and his own homemade puppet in hand–under his tutelage.
Clash is both the quintessential nerdy dude (his puppetry, for which he was teased when he was younger) and caring uncle in a society that doesn’t allow Black men to imagine themselves beyond hyperviolence or Magical Negroes. Clash is simply human (you can see his profound hurt when his about-to-graduate-from-high-school daughter tells him that he’s missed her growing up and he’d better show up to the graduation party before she leaves home) who, through his vocation, brings magic to millions.
For this, for Elmo…I just <3 Kevin Clash back.