May 26, 2010
Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: King Ploobis
Saturday Night Live Season 1 (1975)
“Come with us now... From the bubbling tarpits to the sulfurous wastelands... From the rotting forest to the stagnant mud flats... To The Land of Gorch!”
That was the introduction to the short-lived story of King Ploobis and his fellow Gorchians. Ploobis was created and performed by the great Jim Henson himself. The idea of Ploobis and The Land of Gorch was nothing short of a display of genius by Jim Henson and his colleagues. And for what? To show the world that Muppets aren’t just for kids anymore. The year was 1975, and The Muppet Show had yet to earn a permanent spot on television in the United States. But with the success of Sesame Street and a couple of Muppet Show specials on ABC, Jim Henson landed a deal on a brand new show called Saturday Night Live.
Few people seem to remember that the first year of Saturday Night Live included Muppets in the cast. Ploobis and the Gorch gang were created just for SNL, and as far as I can find, were never seen again after fourteen sketches of SNL, ending in early 1976. Although the short-lived life of King Ploobis was a hit among the adult audience of this new late-night sketch comedy show, he was not a hit among other cast members and writers of the show. Even Jim Belushi referred to the Muppets as the “mucking fuppets.” Remember, this was before the Muppets had captured the hearts of America, and the thought of working with a felt puppet was preposterous to most actors and writers--it was for children. But Jim Henson showed us all that even Muppets can get a little “dirty”!
King Ploobis was a clueless leader. And his kingdom of Gorch was a smokey, slimy swampland. Ploobis himself was quite the swamp creature. He was big, green and just plain ugly, even to a Muppet’s standard. This was not the only dirty aspect of Ploobis. The comedy of King Ploobis was definitely of an adult variety, unseen in a Muppet before or after his short life. He drank, he swore and he referenced adult themes that I do not dare discuss in this article. I think you get the point. Ploobis was perfect for this audience. Although to Muppet fans, he was quite bizarre, Ploobis had what it takes to appeal to a new kind of crowd. A crowd that wanted more than the squeaky-clean comedy that came before the 1970's.
King Ploobis seemed to be blind to the fact that his kingdom was in danger of extinction. He was a very selfish king. In the first sketch, he opens the scene singing “From the bubbling tarpits... to the sulfurous wastelands... This land was made for me! And me only! Cause I am Ploobis! King of all I survey.” King Ploobis did in fact have a queen, Queen Peuta, performed by Alice Tweedy. And going along with the adult-theme of the sketches, Ploobis had extramarital affairs with another Gorchian, Vazh (Fran Brill). Other Gorch citizens included Scred (Jerry Nelson), Wissss (Richard Hunt) and The Mighty Favog (Frank Oz).
Although the Gorch sketches only lasted one season, and were pretty much only canceled due to annoyance from cast members and writers, they were very important to the success of all Muppets to come. In fact, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson were in England, filming the first episodes of The Muppet Show when the Gorch set was burned and SNL unofficially said goodbye to the Muppets. I say “unofficially” because they did not go down easy! Jim Henson returned to the US and did a few more sketches before finally putting King Ploobis and company to rest for good. Even though the writers and staff were attempting to make a laughing stock of the Muppets, Henson laughed right along with them. I’d like to believe it was because he knew something they didn't. That The Muppet Show was on it’s way!
Writing this article means a lot to me, especially because we just past the 20 year mark of the death of the great Jim Henson. Without characters like Ploobis, the world may not have experienced the genius within the lovable guy behind the Muppets. And I would like to add that not all cast members of SNL disliked the Muppets. Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner were among some cast members that fell in love with the Muppets. The latter even guest starred on The Muppet Show, and was a good friend to Jim Henson. And with the success of The Muppet Show, Jim Henson himself answered the question asked by Ploobis in one of the final sketches. He asks “They burned our scenery... we’re no longer booked on the show... and they said, they said we’re puppets, and we don’t even have a lower half. So what do we do?”
As always, if you would like to write a Weekly Muppet Wednesdays article, email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier