Thesis statement: Jim Henson was secretly a die-hard fisherman.
The man crucial to the development of “The Muppets,” “Sesame Street” and the less popular 1990s sitcom “Dinosaurs” built his characters in a way that lead me to believe he loved to fish. Or, at the very least, he loved fishing culture.
Americans are either familiar with “The Muppets” or have lived an unimaginably sad life.
“Muppet” is the term the late Henson used to describe his own flavor of puppets that were repeatedly thrust into complex storylines full of humor, drama and the unending yet confusing romance between Kermit and Miss Piggy.
Ah yes. Kermit and Miss Piggy.
These two characters initially piqued my curiosity and made me wonder if, in fact, Henson had a theme with his characters.
One is a frog and one is a pig. Apart from both being edible and tolerant to living conditions most humans would find abhorrent, the two animals really have nothing in common — save one thing: They’re both terms used by anglers to describe large fish.
You’re probably familiar with “hawg” and “toad” but “pig” is also widely used, and in some pike- and bass-specific circles, I’ve heard “bullfrog.”
The two main characters are named for big fish slang, but you may not be convinced.
Add to their names the “Will they or won’t they?” interplay of uncertainty the two share. That is fishing at its core; you never know what you’ll get.
Add in that Pepé the Prawn is the prime saltwater fishing bait and Beaker looks like a worm, and I think it’s clear Henson left a few Easter eggs.
What hatched from eggs in the distant past? Birds. Fish. Lizards.
Okay, sure, class, but the answer I was looking for is dinosaurs.
Large fish deemed to be prehistoric, like sturgeon and gar, are called dinosaurs by anglers.
Henson didn’t just name a character Dinosaur; he named a whole series after them. Actual dinosaurs that hatched from real eggs can’t speak for themselves, but “Dinosaurs” speaks volumes for Henson’s secret love of fishing.
Naming wasn’t the end of it, though.
Granted, “Sesame Street” characters don’t bear secret homage to fishing in and of themselves, but the episode in which Bert and Ernie go fishing is true to form.
Ernie immediately catches two fish.
At first, Bert is helpful and supportive, but after a few fish, you can tell he’s frustrated. He tries to be nice, but he’s not thrilled.
Ernie says they should trade places because “The fish seem to be biting better over here.”
Bert agreed, adding, “What a pal.”
Ernie immediately catches a fish in Bert’s former spot, and the camera pans to Bert. In Jim Halpert fashion, but years before the famous prankster from “The Office,” Bert stares deadpan at the camera.
Ernie then offers to fish without bait. Of course he catches another fish.
The camera pans back to Bert, who grunts in frustration.
“You have all the fish,” Bert decries, “and I have none. I have zero fish.”
Finally, feeling for his friend, Ernie says he’ll stop fishing. Bert is touched and agrees to the gesture.
Almost immediately, Bert feels a tug on his line and reels something in. It’s a note.
“What does it say?” Bert asks, still holding the rod.
Ernie quickly reads the note: “It says ‘What happened to your friend?’” as both characters pull a Jim Halpert and stare at the camera while the scene ends.
I felt that in my core, and while you are probably laughing, you also felt the pangs of disappointment. Nothing sums up the frustration and joy fishing offers like that one scene.
Look at the facts, people: hawgs, toads and dinosaurs. Bert and Ernie’s comical-yet-sad fishing trip. Was Henson secretly an angler or a fan of the sport?
Pan to me, looking directly into the camera.