Several years ago, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer asked me to play a field reporter in his children’s show, JellyTelly. I thought this would be a great opportunity to do some work that my kids would enjoy watching over and over again. Who knows, they may even be impressed with their old man’s work! I mean, I have brought home DVD’s of my stand up routines, but they just ask to switch to Curious George, or something more their speed. So, when the JellyTelly opportunity arose, I was so excited!
However, I forgot that one of my sons are deathly afraid of puppets. I’m talking insanely fearful!
He even had a dream where Sesame Street’s Ernie viciously attacked him, biting him on the head! Which I thought was incredibly strange, since I don’t remember Ernie having any teeth. Plus, even if he did have teeth, they’d be made of foam and felt, so I would guess that it would actually feel quite soothing, like a scalp massage you could get at a cruise ship spa.
He then became a disciple of this anti-Ernie movement, convincing his little brother of all the evils contained within the Sesame Street puppet.
So, what did I do? I brought home the JellyTelly videos for them to watch… yep, I put on me, their character molding father fraternizing with the devil’s puppets. At the first sight of felt, they bolted out of the room, knocking everything over that was in their wake. So, they’ve never seen it. Not a single scene.
At one point, my younger son – the one who never had a bad dream about puppets but suffered from “second-hand Ernie fear” – came walking down the stairs late one night. I was the only one up, so I lifted him up onto my lap and asked what was the matter.
“I’m scared…. Ernie!”
So, I tried to comfort him. I held him close and reassured him that Ernie was really a nice guy. I used to watch Sesame Street as a kid and Ernie was one of the kindest and gentlest characters on the show. In fact, I thought of him as a friend. He had a little rubber ducky that he loved and would sing to: “Rubber ducky, you’re the one. You make bath time lots of fun! Rubber ducky, I’m awfully fond of you!” I sang, I did hand motions… I sold it!
I wish you could have seen my son’s look of abject horror.
This boy’s face was twisted.
It was as if I had said, “Freddy Krueger and I were great friends when I was a kid and he had a favorite chainsaw that he would sing to…” So I sent my boy off to bed with his reinforced fear of all things felt.
Next, my good friend Sara Shea joins the show, keeping warm with her ever-powered electric blanket. Now, on top of being extremely funny, Sara is a devoted mother who prays constantly for her children. But, when it comes to her kids’ safety, there is no prayer that she prays harder than when she finds an old sippy cup tucked away under the couch.
“Dear God… please let this be water. PLEASE!”
Yet, it rarely is water. Too often, it’s weeks old, curdled milk or fermented juice that has grown its own ecosystem under the lid.
That’s when she hits her knees and pleads with God:
“Dear Lord… I know that you can turn water into wine. But could you please turn this stinking, rotting chocolate milk into water? I’m begging you.”
Finally, my good friend, VeggieTales creator and comedy legend, Phil Vischer calls into the show to talk about life perspectives. According to Phil, if you want to be successful, you need to figure out how to redefine the world in such a way that makes you number one of something. For instance, Phil is the tops of “Religious Children’s Film Humor”. Find your niche, that’s all. And keep making the world smaller and smaller until you’ve eliminated everyone but yourself, and then start marketing!
One thing Phil has going for him is he not only was the creative force behind VeggieTales and What’s In The Bible, but he also provides most of the voices including Bob the Tomato, Mr. Lunt, Pa Grape Mr. Nezzer and Archibald Asparagus. How did he discover that he had so many personalities living under his skin?
He didn’t know where to go to find actors and instead of getting up and discovering where casting offices might be, he just turned on his microphone over and over again.
In all actuality, he began creating fun voices as a child when he would mimic Sesame Street characters (even the evil Ernie!)
Phil had no idea that his preoccupation with reenacting Muppet skits with perfect pitch was uncommon. So, by the time he entered high school and his classmates pointed out that he sounded just like Kermit the Frog… while talking normally… he figured he might be on to something.
Then, Phil started making films, which is typically a collaborative experience – something you do with all your friends – but he didn’t have any friends. So, the unsocial Phil Vischer made animated shorts in his basement featuring himself doing all the voices.
This all led to the natural progression of what eventually became VeggieTales. Yet the first character he created was Mr. Cuke, which eventually became Larry the Cucumber and was mute. But Larry needed a partner. And since Larry was tall and thin with one tooth jutting out, the sidekick should be short and round and act as the straight man to Larry’s foibles. That’s when Phil called upon his Bible College friend and co-puppeteer Mike Nawrocki, who completely brought Larry to life with his lisped vocals.
So, now that Phil has done it all, he’s ready to die.
Actually, he still really loves figuring out how to do things in unconventional ways. He never knows if his methods will work or be accepted, but he has fun all along the way.
Phil also has his own podcast, which was founded on his own musings while talking to himself in the car. He would have these very poignant conversations with himself in his head and twenty minutes later realize that his last conversation was actually pretty interesting. He began to wonder if other people may find interest in the debates between the voices in his head, so he began to record them. 148 episodes later, he is still musing and wondering away on the Phil Vischer Podcast every week, where he tries to split the difference between Stephen Colbert and Pat Robertson.
For more entertaining and encouraging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com.