How the hell did The Muppet Show ever get on the air? Imagine it from a TV executive’s point of view: a weekly variety show, in an old vaudeville theater, featuring puppets, and a mix of A, B and C-list celebrities that catered to both kids and adults. That’s not a pitch… it’s a just list of random words that don’t go together. Unfortunately, it’s that weirdness that’s been lost to the ages, as these days the Muppets are remembered more as a kids’ show instead of the more adult, primetime comedy it was. Most kids today have only seen the Muppets shill pizza with Jessica Simpson, and haven’t seen such flipping weird sights as surreal entertainments as Lew Zealand and his boomerang fish or Gonzo the Great tap-dancing on oatmeal. Where else on TV could you see not only a pig in love with frog, but then that frog having to deal with a gypsy curse and Jonathan Winters? Nowhere, that’s where. And that doesn’t even compare to the stuff we’ve got on this list of The Muppet Show‘s 10 weirdest moments.
10) Leo Sayer Sings to a Giant, Insane Bird
On The Muppet Show, famous people couldn’t just sing their famous songs — that would be boring. So, when Leo Sayer sang his ’70s disco hit “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” of course the Muppets would put him in a club filled with bird-headed people apparently played by members of the London Royal Ballet. The bird people reservedly dance in the background in contrast to Sayer, who flops around like a drunk Kermit making an introduction during an earthquake. And just when it can’t get more uncomfortable, he’s joined by an even larger google-eyed bird that clearly just feels like dancing… but not taking his meds.
9) Alice Cooper Tries to Get Kermit to Sell His Soul to the Devil
While half the fun of the Muppets were watching celebrities doing things out of character, Alice Cooper was entirely in character when he proposed Kermit sell his soul to “a guy” he knew who could make him a rock star. Yep, just when you think you’ve figured out how everything worked at the Muppet theater, Kermit almost gets his soul exiled to eternal damnation where he would get his frog legs French-fried for all eternity. Keep an eye out for Kermit’s extreme annoyance at Gonzo’s ignorance of the legend of Faust.
8) Tony Randall, Master of Reality
The Tony Randall episode has one of the goofiest premises – Randall has found a magic book and after accidentally reading a spell, turned Miss Piggy into a statue (a statue that squealed like it was constant pain, for the record). And in an even creepier scene, he accidentally turns Scooter into a variety of sinister forms.
As a bonus, this episode also features Randall trying to bring back the lost art of Megaphone crooning (in fact, he’d released an album, Vo, Vo, De, Oh, Doe, anticipating a big revival of the art of singing into a tube). Now, that’s pretty fucking weird.
7) Miss Piggy Sexually Harasses Rudolf Nureyev
The first big celebrity coup for the show was celebrated ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev — after he went on, they started getting more stars willing to come on. But you’d think they would’ve stayed away after seeing a towel-clad Nureyev get hit on by an equally nearly naked Miss Piggy. And, since Nureyev was never the best actor, his creepy revulsion was almost certainly genuine.
6) Alan Arkin Murders Bunnies
This clip requires a bit of set up. Due to yet another Muppet Labs accident, Alan Arkin ends up turning into a crazed monster just as the Muppet bunnies do their horrifyingly saccharine “Zip a Dee Doo Dah”-type number. What happens next is pretty much what you’d expect, as long as you’re expecting Alan Arkin to teari apart both the set and the bunnies like fresh bread. Just when you think the slaughter was over, Waldorf and Statler send one last bunny to meet rabbit Jesus.
5) Vincent Price Covers “You’ve Got a Friend”
The Muppet Show gave celebrities the chance to do things they didn’t normally get to do (for example, they gave noted singer/actress Sandy Duncan the chance to fulfill every young girl’s dream of being drunkenly stripped by monsters). For Vincent Price, they also gave him a new way to terrify people — by allowing him to sing his own cover of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” accompanied by ghosts, skulls and the sadly underused gargoyle Uncle Deadly. This musical number was not included in the Muppets DVD sets, ostensibly for music rights issues, but it’s equally likely that this was simply the scariest thing any human being has ever done. EVER.
4) Roger Moore Sings While Kicking Muppets in the Face
You’d of course expect Roger Moore to have a big, spy-themed closing number in his Muppets episode. What you wouldn’t expect is to him have a huge, rousing musical number which featured him beating the stuffing out of a number of Muppet spies — as well as kicking them, shooting them, and eventually blowing several of them up with a bomb. Happily for Moore, it was legal to kill both Muppets and foreigners in the ’70s, so no charges were filed.
3) Sylvester Stallone’s Gladiatorial Antics
We’ve already mentioned the Muppets’ tendency to give guest stars the chance to do things they’re not known for. So, if they’ve got action star Sylvester Stallone, of course they’re going to have him sing and give him long, marble-mouthed monologues. But having him prance around in a gladiator’s outfit while singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off “with a full-sized lion is perhaps a bit gratuitous. Still, it’s less embarrassing than Cobra.
2) Peter Sellers Plays the Chickens… as Himself
The weirdness in this clip is pretty obvious. After all, it’s hard to ignore a man playing two chickens while reciting Shakespeare. What’s even stranger, but not as obvious, is why it was made — apparently, The Muppet Show writing staff wanted to do a piece where Kermit interviewed Peter Sellers as himself, but he couldn’t do it; Sellers said he could be Queen Victoria, but not himself. That lack of identity led to the joke about him having himself surgically removed. That’s weird… and kind of sad.
1) The Intergalactic Brotherhood of Man
How weird does a sketch have to be that the Muppets themselves don’t understand it? Apparently, it has to be written by The Goon Show‘s Spike Milligan, who provides such a confusing and surreal sketch that even the Muppets themselves admit that they don’t know what’s going on. Although Statler and Waldorf eventually talk themselves into liking it, even they’re not sure what to say about it. Maybe it’s a British thing.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.