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thanking him for having a part in getting me over my fear of flying.

I sent the letter to the Sesame Street offices in New York. It got returned.

Then I sent it to the Jim Henson offices here in Los Angeles. It got returned.

Finally, I sent it to a fan mail address in Connecticut. It got returned.

After that last return, I gave up. I assumed there was no way to get him the letter, so I took a photo of it to, at the very least, keep it for my own posterity.

Letter to Frank Oz: Part One

Letter to Frank Oz: Part Two

About a month later, I was telling a friend about my failed attempts at getting the letter to Oz. This friend mentioned that he had a friend who was, oddly enough, going to Oz’s house the following weekend. He said that if I forwarded him the letter he would pass it on to his friend, who would then pass it along to Oz.

My friend’s gesture was amazing (and I quickly took him up on the offer), but I’d be lying if I said that I expected the letter to actually get to Oz, especially after the debacle that had preceded it.

But then, last week, I received this in the mail:

Frank Oz's letter to me!

Amazing.

Thanks to Michael and Andrea (and Amanda and Pete) for finally getting it to him!

The coolest,

-Shady

“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget: “Frank Oz”

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of these, and I usually wait much longer before putting a pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard… whatever) on these types of stories. That’s because, like a fine wine or a vat of homemade chili, my stories usually get better with time, mostly because I have more opportunities to tell them over and over again and fine tune them along the way. After a few years, the story’s structure is much more sound, its punchlines way funnier, and I’m able to make myself look both really hilarious and brilliant in the process.

But this Frank Oz tale is much more recent than the childhood friend beating or fart arsenal stories of my youth, or even the dog overdosing stories of recent years. This story happened a little over two weeks ago, though it all began more than a decade ago in February 2001.

Back then, I interviewed Frank Oz for “Tastes Like Chicken” (you can read the interview here). Of course, I’ve been a huge Muppet fan since just shortly after birth, so the opportunity to speak on the telephone with the man responsible for Fozzie Bear, Grover and Yoda (among countless other icons of my youth) was pretty amazing.

Bit of a back story on the interview: Frank’s publicist and I had been playing phone tag over the span of a week or so. She was trying to find a good time for Frank to get on the phone because he was busy with post-production on “The Score,” a film he directed that was released later that year. The interview had been scheduled and rescheduled two or three times earlier in the week, which is a fairly common practice especially when dealing with an admittedly small publication like “Tastes Like Chicken.” We were running the entire thing out of our house, so we all worked long hours (for free) and rolled with the punches.

One morning, probably somewhere a little before 9:00 AM, our phone rang. I had been working/drinking late into the early morning hours the night before, so I sprung out of bed in a haze of confusion and answered the phone. It was Oz’s publicist; she apologized for the few missed previous attempts to get Frank on the phone.

Shady: Don’t worry about it. I’m totally flexible; I can do it whenever.

Frank Oz’s Publicist: Could you do it today?

Shady: Absolutely.

Frank Oz’s Publicist: Okay. Could you hold on one second?

Shady: Sure.

The sound of Muzak filled my ear as I waited. For what, I had no clue. Until–

Frank Oz: Hello?

Shady: Yeah?

Frank Oz: This is Frank Oz.

The next moment happened quickly, within the milliseconds of a beat or two, but I vividly remember glancing over at the full-length mirror that hung on the back of my bedroom door and seeing myself standing there in an early morning cloud of confusion, talking on the phone with Cookie Monster, and doing it all butt naked.

Thank goodness video phones were still considered science fiction back then.

I fumbled as I threw on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt with one hand, and grabbed for the phone recorder with the other. I’m hoping that I sounded cool and collected to Frank, but in reality I was a jumbled mess.

During the interview we started talking about phobias (you can read the actual transcription of this part of the conversation toward the end of the interview), during which Frank admitted to having a small fear of flying.

If you know me at all, which some of you do and some of you don’t, you know that my fear of flying can be quite entertaining. I’m sure more of those stories will pop up in a “Stories To Tell Before I Forget,” but for now all you need to know is that I’m not a big fan of flying today, and I was absolutely terrified of it back in 2001. In January of that year I had purchased tickets to fly from Milwaukee to San Francisco with my mom to visit my sister Bethany to celebrate her 21st birthday in September. After purchasing the tickets I spent the next eight months obsessing over it. Literally.

And so I took the opportunity to ask Frank Oz, this man I held and still hold in extremely high regard, how one tackles his fear of flying. What doesn’t exist in the interview transcription (we had to edit out a lot for print) is this:

Frank Oz: When you board, ask a stewardess if you can meet the pilot. Flying is a cold experience; you’re putting your trust in someone you can’t even see. I’ve realized it helps if I can meet or at least see the pilot first. It gives a face to a usually faceless experience. Remember that they also have a family they’re trying to get back to.

Since then, literally on every flight I’ve ever taken since that day, I’ve asked to meet the pilot before takeoff. I’ve always credited that idea to Frank Oz, and it’s always helped. I’m still not big on flying, sure, but he was right: seeing the pilot’s face before the plane goes roaring down the runway does help.

And this is where the new story begins.

I know, I’m already 900 words into this post and I’m just now getting started? This is a long one, folks, but it’s worth it. Or at least I hope it is. If you get to the end and think it isn’t, hey, you’re not paying to read this so whatever.

On Saturday, October 22nd, KB and I flew out of LAX and headed to Chicago for our wedding a week later. My pre-flight ritual usually involves a drink or two, an anti-anxiety pill and (if I’m really bad) a sleeping pill once I’m on the plane. But I was all out of my meds and instead had to rely on just downing a beer before leaving the house.

Also, we fly a lot; at least four, five, sometimes six times a year. And I’d like to get better at flying over time and not have to rely on drugs and booze to get on a plane. Well, at least not the drugs. Who am I kidding? I’m still down with the booze.

As we made our way through security, KB and I had this conversation:

Shady: I’ve decided I’m not going to ask to meet the pilot today.

KB: What? Why? If it makes you feel better, do it.

Shady: I’ve been doing it on every flight for ten years, ever since Frank Oz told me to do it. But I want to get better and not have to rely on it.

KB: Alright. But if you feel you have to don’t stop yourself from doing it.

We got through security and made our way toward our gate. Stopping at the bar before boarding is a pretty common practice for us. Kathy usually doesn’t get anything, but a drink at the airport usually calms my nerves that much more. We walked up to the bar and found a huge line. I guess there are a shitload of people who don’t like to fly… or alcoholics just really like to depart at eight in the morning.

KB asked if I wanted to stop; I told her no, that we should just go to the gate. We walked over to the Virgin America wing and found it packed with people. On one side, people on our flight to Chicago waited around to board; on the other, people waited to board a nonstop flight to New York. For whatever reason, I opted to stand on the New York side.

KB headed off to grab some coffee. I set my bags down and began going through my flying ritual: putting on my hooded sweatshirt; pulling out my iPod and headphones; placing my good luck charms (a little travel ninja Bethany gave me, my Grandpa Shady’s old watch that doesn’t work anymore, and some coins my Grandpa Hi-Guy had given me) in my pockets; etc.

I was down on the ground going through my bag when I heard a man talking behind me. I looked to my right and noticed that he was speaking to a woman about her newborn child who was in a baby carrier at her feet. He asked if the baby was a boy or girl (it was a girl) and what her name was (I didn’t catch that part); he then told the mother that her child had a beautiful smile.

And the whole time this is going on behind me I found myself thinking: “That sounds like Fozzie.”

I stood up and spun around. The man’s back was to me, but my mind quickly added up all of the visuals: White Guy + Tall + Bald On Top With White Hair On The Sides + Glasses + Sounds Like Fozzie.

My mouth blurted it out before my mind even had a chance to catch up.

Shady: Frank?

Frank Oz, the Frank Oz, turned around and looked at me with the standard “Who the hell are you?” look on his face. I don’t recall accurately how I initially reacted, but I think it was something comparable to “holy fucking shit.”

Jim Henson and Frank Oz are responsible not only for the characters and television/films I grew up with as a kid, but they also had a huge hand in who I am today as a creative being and, more generally, as a man. Talking on the phone with Frank Oz ten years ago (naked or otherwise) was pretty damn cool. This was amazing.

Shady: I don’t know if you remember this or not, but I interviewed you ten years ago for a publication called “Tastes Like Chicken.”

He admitted that while he didn’t remember me personally, he did remember “Tastes Like Chicken,” mostly because it was hard to forget the name. What happened next will forever be burned into my brain.

What I was trying to say:

Shady: This is so crazy! I was just telling my girlfriend this morning about how you told me to always meet the pilot before takeoff.

What came out:

Shady: This is so crazy! I was just telling you this morning–

I caught my error, stopped, then tried to start over. That’s when he cut me off.

Frank Oz: I didn’t tell you a fucking thing.

I paused for a second that felt like a million years. I remember thinking: “Grover just said ‘fucking.’ To my face!” Nervous, I stood there silently, blankly, unclear of what to say next. Luckily Frank quickly leveled my anxiety.

Frank Oz: I’m just kidding with you.

He laughed. I laughed. He shook my hand. My insides shook.

Shady: What I was trying to say was that I was just telling my girlfriend this morning that ten years ago you told me to meet the pilot before takeoff, and I’ve done it for every flight ever since. But just this morning I decided that I’m no longer going to do it. I’m trying to get better.

Frank Oz: The way they make these planes nowadays there’s little to worry about. That, and I just try to keep in mind that the pilots also have a family that they’re trying to get home to.

Shady: You told me that ten years ago!

We made more small talk for a couple minutes and then, just before he walked through the door to board the plane, he turned to me.

Frank Oz: It was nice to finally meet you. Have a safe flight. You’ll be fine.

I turned away from the doorway with a huge smile on my face, looking down the long hallway for KB in the hopes that she caught some glimpse of it so as to validate the experience. KB was nowhere to be found… but John Slattery (Roger Sterling from “Mad Men”) was walking toward me.

There was no way in hell KB was never going to believe this already ridiculous story now.

Slattery walked onto the same plane as Oz, and I spun around again frantically looking for KB. She was still nowhere in sight, but Brett Gelman (“The Other Guys,” “30 Seconds or Less,” etc.) was now walking toward me.

I had interviewed Brett in July of last year for a piece in “Variety,” and we had traded a few emails back and forth for a short time after.

Shady: Brett?

Brett Gelman: Yeah?

Shady: I’m Justin Shady. I interviewed you last year for the “10 Comics to Watch” piece in “Variety.”

Brett Gelman: Oh, yeah! Hey, man, great to finally meet you. Are you on this plane to New York?

Shady: No, but I fucking wish I was because Frank Oz and Roger Sterling are on that flight!

Actually, I didn’t say that last bit. I told him no, that I was headed off to Chicago to get married. He congratulated me, then boarded what I’m assuming was one of the coolest goddamn flights ever taken across the country.

I turned and found KB walking toward me carrying a cup of coffee in each hand. She probably could have seen the grin on my face a mile away.

KB: What?

Shady: I’m very aware that you’re not going to believe any of this, but…

In the end, I didn’t ask to meet the pilot for the first time in more than a decade, and Frank Oz was right: I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine because, for some reason, one of the stewards decided to give me a free bottle of whiskey somewhere over the plains of Nebraska. Best flight ever, as far as I’m concerned.

I didn’t ask to meet the pilot on the return flight either. Like I said, I’m trying to get better.

And so, what began that early morning in my bedroom in Columbus, Ohio in February 2001 finally came full circle at LAX in Los Angeles, California in October 2011.

Luckily, I wasn’t naked this time.

…from this 1969 clip from the Iowa Public Television’s kids’ show “Volume See.”

Don’t hit me while I’m making eyes,

-Shady

…from “Sesame Street,” and it is a fun segment; but what’s really great about the skit is that the legendary Frank Oz plays the lead character, Mr. Draper.

What’s awesome about this is that it’s Frank’s first “Sesame Street” performance in nearly 15 years. Bert, Grover and Cookie Monster haven’t been the same since.

Check it out here:

Weird hearing a “Sesame Street” version of Rjd2’s opening song,

-Shady

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I first saw Jim Henson’s experimental art film “Time Piece” in 2001, during the first (and only) Muppet convention in Santa Monica. (MuppetFest was awesome, so shut it!)

Started as a personal project, Henson would go on to storyboard, write, direct and star in the film starting in the spring of 1964. It premiered in May 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art, and was even nominated for an Academy Award in the category of “Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects” in 1966.

Since 2001, I’ve tried to track down the film online. Finally, someone put it on YouTube. Awesome.

So here it is, Jim Henson’s “Time Piece” in all its jazzy glory. You can totally see how it would go on to influence some of the shorts from “Sesame Street” years later.

Be sure to keep an eye out for brief cameos from Frank Oz (with a full head of hair) as a messenger boy, Muppet designer Don Sahlin as a stand-up comic, and head Muppet writer Jerry Juhl as a bartender.

When you’re done, check out this short “behind the scenes” segment on the making of “Time Piece.”

Help,

-Shady

When I was younger, there were three people I gladly would’ve drowned a baby to be able to meet.

Those three people were (in order of “most awesome” to “third-most awesome”): Jim Henson, Paul Reubens and Hulk Hogan.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh. What do I care? Fact is, those three guys influenced my childhood more than anyone else (outside of my family, of course).

As I got older that list changed, mostly because Jim Henson died in 1990. (Of course, I met his son Brian and got to interview Frank Oz back in the day, both of which are pretty awesome consolation prizes.)

For awhile my list had two people on it, but over time Jim Henson would be replaced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I know, that’s a weird replacement, but I’ve been listening to Reznor for more than half my life now and have followed his career at every turn. As I’ve said before, I’m an insanely proud Nine Inch Nerd.

Still, I don’t think I even realized how huge of a dork I was for Reznor until just this past weekend.

Every Sunday night we cook a big dinner at our place for all of our friends, but this past Sunday we decided to cancel it and instead head out to two events.

The first was the monthly Channel 101 get-together, hosted by “Monster House” scribes Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon. They screened eleven five-minute video shorts, and then each person voted for their top five favorites. Some of them were hilarious; others weren’t.

But it was still an awesome start to a great night. I had an amazing Hawaiian burger and two Stellas in my gut by the time we left, so life was most definitely good.

The last video rolled, we voted, and then headed out the door to our second and final stop of the evening: a Mexican restaurant on Sunset Boulevard called Malo. We had eaten there before a few months earlier on a Monday when they offer up $1 tacos! Awesome.

But our reason for visiting that night wasn’t cheap Mexican food. Every Sunday night, Malo features a trivia night that is hosted by Har Mar Superstar (also known as Sean Tillman).

If you’re not familiar with Har Mar, here’s a video for his song “D.U.I.”:

So, as you can probably tell, the night was already shaping up to be an interesting one.

We got to Malo a little early and headed upstairs to the lounge. To my surprise, the room was already crowded with people. I tried to enter but a woman walked in front of me and said, “This is a private party.”

Fair enough.

I headed back downstairs to the bar, but just before I did I saw a guy out of the corner of my eye. I thought to myself, “That guy looks like he could be in Nine Inch Nails.”

Let me be clear, I didn’t think he actually was in Nine Inch Nails, but he was dressed in such a way that being a member of Nails wouldn’t have been a stretch.

I got down to the bar just as Har Mar was walking in; I walked up to him.

Justin: “Man, I’m glad you’re here. I thought we were in the wrong place for a minute.”

Har Mar: “No, you’re in the right spot. They’re just wrapping up a private party up there. They’re having a birthday party for someone from Nine Inch Nails.”

Justin: “Oh, cool.”

Justin’s Brain: “WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY? FOR WHO? FOR WHAT?”

Har Mar: “Yeah, they’re cool guys. Trent is even up there.”

Justin: “Wow.”

Justin’s Brain: “ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME, HAR MAR? BECAUSE IF YOU ARE, YOU’RE IN FOR A WORLD OF SUFFERING!”

And then it happened: The scene in a movie where the person’s brain finally catches up with his or her surroundings. Like, “Didn’t you know? This is a gay bar.” And then he looks around and sees guys making out with guys, girls making out with girls, etc. It was that exact scene, but instead of gay guys and lesbians I looked around and saw Nine Inch Nails.

Christ, there was Robin Finck just standing there staring back at me. Holy balls.

Har Mar ran upstairs and I grabbed my girlfriend’s arms violently.

Justin: “Did you hear what he said?!?”

She was excited for me, much like parents get excited for their kids when they see Santa at the mall. It’s not a big deal to them, but they’re happy you’re so retarded over it.

Trent Reznor is my shopping mall Santa Claus.

But I digress….

I ran to the car because, for some reason, I had brought my camera but had left it in the trunk. I ran back faster than I’ve ever run before.

This isn’t a joke because, as my friend Kevin can attest, I don’t run. Ever. For anything. I think running is just some fucked-up, bullshit version of walking and I refuse to do it.

Except that night. That night was run-worthy.

I got back inside, handed the camera to Kathy, and headed back upstairs to the lounge. I wanted to see if I could tell what he was wearing so I could keep an eye out for him when he eventually left.

I turned a corner up the stairs and stopped dead in my tracks. Standing at the top of the stairs, heading right down toward me, was Trent.

I spun around and ran back down the stairs, grabbed the camera, turned it on, handed it to Kathy, and whispered, “He’s coming.” I was excited. Kathy was embarassed. I didn’t care.

Trent was five stairs away. Four. Three.

This was it. I either had to say something now or forget the whole thing.

Justin: “Trent, um… I don’t mean to be rude but… could I get in a picture with you quick?”

Trent: “Sure.”

Trent’s Brain: “Leave me alone, you creepy bald man. I’m full of tacos and want to go home.”

Justin’s Brain: “He smells good; great cologne.”

Justin: “Maybe that’s just his natural scent.”

Trent: “What?”

Justin’s Brain: “You said that outloud! Shut up! Get your picture and get the fuck out of there!”

So we both stopped, turned, and:

Trent Reznor and Justin Shady at Malo

Just before that shot was taken, I put my arm on his back. I don’t know why I did that because I never would just do that to a stranger. I remember thinking, “I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t touch his back. That’s creepy. He probably doesn’t like this. Should I take my arm away? And if so, would that then be weird?”

I was shaking worse than Katherine Hepburn on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

Kathy suggested we take another shot. Trent said, “Get my good side this time,” and turned his back to the camera. I giggled like a school girl on a playground who had just heard the funniest joke ever from the dreamiest boy ever.

Once again, we stopped, turned, and:

Trent Reznor and Justin Shady at Malo

Once again, I must be clear here: I have no clue what I’m actually doing in this photo. I admit that I like to pose awkwardly in photos because I think it’s funny, but this is just weird.

First, I’m pointing. At what, I have no idea. But I felt the need to point at something. Second, I’m looking at him out of the corner of my eye, almost as if I’m afraid he’ll run away if I turn my head. Or, like a ghost, that he’ll dissolve into nothingness if I look elsewhere. And I look fat and creepy from the Hawaiian burger and Stellas I had downed at the previous stop.

Still, he stuck around for a few seconds. I told him I was looking forward to his upcoming tour with Jane’s Addiction. He said he was, too. I babbled something else I can’t remember. He smiled and nodded and humored me. And then, he left.

So intercoursing cool.

You see, I’m not typically like this with celebrities. I’ve met a fair amount of them over the years, even have a few friends who are fairly famous, and I don’t geek out like that ever. I used to when I was younger, but it’s been a long, long time since I had that little control over my own mind and body.

It was weird, man. Very weird.

We headed upstairs and started trivia night with Har Mar. As if all of this weren’t already enough to write about, the night got even weirder.

We were two questions away from ending our trivia time with Har Mar when two girls walked in.

Girl #1: “Can we play?”

Har Mar: “There are only two questions left, but sure.”

The girls had friends who were already playing, so they just joined their team. It was at this point that our friend Karen leaned over and said, “That’s Kirsten Dunst.”

I turned, looked, and sure enough: Kirsten Dunst had crashed trivia night with Har Mar Superstar. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: L.A. is a fucking weird town.

We all left Kirsten alone, but I have to admit that I thought about approaching her. I had it all planned out in my head. I would walk over to her with my camera in my hand and say:

Justin: “Excuse me, Kirsten?”

Kirsten: “Yes?”

Justin: “Hey, I don’t mean to interrupt or anything, but–“

Kirsten: “Oh, you want a photo with me? Sure!”

Justin: “That’s nice of you, but no. I just wanted to show you this picture of me and Trent Reznor.”

Guess I’ll leave that one for when I finally meet Paul Reubens.

Death, you can take me now,

-Shady

Old Poop!