Thursday, August 09, 2007

What I've Learned from the Muppets: The Original Couch Gag

Every episode of "The Simpsons" begins with what the fans refer to as "The Couch Gag." It comes at the end of the opening credits. The Simpson family members all run to the couch to sit in front of the TV. Over the course of the last 18 years, various bizarre things have happened as they reach the couch...everything from the couch eating them to being squashed by the Monty Python foot. I have seen many episodes of "The Simpsons" over and over again, but I always make sure to pay close attention to the couch gag. We're used to the opening credits of a show always being the same. I'll be a lot of TV viewers usually tune out the credits. But not Simpsons fans. There's a sense of anticipation about what will happen this time.

This past Tuesday, the DVD set for "The Simpsons Season 10" was released. On the same day, after two years of waiting, "The Muppet Show Season 2" also arrived on DVD. As I added both of these volumes to my collection, I realized that originators of the couch gag, at least in my frame of reference, were the Muppets.

From season 2 on, each episode of "The Muppet Show" featured Gonzo blowing a trumpet at the end of the credits, and getting different results each time. I remember being a kid and wondering what would happen to Gonzo this week, much like I find myself wondering about the Simpsons and their couch.

I think Gonzo's trumpet mishaps are part of what helped shape how I approach my own puppet programs. Variety is the key. People respond better when something new and unexpected is put in front of them. When people think they know what is going to happen, they tune out.

The same is true of kids. Experts say kids respond well to routine. Yes that's true, but the opening of "The Muppet Show" demonstrates how you can have routine (here come the credits again) but make it new and exciting each time (what's going to happen to Gonzo next?).

A lot of times in children's church we have the same elements each week. That's fine, but it's good to find ways to do something unexpected. Instead of just having a puppet read this week's memory verse, perhaps he could recite it while standing on his head, or tap dancing, or walking on a bed of flaming hot coals. When the audience is wondering what will happen next they will be more involved in your presentation.


Tannerman said...

The end of "The Mickey Mouse Club" intros from the 1950s also had a similar concept... at the end of the intro music, Donald Duck always tried to bang the gong, but something different happened each time.

Squonk said...

Ah yes, forgot about the MMC! Of course, one thing I didn't mention about "The Muppet Show" was that they had multiple "couch gags." Staler & Waldorf had a different segment in each opening credit sequence, as well as a different comment at the end of each episode. Which in a way, I think was working to hook the audience to come back next week.