Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pheaturing Noel MacNeal From "The Great Space Coaster"

Get on board, step inside, soarin' on a magic ride. Roarin' towards the other side where only rainbows hide. LOL. I love that song. Welcome to the Phile, kids, where it's still "The Great Space Coaster" Month, at least for one more week.  Before we start with the comedy and the news, who is watching the NCAA March Madness games? I know nothing about college basketball and probably could name just a few teams at the top of my head. I had a few people asking me about my bracket, and I am here to say... bracket brackets bracket bracket my bracket how about your bracket? Bracket bracketing brackets on bracket bracket bracket Barack. There's a team called Gonzaga who I have never heard of before. It sounds like a cheese. Anyway, apparently they were the number one seed or something. Well, they lost yesterday. Gonzaga says they will spend their offseason reviewing tape and working on their lack of black guys. Maybe I should invite Phile phriend and regular Jeff to the Phile to ask him about March Madness. Moving on...  A 28-year-old woman from Serbia has a rare brain condition where she sees everything upside down. The good news? She's now been given a job at the White House as President Obama's economic adviser.  The U.S. Senate is now fighting to keep open the Senate barber shop. It loses $350,000 a year. Do you know what that makes it? The most successful government program ever. It’s losing only $350,000 a year.  The island nation of Cyprus is now considering a 10 percent tax on every individual savings account in that country. They'll take 10 percent of your money right out of the bank. To which President Obama said: "You can do that?"  Well, it seems the new Pope is doing a good job. The Pope is urging compassion for those less fortunate. Of course, that means the poor, the indigent, and the oppressed. And also Carnival cruise passengers.  Have you seen the new show "Bates Motel"?  It was very suspenseful. The whole time watching it I was thinking, "Will that guy get stabbed? Will he survive to see the next week?" I'm sorry, that's while I was watching "The Tonight Show." I have a problem with "Bates Motel." It's set in the present day. I don't like that. I don't want to see Norman Bates texting, "OMG, mom just stabbed somebody."  Justin Bieber says he's growing a mustache. He's going to post the finished result on Twitter, assuming Twitter still exists in the year 2050.  It's Spring, kids, although you would not know it if you live in New England or wherever heavy snow is falling again. Do you remember that groundhog that said we'd have an early winter and early spring? We should eat him. Someone has to pay for this. It is so windy here in Central Florida right  now. We have a palm tree right outside the window that keeps swinging and hitting it. It's very distracting and annoying. Here, take a look.

I'm trying to do a blog here, you stupid tree. Where was I? Og, yeah, spring. For many colleges, this is spring break. College kids will go to places like South Beach to make mistakes they will cherish for a lifetime. Spring break is an important American tradition. It's how we grow a new crop of MTV teen moms.  Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced that he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Or as illegal immigrants put it, "Who do you think is going to build that path?"  Kate Middleton revealed that she wants to have a boy, but Prince William is hoping for a girl. However, they both agree that no matter what gender it is, its nanny will love it just the same.  Burger King is now offering a turkey burger on its menu. Or as horses put it, "Nope, still us." I love me some turkey burger. LOL.  Yesterday on the Phile I mentioned that a certain Prince of Darkness on the show looked an awful lot like a certain commander in chief on the History Channel's new series "The Bible". Well, I received some emails from readers who didn't believe me. It''s true. I went back to look at the episode and didn't know that Obama was standing right next to Satan. Take a look!

Have you guys been to Disney World recently? I am so excited, I need to go and ride this. This is not a joke.
It's an Iron Man themed monorail. How freakin' cool! Had to share that.  So, today's pheatured guest, Noel MacNeal, played Knock Knock on "The Great Space Coaster". He was actually the second person to play Knock Knock as John Lovelady left to work on another show. Anyway, in yesterday's entry I showed you a Gary Gnu plush that is going for around 200 dollars on eBay. Well, I thought I would see if there's any Knock Knock merch on eBay and this is what I found.

That's a little bit less. I have no idea why it says Pink Flamingo Ballet. It's Knock Knock for crying out loud. I still don't think I should bid on it. My wife wouldn't understand. Anyway, I also found this on eBay.

That's kinda creepy. And a little pricey. I can't get over the pink flamingo... it's a bloody woodpecker. Stupid eBay seller. Alright, now from the home office in Coasterville, here is...

Top Phive Pitfalls Of Taking Kate Upton To Your Prom
5. It hurts when your classmates nominate you "Most Likey to Never Come This Close to Such a Hot Girl Ever Again in Your Entire Miserable Life. Ever."
4. It's surprisingly tough to pin a corsage onto a bikini top.
3. The unusually sweaty dad takes 1,500 pre-prom pictures.
2. She's pretty dumb, so, you know, there's bound to be some lulls in the conversation.
And the number one pitfall of taking Kate Upton to your prom is...
1. Everyone just automatically assumes it's a "Make a Wish Foundation" thing.

I love La Linea. Okay, so, you guys read comics like I do? I like to invite my good friend Jim Mello who not only is an expert on comics, but works at Coliseum of Comics in Orlando. That's a comic book store by the way. Anyway, here he is. Please welcome to the Phile once again... Jim Mello, in a pheature we call...

Hello, I, Jim Mello, being of sound mind and body and general awesomeness and a willingness to stay up fairly late to read some sexy comic books. In the minutes to come there will be spoilers.
Constantine #1 
"Hellblazer" fans have had a little time to decide if they want to make the jump over to the DCU version of their, probable, favorite comics character with his appearances in what feels like everything these days. The book follows John as a kidnaps a supernaturally sensitive young man named Chris to help him find a compass that leads a person to magical artifacts and happenings in the area around it. Chris is murdered by a wayward sorcerer looking for the compass as well as the series tries to play it as close as it can to its precursor by killing someone close and/or working with John. It was... ehh, I don't know. I enjoyed many a Hellblazer arc over the years, but this book seems to lose whatever special flare the best arcs of that series did to what seems like standard superhero fare with a magic twist. Granted, it's just the first issue, and who knows what'll happen. I'm just not sure I want to stay on to see.
Judge Dredd: Year One #1
Dredd, fresh out of training but pretty much the same Dredd we know, investigates a serious of telekinetic related incidents/murders caused by children in during his first year as a Judge. All the physical elements of Dredd are hear: the lawgiver, the motorcycle, Mega-City One... but the nuances and social commentary of the character are gone. Besides that, Dredd really isn't a character that evolves, and to my understanding the point of a "Year One" type storyline is to explore the growth of a character into what he/she is suppose to become. Well, Dredd really doesn't do "growing" well, so the concept is sort of lost on him. If he was anything other than a black and white motorcycle riding cop that dispenses justice in the form of ultra-violence... he wouldn't be Dredd. Dredd is the ultimate Byronic hero. He came out of the womb holding a lawgiver and wearing a helmet. Otherwise, it is nice to have something to point to when people ask where to start on a the Judge.
Nightwing #18
A "Requiem" tie-in! This one delves in a little to Grayson's feelings over the death of Damian, with a few touching reflective moments and a run in with Batman that seems a little colder than usual. Plus... the return of the infamous Dealer villain from Snyder's Detective run and Tony Zucco... the man who killed Grayson's family. Overall this was a solid tie-in, and gives the Damian mourning reader something extra to read.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #18 
A "Requiem" tie-in! After the events of last issue, Jason is in and out of consciousness... in his dreams he is chased relentlessly by the Joker and waking he has time to wax nostalgic about his times as Robin growing up. Not much about Damian here, minus a somber looking Bruce watching over Jason. Unfortunately, this isn't much of a "Requiem" tie-in.
Star Wars Legacy #1
First question... Who signs Gabriel Hardman to a book and then slaps a crappy cover over his interiors? The world has turned upside down! It's suppose to be the other way! Anyway... Hundreds of years after Han lost his balls in Return of the Jedi, his granddaughter Ania Solo finds the lightsaber of a kidnapped Imperial Knight (they're Jedi, basically), and is set on a course for intergalactic intrigue with her Mon Calamarian friend. This was actually quite the fun little Star Wars romp and coupled with Hardman's fantastic visuals, I say the expanded universe has another comic hit on their hands. Don't let the cover deter them! If people are liking the Wood Star Wars stuff than they'll probably get a kick out of this even without the classic characters.
X-Termination #1
If you are a fan of "Astonishing X-Men" or "X-Treme X-Men", then this book is probably awesome, but for the rest of us not reading the higher tier "I'm really into the X-Men" stuff, it may be a little harder to follow. Spinning out of the events of Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" run... the AXM are after AOA Nightcrawler for his part in Wolverine's murder of Daken. Nightcrawler is hanging out with Dark Best trying to figure out a way back to AOA universe, when scientific Celestial hijinks ensue and the teams are brought together to patch up a cross-dimesnional quandary! This wasn't bad at all and the art was definitely serviceable, but being a big X fan already really helps. Alright, that is it... have a good day.

This is so cool. Today's pheatured guest is a puppeteer, writer, and director of children's television, best known as the voice and puppeteer of Bear in "Bear in the Big Blue House", but "The Great Space Coaster" fans will know him as the second puppeteer to play Knock Knock. He is also the author of "10-Minute Puppets", the 24th book to be pheatured in The Peverett Phile Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile... Noel MacNeal!

Me: Hello, welcome to the Peverett Phile, Noel, it's such a pleasure to have you here. How are you? 

Noel: I’m good. Thanks for having me here.

Me: Okay, it's "The Great Space Coaster" Month and your book "10-Minute Puppets" is in the Peverett Phile Book Club, but first I have to talk about something important... you were BEAR! Oh. My. God. You don't understand, Noel, Bear was around when my son was born (he is now 13) and his room was done with Bear decor. Bear was a big thing back then. I have a picture of you and Bear I have to show.

Me: So, how many pieces of "Bear In the Big Blue House" memorabilia do you have?

Noel: I actually have two pieces from the “house.” The bear table that was in the bathroom and the “bust’ that was on the bookshelf in the living room. In fact, when I saw it on our first day of taping, I wrote “Property of Noel MacNeal” on the bottom. And on the last day, when we wrapped I walked over the shelf, stuck it under my arm and walked off the set.

Me: Nice. Where did Bear go, Noel? Do you think he'll ever come back?

Noel: Well, Bear is still at the Big Blue House and always will be. As for doing new episodes or spin off versions (such as the one I did in 2005 called “Breakfast With Bear”) then the answer is no. It’s done.

Me: That's sad. Did you ever see the Bear stage show at Disney's Hollywood Studios?

Noel: I helped train the Bear puppeteers for it and myself and the rest of the cast (Peter Linz, Vicki Eibner, and Tyler Bunch) got to come see the grand opening at the then Disney-MGM Studios.

Me: So, how was it playing that great character, Noel, and how did you get to be the one to play him? Was it your voice?

Noel: It was to date, the best thing I’ve done professionally. I loved playing Bear especially when he got to appear in the real world (on shows like "Hollywood Squares") and at children’s hospitals. And it was my voice. When I got called to audition for it, it was after I went to Henson to try out for another character for a game show pilot. Then I got a call around 4:00 PM asking to come back to try out for this bear character. He faxed me the lines and the drawing and I looked them over in the cab. When I walked in I was immediately told to use my own voice. Bear was designed to be a show kids and adults would watch together so a simple reassuring voice (unlike Barney’s) was needed. So I got in the prototype, just a foam body and the mock-up foam head and instantly thought how fun this would be. Then I realized it was 5:00 PM, it’s a courtesy call, probably picked the guy. So I thought “What the heck? I’m gonna have fun while I can.” So when the script read that Bear sniffs the camera, I had Bear run up stare into the lens and jammed the nose all the way in. That seemed to work.

Me: Was he a hard character to play?

Noel: Not at all. He was a pleasure. First of all, he was built by the artists of The Jim Henson Workshop here in NYC. And I say artists cause that’s what they are. He was designed from a sketch by Paul Andreco (who’s shop Puppet Heap now has Bear and also takes care of the Muppets). Whenever they asked if I could come in for a fitting during the week I said “I can be there in 20 minutes.” I knew Bear and I would be spending a lot of time together so I wanted to make sure it would be as comfortable as possible. It was also easy do to my preference to body puppets. I’d been every Snuffle-upa-relative on "Sesame Street", Big Bird’s double in the first Sesame movie, Follow That Bird, and then Magellan the Dragon on Nickelodeon’s "Eureeka’s Castle". So as I told Carroll Spinney (Big Bird’s puppeteer) “I’m using every trick you ever taught me.”

Me: You have kids, right, Noel, do they know you were Bear?

Noel: I have one, a son. Currently 7 ½ (going on 42). He figured out I was a puppeteer and what that meant when he and my wife came with me to Jackson, Miss., for the final season of the PBS series "Between the Lions". I got to do the character, Lionel, and Mattie saw this on set. I explained that puppeteers “help” characters move and talk. After that he started asking “who helps Kermit” (my friend Steve), “who helps Grover” (my friend Eric), etc. Then when he was four, he finally asked, “Daddy? Who helps Bear?” I said, “Do you really want to know?” “Yes.” “Okay... me.” He gave me this look and I responded, “Haven’t you ever noticed how my voice and Bear’s voice kinda sound the same?” He then closed his eyes, thought, and then, eyes still closed replied, “Oh yeah!’

Me: All right, I can ask you a million questions about that one show. Maybe one year I'll do a "Bear In the Big Blue House" Month. Noel, where are you from?

Noel: I am a native New Yorker. Born and raised in Central Harlem.

Me: When you were a child, did you want to be a puppeteer?

Noel: That was one of the things I wanted to do, but it did not happen. I had a crap load of puppets, but didn't know where to start. I loved puppets as a kid. I watched "Captain Kangaroo", Shari Lewis, Burr Tilstrom. But then, on Sunday evening, I watched this half-hour show hosted by these two puppets named Ernie & Bert, and they spoke of this new show coming on tomorrow morning called "Sesame Street". After that, I fell in love with the Muppets. Then during high school was "The Muppet Show". That was it. I thought “if this guy Jim Henson can make a living and help make one for all those people with him,” maybe I could too. So I did my college research the old fashion way; the library (which is great; libraries are like Barnes & Noble, but FREE). I located two colleges that offered puppetry: Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the University of Conn, in Storrs. I had all the info ready. Now time to pitch to my mom. My mom raised me and took care of her mom and uncle who lived with us. She was a single mom (after my father walked out on us when I was 18 months old; but that’s another story). So I told her the two choices I had. “Okay,” she said, “What do we have to do?” I told her the requirements. “Okay, what do we have to do?” I told her the deadlines. “Okay, what do we have to do?” That’s all she kept saying. It’s because she always told me “Don’t get a job, get a career.” And I did.

Me: Did you go to a performance school or take lessons?

Noel: I took singing lessons in my twenties. And my first job after college was being the wrangler (the person who preps the puppets for camera) on "Sesame Street". So I studied and watched Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, and Richard Hunt.

Me: All right, you grew up watching the Muppets and "Sesame Street", Noel. When did you first start to work for Jim Henson?

Noel: I first started on "Sesame" in September of 1982. After being the wrangler on "Sesame", I started to get background parts on the show. Then I was given the part of Madame Chairbird for the Sesame movie Follow That Bird. Then I worked on all kinds of Henson projects such as "The Muppet Meeting Films" (for companies to rent for their meetings) and the pitch pilot for "The Jim Henson Hour", to name two.

Me: What was it like meeting Jim for the first time? I got to meet him once, Noel, I told this story before here on the Phile but I'll tell it to you again... it was when the Muppets were making the special "The Muppets Go To Walt Disney World" and I was in custodial at Epcot. They were filming a scene with Gonzo and Camilla and I was hanging out nearby when Henson himself walked down the hill and asked me if I would move a trash can to the top of the hill. I of course did, they filmed the scene with Gonzo looking in the trash can, and then he said, "You could put it back now. Thanks, Jason" That's the highlight of my 25 year Disney career.

Noel: All I remember is when I shook Jim’s hand, I felt this, corny as it sounds, warmth thru my body. I kept it cool with “nice to meet you” while inside my head I’m screaming “OH MY GOD IT’S JIM HENSON!!!”

Me: Do you remember what the first Muppet character you performed?

Noel: It was on "Sesame Street". Grover was in line at the supermarket, I believe explaining “first” and “last.” I was the check out clerk. Grover finally comes to me and I’m suppose to say “Sorry, sir. This register is closed. There’s another register over there. Thank you.” Instead, I flubbed it with an added “f$&@#!” thrown in. So, the edit ended up with my line as a close-up and finishing out the scene from there.

Me: You worked on a ton of projects, but not just for Henson... you worked on a show I know nothing about, "Eureka's Castle" which you mentioned. Was that for Nickelodeon?

Noel: Yes, it was. It was produced from the profit they made from the series “Double Dare.” It was their first stab at original little kid programming to replace the long-running "Pinwheel" series that was from Canada. The show took place in a castle that was really the music box of a giant. Eurrreka (played by Cheryl Blalock) was a wizard in training (long before Harry Potter) and her friends were (my character) Magellan, a young dragon (a puppet ala Big Bird style), the Moat Twins named Bogg & Quagmire (played by Brian Meehl and Pam Arciero), Mr. Knack the peddler (Brian Meehl), Batly the bat (Jim Kroupa, whose shop at the time, Three Design Studios, built the puppets). Other characters were the Mice and Cooey, Magellan’s pet (played by Lynn Hipen).

Me: How is it working for different studios, Noel? Is it the same thing really as working on a Henson project, "TGSC" or "Eureka's Castle"?

Noel: Everyone is different. Over the years, I’ve learned the saying “my house, my rules” applies to every production and company. "Sesame" set the standard for fun, visual use of puppets. Shows like "Eureeka" and "The Puzzle Place" had to be taught; producers think “it would be fun if it were puppets” but don’t really know what that means having never worked with them. Luckily they had us. 

Me: Is there a show you worked on that you wish you didn't?

Noel: Everyone has a project, or two, they wish they hadn’t, even the best actors such as recent Oscar nominee Ben Affleck apologizing for Daredevil.

Me: So, you played hand puppets and full body puppets, Noel. I asked Jim Martin this question, what do you prefer and what is harder to do? I am guessing the full body one as you have to use your whole body.

Noel: I love the full body ones and for me they aren’t hard. Each has its challenges but I love doing them the most. I just finished a run as an Australavidicor in "Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo" at The New Victory Theater. Scott Wright’s company, Erth, made it and the other amazing dino puppets for the show.

Me: Alright, it's "TGSC" Month here on the Phile, so we better talk about it. Did you have a good time working on that show?

Noel: I did. It was my first “big break.” My first character, and it shows. But everyone was wonderful. We shot it at the old Ed Sullivan Theater well before Dave Letterman moved in. It was cool to think that I was on the same stage that The Beatles appeared on.

Me: What was it like working with the other Jim, Noel? Was he similar to work with than Henson? 

Noel: That was the first time I worked with Jim. He was funny, talented, dedicated and still is. When I was on the one season, Jim had broke his leg, so they had to cut a hole at the bottom of Gary’s desk for his leg to stick thru. But he was still able to bring all the “gnus.”

Me: You came into "TGSC" the last few years of the show, taking over Knock Knock from John Lovelady. Did John pick you for that role?

Noel: No. John had left to be the star puppeteer of the prime time NBC series, "Mr. Smith", about a talking orangutan elected to congress. The producers remembered me when I filled in for Jim at an appearance as Gary so they asked me in to read for Knock Knock.

Me: The character was established already, so how did you go around to learn the voice and characteristics of the puppet?

Noel: I watched the show. I always had. Remember? I loved watching puppet shows. Being an adult didn’t stop me. Also, as a Marx Brothers fan, Knock Knock had a Margret Dumont quality. An older society lady/grand dame.

Me: So, do you have a favorite Knock Knock joke?

Noel: Knock knock!

Me: Who’s there?

Noel: Hannah!

Me: Hannah who?

Noel: Hannah partridge in a pear tree!

Me: I don't get it. Just kidding. I am guessing you didn't have to audition for Knock Knock, right?

Noel: I read for it. They liked that I could do the voice, or come close to it in spirit.

Me: So, did you hear about Jim Martin's preservation campaign to preserve "TGSC"?

Noel: I did. It’s wonderful. So many parents of kids now remember it.

Me: Okay, we have to talk about your book... "10-Minute Puppets". It's not about learning to do puppetry, but to make puppets, right?

Noel: Actually it’s both. I show how easy and quick puppet making can be with added “if you’ve got more time” cause parents rarely do but if so, for added features. I also briefly explan lip-sync, show various easy stage set ups you can put together, and even what shows you can do, for example a song is a performance.

Me: How did you get the idea to write this book?

Noel: It was my wife’s, author Susan Elia MacNeal, idea. She said, “You know how to be a dad and you know how to be a puppeteer. Why not put them together and show people how easy and fun the magic of puppetry can be for a family. But,” she added, “Don’t make it ‘crafty.’ Make it for people like me. You’re not married to Martha Stewart.”

Me: I used to make puppets out of brown paper lunch when I was a kid. You get more complex in the book, Noel. My book would be "1-Minute Puppets". Anyway, does your son make puppets?

Noel: My son had made puppets. That’s why I insisted to the publisher, Workman, that kids and I were needed throughout the book actually playing with the puppets and not left out or to the end with them standing stock still and just holding them.

Me: How long did it take to write the book?

Noel: Nine months.

Me: I was at Michael's recently and I saw it there. I almost bought it to send it to you, so you can sign it, and send it back, but that would be too much hassle for you. How long has the book been out and what has the feedback like?

Noel: First, no hassle. My pleasure. Second, it came out in October of 2010 and the feedback has been 100% positive. Get fan emails, pix on the book’s Facebook page, and reviews from teachers and, even, grand-parents has all been “we love it!” Whew.

Me: So, what projects are you working on now?

Noel: I’m finishing up my second book, “BOX!” about what you can create with boxes and other containers. Globe Pequot is the publisher and it comes out later this year. I also started my own company, MacNeal Entertainment, Inc. The first project was the Halloween show I created for the Bronx Zoo’s Boo-at-the-Zoo celebration last year. I’m seeking to take it else where, for there is a non-Halloween version of it, as well as create a new family show, that will be up and running at Christmas time.

Me: Thanks so much for being here on the Phile, and I hope you'll come back again soon. Go ahead and tell readers where they can get the book, and your website and everything. Take care and all the best, Noel. I hope this was fun, was it?

Noel: Thank you for having me. It was fun! Now for the shameless plug. For more info about me and my book "10-Minute Puppets" go to:, Cheers, y’all!

Me: Thanks, Noel, and please come back.

That was great! I never thought I would interview the guy who played Bear! Bear is one of my favorite Henson characters ever. It's a shame he won't come back. And I was serious of making a month "Bear In the Big Blue House" Month. Hmmmm. Anyway, thanks to my guests Jim Mello and of course Noel MacNeal, and I can't forget to thank Tanslin Media. The Phile will be back tomorrow with parody songwriter The Fresh Topping, and then next Saturday with Gary Gnu. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Strawberry Blondes Forever!

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