Watch John Mulaney Recall Sharing a Dark Moment with Ernie from ‘Sesame Street’ at IndieWire Honors

When John Mulaney accepted the Innovation Award at IndieWire Honors for his six-part Netflix talk show “Everybody’s in L.A.,” he opted to pay tribute to one of the great television innovators of the 20th century: Jim Henson. (Watch the video above)

Mulaney made it clear that his admiration for “Sesame Street” is genuine, and that he sees Jim Henson as an example of the kind of innovation that’s possible when you never allow success to limit your creativity.

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“There’s two great variety shows of our time: ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Sesame Street,'” Mulaney said. “And Jim Henson was so rewarded by ‘Sesame Street’ that he immediately felt like he was being boxed in, and he wanted to do so many other things. And I think a lot of us lucky enough to have success feel that itch.”

Mulaney went on to delight the audience with a recollection of one of his own encounters with Henson’s creations during a low point in his life.

“In terms of television innovation, I have a great story,” he said. “In 2020, I had a long nervous breakdown and I was having trouble with the substances. And I went on what was called ‘The Not Too Late Show with Elmo,’ which was a talk show hosted by Elmo from Sesame Street. I want to be very clear, since the media’s here: I was not on drugs while I was on ‘The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.’ But I had recently been on drugs. And I hadn’t slept since being on those drugs.”

The comedian explained that while his segment on the show was with Elmo, he was most excited to introduce himself to a fully operational Ernie puppet backstage.

“Ernie was a big influence on me, for real,” he said. “Because I like how he took nothing seriously, and Bert was a fucking prick. And Ernie was always silly, and that meant a lot to me as a kid.”

Mulaney recalled that meeting one of his all-time favorite characters prompted him to open up about some of his personal struggles in a way that he might not have done with a human.

“I go up to Ernie, and said ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ And I started telling him how much he meant to me, how I think of life as this grand joke, and he embodied that for me,” Mulaney said. “I’m telling Ernie and I go ‘I’m going through a rough time for myself, and you’re still a North Star to me in terms of humor.'”

But the comic’s sentimental moment with his favorite Muppet was cut short when Ernie turned his head and looked away, as if he was looking for an excuse to get out of the conversation. Mulaney joked that he’s still not sure if it was Ernie “or the guy,” but said that he sees the incident as the kind of TV accomplishment that nobody else will ever be able to match.

“Anyway, I’m really unloading on Ernie. And at one point the muppet looked off for help,” he said to roaring laughter. “So to me, when I think of innovation in television, I think I might be the first person to ever make a Muppet go ‘Someone want to help me out here?'”

Watch the video of the speech above.

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