Since debuting on Sesame Street in 1985, Elmo has mesmerized millions of children, and met a host of celebrities and influential figures — including Beyoncé, Julia Roberts, Robert De Niro, and Oprah. However, few people are familiar with the man behind the puppet, Kevin Clash.
Clash is now the subject of the new documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which is currently playing in select theaters. The film has already garnered critical acclaim and awards, including the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize.
The 6 foot tall puppet master was recently featured on ABC’s Nightline where he candidly discussed his life as Elmo’s alter ego.
The 51-year-old voice-over actor revealed how his obsession with puppets began.
His mother taught him how to use a Singer sewing machine at the age of 9 during his childhood in Baltimore. Clash ended up making 80 puppets throughout his early teen years. Kids used to tease him in school, but eventually the taunting went away as he became famous.
”’You sleep with your puppets, you play with dolls,’ you know,” Clash said of being teased as a kid. “Then I did my first local television show and everybody thought ‘that’s cool’ so that went away.”
Clash joined the cast of Sesame Street at the age of 24, and stumbled upon a furry red doll named “baby monster” in the studio one day. The character was initially voiced by an actor with a “caveman grunt,” and ultimately never became a fan favorite. But when Clash gave the puppet a high pitched raspy voice coupled with an affectionate personality and Elmo became an overnight success.
Clash says that when he appears in public voicing Elmo, children do not freak out when they realize that he is in fact a middle-aged black man. “They don’t look at me, most of the time they don’t.”
The puppeteer openly admits that he a big kid and says that he has a “Peter Pan syndrome.”
To this day, Clash is the keeper of the legacy that the Muppet creator Jim Henson brought to Sesame Street. Henson took Clash under his wing when he began working on Sesame Street in the mid-1980s. And today clash serves as Sesame Street’s creative director as well as a mentor to the next generation of puppeteers.
WATCH KEVIN CLASH’S INTERVIEW ON ABC’S ‘NIGHTLINE’ HERE