Depending on where you fall on the cute-to-crass spectrum of kids entertainment icons, Sesame Street‘s Elmo is either the adorable embodiment of a self-possessed, determined, and utterly clueless toddler or the abominable embodiment of … a self-possessed, determined, and utterly clueless toddler. A new rant over on the gaming site Kotaku probably won’t change your opinion either way, but it does provide some great trivia — and interesting insights into how Sesame Street character development works — on the Muppet you either love or love to hate.
Elmo was originally called “Baby Monster” and has been around since the 70s but spent more than 10 years being kicked from puppeteer to puppeteer. The ways things work on Sesame Street, characters go through this process until someone keys in on a distinct persona for each. For example, Big Bird is the personification of the role model, Cookie Monster is the secretly insightful one, and Oscar represents people who have less than you. No one could figure out who the hell Baby Monster was supposed to be until 1984, when it landed on the hand of Kevin Clash, who decided to have the Muppet stop trying to be helpful to toddlers and instead personify … a toddler.
The decision to create a character who the show’s audience immediately identified with while also providing the perfect foil for the other characters to dispense their lessons or wisdom upon. If his presence also made the show more shrill, annoying, and less watchable for adults, their kids didn’t seem to care. And neither does Elmo himself, who gets the last laugh every year when he tops the list of most popular holiday toys.