Md.-born Kermit Hops From Sesame St. To Oxford

October 29, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

OXFORD, England -- Kermit the Frog cracked the species barrier last night to become the first amphibian ever to speak in the hallowed and historic debating chamber of the Oxford Union Society.

And there was no debate about it -- he wowed 'em.

Kermit arrived to a thunderous welcome from the 900 students stuffed into the gothic hall and left to a standing ovation an hour later.

"It used to be that the only way a frog could get into a university was as an experiment in dissection," he told them, speaking from a rostrum where peers, prime minsters and presidents have debated world-shaking events.

He ogled his interlocutor Mariel la Frostrup -- a British media personality dressed in a skintight, green-leather minidress -- as if she were a budding tadpole. He denied any interspecies prejudices as he gazed at her greenly.

He answered her questions about his birth in a swamp.

"Damp," he said, "a lot like England, only fewer scandals."

He told a lot of marshy jokes.

"I spent the last 25 years on Sesame Street learning the alphabet and numbers," Kermit said. "One. Two. Three. . . . I could go on and on forever."

Few people in his audience were over 25, and for them it was like being back in front of the television set as children.

"You read a book like 'The Oxbridge Conspiracy,' " he said, "and you begin to think every important person in the world went to either Oxford or Cambridge." Then he delivered the punch line like a wetlands Groucho Marx. "And as we all know, very few of them went to Cambridge."

Super cheer from the Oxonians.

Paul Cuff, a 18-year-old math major, said the students really wanted to know about his relationship with Miss Piggy, the buxom porker who has pursued Kermit for about two decades.

"You hear all the rumors," Mr. Cuff said. "But it's shrouded in mystery -- like Charles and Camilla."

That's a reference to the affairs of the Prince of Wales.

"Miss Piggy is a big talent, a very big talent," Kermit said. "Through the years I have had the honor and even the pleasure of working with her. There is no romantic involvement at all.

"She's a pig, for gosh sakes," he said, a little politically incorrect.

Questions came from the audience.

"Are you for or against bestiality?"

He eyed Ms. Frostrup from top to bottom.

"I was a big fan of their early albums," Kermit answered.

"What did the word 'pakalafaka' mean on your 1977 album?"

"I think it means your album is scratched."

Did a frog belong on the rostrum at what has been called the world's greatest debating society?

Sure, said Adam King, a 19-year-old Scot. "He's not bowed down by human prejudice. He can speak truly objectively on world issues."

"And he's cute and green," said Jess Day, who studies modern language.

"He's got a lovely tummy," said Sarah Whapham, a 19-year-old math student who got in line at 4 p.m. for the 8:30 talk.

Kermit did make a short, serious and passionate plea for the environment.

"The Earth is our home," he said, "and it's all the room we have to live in, so on behalf of all the animals in the world I'm asking you to clean up your room."

He knew his appearance before the 171-year-old debating society was a breakthrough in interspecies relationships, but he appeared nonchalant on the dais where Presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon were deeply honored to have been invited to speak.

He was surrounded by bronze and marble busts of British prime ministers who had been presidents of the Oxford Union, and he wore a tuxedo jacket, a starched collar, a formal bow tie and a velvet vest for the occasion.

He claims to have been born in a Florida swamp. Actually he's an honorary Marylander.

The late Jim Henson was a University of Maryland student when he stitched Kermit up from a swatch of gray-green cloth from one of his mother's coats.

"He's a cultural icon," said Joanna Carr, 20, the vice president of the Oxford Union who snagged Kermit as a speaker.

"I was thinking the university could use a more diverse kind of speaker."

About 250 people speak at the Oxford Union each year, ranging from world leaders to pop singers.

Mr. King said that he loved Kermit as a child and that he's started watching him again recently.

"The Muppets are a lot more subtle and sophisticated than you might think," he said.

"It's quite strange really, and it's hard to describe why people like Kermit. He's more than a puppet."

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