Kermit the Frog Gives a TED Talk About Creativity & the Power of “Ridiculous Optimism”

By Ayun Halliday

In 2015, 3.8 billion years after “creativity emerged” out of “sheerest emptiness,” Kermit the Frog was tapped to give a talk on creativity at TEDxJackson.

How did a local, one-day event manage to snag such a global icon?

Roots.

The famed frog’s creator, Jim Henson, spent his first decade in Mississippi (though Kermit was born of a ping pong ball and Henson’s mother’s old coat after the family relocated to Maryland.)

The conference took place 15 years after Henson’s untimely death, leaving Kermit to be animated by Steven Whitmire, the first of two puppeteers to tackle a role widely understood to be Henson’s alter ego.

The voice isn’t quite the same, but the mannerisms are, including the throat clearing and crumpled facial expressions.

Also present are a number of TED Talk tropes, the smart phone prompts, the dark stage, projections designed to emphasize profound points.

A number of jokes fail to elicit the expected laughs … we’ll leave it up to you to determine whether the fault lays with the live audience or the material. (It’s not easy being green and working blue comes with challenges, too.)

Were he to give his TED Talk now, in 2021, Kermit probably wouldn’t describe the audience’s collective decision to “accept a premise, suspend our disbelief and just enjoy the ride” as a “conspiracy of craziness.”

He might bypass a binary quote like “If necessity is the mother of invention, then creativity is the father.”

He’d also be advised to steer clear of a photo of Miss Piggy dressed as a geisha, and secure her consent to share some of the racier anecdotes… even though she is a known attention hog.

He would “transcend and include” in the words of philosopher Ken Wilber, one of many inspirations he cites over the course of his 23-minute consideration of creativity and its origins, attempting to answer the question, “Why are we here?”

Also referenced: Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Charles Baudelaire, Zen master Shunryū Suzuki, mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, author and educator, Sir Ken Robinson (who appears, briefly) and of course, Henson, who applauded the “ridiculous optimism” of flinging oneself into creative explorations, unsure of what one might find.

He can’t wander freely about the stage, but he does share some stirring thoughts on collaboration, mentors, and the importance of maintaining “beginner’s mind,” free of pre-conceptions.

How to cultivate beginner’s mind?

Try fast forwarding to the 11:11 mark. Watch for 20 seconds. It’s the purest invitation to believe since Peter Pan begged us to clap Tinker Bell back to life.

Do you? Because Kermit believes in you.

Related Content: 

Witness the Birth of Kermit the Frog in Jim Henson’s Live TV Show, Sam and Friends (1955)

Watch Blondie’s Debbie Harry Perform “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show (1981)

Jim Henson’s Commercials for Wilkins Coffee: 15 Twisted Minutes of Muppet Coffee Ads (1957-1961)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.