On Sesame Street, it’s nothing strange to see Elmo riding his tricycle, Grover flying through the air, or Big Bird just walking around. At the same time, you’re not supposed to think about some of the other monsters having legs, let alone feet. Maybe you hadn’t considered Cookie Monster’s legs and feet before you saw this headline. Unless, of course, you’ve already seen the trailer for HBO Max’s new Sesame Street spinoff, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo, which features multiple unsettling shots of Cookie sitting on a couch. There he is, around the 50-second mark, sitting and watching Hoda Kotb dance like nothing is afoot. And again, sitting next to Andy Cohen, then drinking tea next to Batman. It’s a mere footnote in the trailer, for a children’s late-night show hosted by Elmo — blink and you’ll miss it. But after a whole childhood of not seeing Cookie Monster’s legs, how could you miss it?
After seeing that trailer, we needed an explanation so we reached out to HBO for answers. “We wanted the Not-Too-Late Show set to be both puppet- and human-friendly,” Ben Lehmann, the show’s executive producer, told Vulture over email. “It’s traditional for the co-host to move to the couch and banter with the host, or sit next to the guest for a convivial chat. So we needed to get Cookie Monster on that couch, seat a human guest next to him, and keep the magic of the the character alive. Hence … puppet legs.”
Puppet legs, what a phrase. Of course, Cookie Monster has always had legs — they just tend to be left to the imagination. In the 2004 sketch “The First Time Me Eat Cookie,” a baby Cookie Monster (well, his name was Sid), is shown head to toe, sitting in a high chair. While grown Cookie Monster is mostly seen behind some sort of wall or counter, Sesame Street enjoys making jokes that allude to him having legs, like when that time he tripped in the library.
Sesame Street has actually show the blue legs a few times in recent years. “Cookie’s Crumbly Pictures,” a segment from seasons 44 and 45 (2013–15) that featured Cookie Monster starring in parodies of popular movies, often had to show his full body. The first, for instance, a James Bond parody called “The Spy Who Loved Cookies,” opens with a full shot of Cookie Monster wearing a tuxedo and later shows him jumping across a room. One 2017 ad from Sesame Street’s partnership with Chrysler shows Cookie Monster walking up to a car with a basket of cookies. (Other Muppets, as we know, can drive.) And in an interview with NPR’s Life Kit podcast about self-control just last year, Cookie Monster referenced his feet. “Me control meself all the time,” he said. “Just this morning, me told me feet to walk to studio.”
This ability is also due to advancements in puppet technology. “We often use different versions of our puppets to bring a character to life, and we specifically designed this Cookie Monster to look natural seated on a couch,” Lehmann explains. “Bear in mind, the couch was a custom job — our production design team made sure that David Rudman, the incredible Cookie Monster puppeteer, could perform completely hidden from view.”
But should we, um, be allowed to see Cookie Monster’s feet in the first place? The 1973 style guide for Cookie Monster includes a sketch of Cookie Monster with short, stubby legs. (Props to @HistoryMuppet for sharing on Twitter.) “His entire body shouldn’t show very often,” reads the caption, “but if it did, it might look like this.” That could explain why Cookie Monster tends to only post top-half photos on his social media. More generally, the style guide says, “His body is not a clearly defined shape. It is more like a sack with a head.”
That’s just the story onscreen. Given the revelation of a legged Cookie Monster, this Vulture writer revisited a favorite childhood book, Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree, to check how he walked. Turns out the book includes many illustrations of Cookie moseying around the forest — legs, feet, and all. So maybe the evidence of Cookie Monster’s legs has been under our noses (which yes, Cookie Monster has as well) this whole time.
Lehmann wants to remind viewers “that their favorite Sesame Street characters are really real. By which I mean … they have the kind of heart and soul that children and families relate to,” he says. “Our audience loves to sing with Cookie Monster and Elmo, and laugh at their jokes; bringing them into real-world environments — like a talk show couch. — only expands the way we see these beloved characters.” And nothing can hide behind the institution of the late-show couch, especially not Cookie Monster’s legs. The Not-Too-Late Show launches May 27, so take this time to prepare yourself for what you may see.