“Laugh! I Thought I Should’ve Died”: British Music Hall Humour and the Subversion of Childhood on The Muppet Show

  • Liam Maloy
Keywords: childhood, the child, the family, humour, music, The Muppet Show, Jim Henson, Music Hall, vaudeville, double entendre


Through the abundant use of the bawdy, humorous songs of British music hall, The Muppet Show delivered a potent critique of constructed notions of a protectionist childhood. Paradoxically perhaps, the music hall songs, carnivalesque comedy, and frequent depictions of sex, sexuality, and violence also did much to construct The Muppet Show’s intended “family” audience while simultaneously providing a direct challenge to its normative sanguinuptial (blood and marriage) construction. This intergenerational family audience is crucial to the child’s interpretation of The Muppet Show’s complex and contentious content, subject matter that is rarely included in media made for a solely child audience. While the musical sketches open up an interpretive space for the child to encounter, resist, and subvert the range of fluid identities hinted at onscreen, the process is simultaneously constricted by the musical-visual texts themselves and by The Muppet Show’s family-reception context. As such, this case study reveals the inherent tensions of targeting a family audience through music and television.

Author Biography

Liam Maloy

Dr. Liam Maloy is based in Nottingham, UK. His book Spinning the Child (Routledge 2020) examines how music constructs childhood on records, radio, and television. He has published journal articles on Woody Guthrie’s music for children, jazz music in children’s television, and the quantitative analysis of recorded music for children. Liam was a member of the Britpop band Soda. He now writes and performs music for children with Johnny and the Raindrops.

How to Cite
Maloy, L. (2021). “Laugh! I Thought I Should’ve Died”: British Music Hall Humour and the Subversion of Childhood on The Muppet Show. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 13(1), 159-177. Retrieved from https://jeunessejournal.ca/index.php/yptc/article/view/588
Articles for Special Issue on Laughter