Over the weekend, Sesame Street Muppet Elmo and his dad, Louie, appeared on a CNN town hall in light of the ongoing global Black Lives Matter protests to help children understand systematic racism. In the clip, Louie explains to Elmo why people are taking to the streets, distilling the nuances of protesting more straightforwardly than many politicians. Naturally, it went viral.
Some were shocked Elmo even had a father. The conversation quickly moved away from Black Lives Matter protests and toward Muppet parentage.
Spike Trotman, founder of graphic novel publisher Iron Circus Comics, alluded to a fan theory that Elmo’s real father is actually his uncle Jack. “Elmo not only has parents but extended family,” Trotman tweeted. “Grandparents, great-grandparents and a deceased uncle who looks just like a grown-up version of him. He resembles the late Uncle Jack more than either of his parents.”
Jack and Elmo’s facial similarities are uncanny. Both have round Muppet heads with bulbous noses and bright, circular eyes. Elmo’s father, Louie, has an oblong nose, sad eyelids, shaggy hair and an orange goatee.
Complicating matters even more? Uncle Jack died in the 2010 special When Families Grieve. Alexander Paschall, a video game trainer at Epic, believes Jack’s death is why Elmo was raised by Louie. Having tweeted a side-by-side shot of Uncle Jack and Louie, Paschall tells me his take: Louie adopted his brother’s son after learning Jack was dying and never told Elmo about his true parentage. “Jack spent as much father-son time as he could with Elmo and then passed. But Jack never wanted Elmo to look at Louie as anything less than a true father, so no one told him,” Paschall says.
Paschall admittedly rebukes the growing theory that Elmo’s mother, Mae, slept with Uncle Jack: “They’re Muppets. They don’t do that shit.”
The entire Elmo clan is a bit of a hodge-podge of furry faces. Jack and Louie have a sister, Funella Furchester, who runs the Furchester Hotel with her husband, Furgus Fuzz, and their daughter, Phoebe Furchester-Fuzz. Elmo also has identical cousins: Elmer (who wears a cowboy hat and has a Texas drawl) and Pepe (who is Mexican and has a bushy mustache).
Other cousins include Elmo-noske (a Japanese TV correspondent), Chester (who looks a bit too much like Grover) and Mimsy (who actually looks more like Louie than Elmo). Chester and Mimsy’s parents are unknown.
Because the Elmo clan is so dysfunctional, not all Sesame Street viewers buy that Elmo has daddy issues. “Elmo and his Uncle Jack look similar because it’s necessary for young viewers who primarily process the content visually to understand that Elmo and Jack had a connection,” says comic book author Jadzia Axelrod, who watches Sesame Street with her toddler.
Trying to make sense of the Sesame Street family lineage is ultimately a fraught journey. Elmo first appeared on the show in 1980, during Season 11. Canonically, Elmo is 3 and a half years old.
But in real time, Elmo is 43 today. This means he should be around the same age as Louie… unless — gasp — the original Elmo is Louie. “Elmo’s father was the original Elmo,” TV writer Jesse McLaren theorizes. He has long believed the 1980s Elmo became Louie in a Looper-esque plot twist and had a kid he named after himself.
McLaren, then, is not so certain about the theory of Elmo’s parentage. Still, he says, “Whatever is going on in this family is not good.”
Sounds like something for Elmo’s next special.