‘Puppet Up!’ is no family-friendly affair

Lock up the children for the night before hitting Puppet Up!
Photo: Courtesy
Jacob Coakley

The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up! Uncensored is playing the Venetian Showroom, but even though it comes from the same folks behind family-friendly fare like The Muppets and Sesame Street—and involves furry, felt puppets—it definitely isn’t for kids. Here are five moments from a recent show that might explain why Elmo won’t want these performers anywhere nearby.

1. WTF crab. Improv shows can be raunchy events, and asking a crowd to shout out actions that sound funny is a recipe for disaster, even before you factor in the drunken Vegas factor. But in a sketch about a news-reporter whale interviewing a tiny mouse about a man giving birth, the face of the news anchor—a crab—somehow managed to capture the full horror and WTFness of the situation in hilarious fashion.

2. Hot dog puppets. Simple puppets can be the quickest way to an audience’s id. And hot dog puppets are pretty basic—they look like long flesh-colored tubes with faces. Their mouths move, and that’s about it. Not much room for puppetry creativity. But put them in a circle, bounce them up and down and add a disgusting finishing gag, and you have a reason to never eat hot dogs again.

3. It came from Starbucks. Not all of the humor comes from gross-out jokes. One sketch—done in the style of a black-and-white ’50s horror movie—neatly captured the absurdity and annoyances at play when ordering at Starbucks, as a hipster barista waxed poetic about cold brew and his unicycling hobby while weaponizing the custom of writing names on cups.

4. If at first you don’t succeed... The lessons on Sesame Street are gentle, repetitive affairs. Not so in Puppet Up! After giving one audience member a 30-second lesson on how to control a puppet, the cast launched into a sketch and dared him to keep up. They were kind as they tried to get him to play along, but the laughs really started coming when he couldn’t work the puppet. The performers kept trying to teach him … and he kept failing, again and again and again.

5. Naked puppets. The improv is interspersed with classic Muppets sketches re-created live, and finishes with puppet acts that show off the skill of the performers, including “Naked Puppets”—essentially a bunch of hands sans puppets. Then multiple performers contort their hands in interesting ways and bring them together, Voltron-like, to create faces that emote and sing. It’s a reminder of the high level of talent and skill on display here.

Puppet Up! Uncensored Thursday-Saturday, Tuesday, 9 p.m.; Sunday-Monday, 7 p.m.; $69-$109. Venetian, 702-414-9000.

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