In honor of World AIDS Day, here are the opening paragraphs of Funny Boy: The Richard Hunt Biography. Enjoy!
June 1970 found Richard Hunt feeling restless. He’d been out of high school for a year, trying on various ill-fitting endeavors. Most of his close friends were away at college. The Beatles had broken up. The world was changing rapidly, but Hunt was stuck in suburban New Jersey, reading about it all in the New York Times. Though bucolic Closter lay just across the George Washington Bridge from the city, New York seemed increasingly unreachable, as did Hunt’s dream of making it there as a performer.
Yet no one would know this from Hunt’s cheerfully determined demeanor, his mischievous gap-toothed grin. He came across an ad inviting actors and puppeteers to audition for a workshop run by Jim Henson. Part training, part further audition, the workshop might lead to performing work. He was already a fan of Henson and his Muppets. “I’d drop anything to watch them,” he said. “I thought they were weird.”
What did he have to lose? One hot, sunny June afternoon, Hunt cold-called the workshop from a Manhattan pay phone. “Hello, Henson Associates,” said the receptionist. “Hi,” Hunt said amiably, introducing himself with his typical gregarious frankness. “I’m a puppeteer, can you use me?” Securing the necessary invitation, Hunt hung up the phone and ran over to Henson’s East 67th Street space. He was just 18 years old.
That evening back in Closter, he told his mother excitedly about meeting Henson, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. “They threw a puppet at me and said sit down. We knew right away we had the same sense of humor. And I think they liked me!”
It was very important to Hunt that he be liked.
“I’d drop anything”, Muppet Show Press Kit, about 1976.
“Henson Associates”, confirmed by archivist at Henson archives.
“I’m a puppeteer”: Jane Hunt, interview with the author, November 2009.
“They threw a puppet,” Jane Hunt in Christopher Finch, Jim Henson: The Works (New York: Random House, 1993), 59.