A few days ago, I was sitting in the waiting area of a local business browsing through some of the magazines and brochures that were on the table. One of them was for upcoming events at our local civic center, so I thumbed through it, half-interested. There was nothing very cool in there – mostly ads for boring guest speakers, washed-up musicians, and the like. And Mummenschanz.

Wait, Mummenschanz?!? What is that?

Mumm1Toilet
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I stared at the images on the page, transfixed. There was something terrifying there, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As I continued to study the photos a flood of hazy, fragmented childhood memories engulfed me. Mimes in black leotards and frightening masks. Silent people grotesquely morphing together to form animal figures. Dark silhouettes with rolls of toilet paper for faces. It all hit me at once as this simple brochure unexpectedly reopened a cache of forgotten fears from several decades ago. But where exactly had I seen this stuff before?!?

Sesame-Street---Monkey-Mime

I did a little searching, and it turns out that Mummenschanz (German for “masked horror”) is a Swiss performance art/mime troupe that was founded in 1971. They became hugely popular right around the time when the Amigos Locos were little kids, appearing on many popular TV programs and even starring on the Muppet Show. Their unique performance approach was something people of all ages could (theoretically) appreciate, making them equally well-suited for the Tonight Show and Sesame Street. Of course, it also made them a perfect match for the insane, LSD-fueled psychedelic circus of 1970’s public children’s television. If you were born in the 1970s, it’s extremely likely that you too have been exposed to Mummenschanz.

While some of their stuff is still nightmare fuel for small kids, they’ve been delighting audiences worldwide for decades. Most of their material is nothing short of brilliant. Check out their YouTube channel to see for yourself.

As an adult I can now appreciate how truly inventive and clever they are, but as a kid I wanted nothing to do with Mummenschanz. My family lived in the SF Bay area until I was six, and I am fairly certain that I actually saw them perform live somewhere in San Francisco or Berkeley. I was only in kindergarten or first grade, but think we all went on a field trip to see them somewhere.

Sadly, it turns out that the brochure I was looking at was actually out of date. Mummenschanz came and left several months before I even knew about their performance here, which means I’ll have to wait until next time to confront my childhood fears in person.

Now: do you remember Mummenschanz?