These are far from sunny days for the Sesame Street crew.
Kevin Clash, the beloved puppeteer behind Elmo and his memorable voice, has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a man that began when his accuser was 16 years old.
Although Clash has acknowledged his romantic dalliance with the unidentified man, he has denied any sort of underage hookup, and the puppeteer is now on leave from the iconic children's show.
He's not the show's first scandal: Here are eight other controversies that have no doubt ruffled Big Bird's feathers.
Katy Perry Flashes Her Muppets, Gets the Ax: The pop star got the hot-and-cold treatment from the show when, after shooting a "Hot N Cold" spoof with Elmo while wearing a sorta-racy dress, the show's execs pulled the plug on the segment for its, um, revealing content. That didn't stop a clip of the canned skit from going viral, and Perry herself spoofed the brouhaha with an appropriately boobalicious appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Bert and Ernie Aren't Gay, They're Just Roomies: Sesame Street's perennial roomies, have been dogged by rumblings that they're secretly a couple for, well, since forever. In 1993, the show's producers went as far as to issue a statement insisting that the duo "do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future." Things came to a head in 2002 when show honchos threatened to sue a filmmaker of a documentary spoof called Ernest and Bertram, about eerily familiar puppets who get hot and heavy with each other.
Mitt Romney Flips the (Big) Bird: During the first presidential debate last month, the Republican candidate incited the ire of Muppet fans everywhere—not to mention advocates of public broadcasting—when he proposed to slash funding to Sesame Street's home network, PBS. Faster than you can say "Oscar the Grouch," critics were up in arms, spurring tons of memes that quickly went viral and prompting a Million Muppet March in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposal. Of course, Romney lost, and we can't help but think that somewhere, Elmo is tickled with laughter.
Kami Becomes the World's First HIV-Positive Puppet: The bright-yellow fuzzball, who debuted in 2002 on the show's South African edition, incited a storm of controversy for purposefully being created as an HIV-positive character. Kami, whose backstory includes a South African upbringing as well as a mother who died of AIDS, was meant to educate children on the disease. Her arrival fired up conservative critics, who accused the show of promoting homosexuality and prematurely educating youngsters on AIDS. But Kami had no shortage of supporters of her own, including Bill Clinton, who starred alongside the Muppet in an HIV/AIDS PSA.
Muppets Tackle Diversity, Come Under Fire for Racial Stereotypes: Muppets, they're just like us—they fight for equal-opportunity representation! Back in the early '70s, the show introduced an African-American Muppet named Roosevelt Franklin, who taught lessons like the African geography. But within five years, he was yanked after parents complained that the character, who was often portrayed as a rowdy kid stuck in detention, promoted negative stereotypes of black children. Thirty years later, the show would come under fire again, this time for its seeming lack of lead female Muppets. Enter Abby Cadabby, a fairy muppet with wings and a magic wand who was the show's big bid for Grover-level female stardom. Natch, Abby herself faced criticism for supposedly pandering to girlie stereotypes of pink-hued, fairy-dust fluff. Can't please everybody, huh?
Bert's Osama Bin Laden Connection: Poor, Bert: When he's not skirting gay rumors, he's being labeled a terrorist. The mild-mannered chap was literally used as hapless puppet in an anti-U.S. protest when he popped up next to Bin Laden on a placard at a 2001 rally in Bangladesh. Talk about keeping bad company! Needless to say, the folks behind Sesame Street were none too pleased, huffing that they were "outraged" at the Muppet's inclusion in the rally.
Cookie Monster Chucks the Cookies...Sorta: "Me want cookie," Cookie Monster famously chants. Parents, on the other hand, wanted anything but. After enduring rampant criticism for the blue glutton's high-calorie, high-sugar cravings, Sesame's Street's producers dramatically switched up his diet in 2005 with loads of fruits instead and also introduced a new theme song titled "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food." Eh? A rep for the show quickly rushed to Cookie Monster's defense, saying, "We're not taking cookies away from Cookie. It's about teaching moderation. We are not about intervention, we are about prevention." We still want those cookies, though.
Sesame Street's YouTube Channel Hacked and Swapped With Porn: Cue those big bird jokes! In October 2011, visitors to the site's YouTube page got quite the shock when they discovered that not only had it been hacked but that all its content had been replaced with porn. The site was briefly shut down, but as soon as it was up and running, it posted a note that announcing that "our channel was temporarily compromised" and trumping the return of "the rest of the fuzzy, feathered, and googly-eyed friends you remember from childhood." No doubt, traumatized fans were still googly-eyed from the whole debacle.