Last month, Sesame Street celebrated is whopping 50th anniversary, making it the longest running children’s show in television history. That celebration, unfortunately, was marred by the passing of Caroll Spinney last week — he provided the voice for both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the series from the show’s inception until 2018.
Over the course of 50 years of Sesame Street, hundreds of celebrities have provide cameo appearances to sing songs, help with the letter of the day, or provide any number of other educational moments, from Donald Glover to Janelle Monáe to Ryan Reynolds to Kate McKinnon to Peter Dinklage to Lindsay Lohan. There have been roughly 4500 episodes of Sesame Street, so there have likewise been thousands of celebrity cameos.
However, the list of celebrities who appeared on Sesame Street before they were famous is relatively small. Let’s take a look.
Lin Manuel-Miranda — Years before Hamilton propelled him to superstar status and roles in movies like Mary Poppins and series like His Dark Materials, Lin Manuel-Miranda appeared on Sesame Street as Freddy Flapman, a real-estate agent for birds. Miranda would reappear years later, after the success of Hamilton, as himself.
Donald Faison — Long before eight seasons of Scrubs, a few seasons of Felicity, Clueless, and three seasons of Clueless the movie, Donald Faison made only his second ever screen appearance on Sesame Street. He played Duane, a teenager who occasionally appeared on the series from seasons 22 to 24.
Richard Belzer and Brian Doyle Murray — Richard Belzer is best known for playing Detective John Munch on a number of television procedurals, including Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Brian Doyle Murray had a recurring role most recently on Lodge 49 and is also the brother of Bill Murray. Murray and Belzer appeared together as two men on a boat in a film insert for Sesame Street. Belzer would return as himself many years later in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit parody and a year after that to present the word of the day: “Lazy.” (And if Brian Doyle Murray doesn’t look familiar to you in the video below, it’s because he looks like this now.)
Giancarlo Esposito — Esposito, best known now as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has been in the business literally for decades, even playing — at one point — a cellmate in the 1982 Eddie Murphy film, Trading Places. His first recurring role, however, was that of Mickey, Big Bird’s camp counselor for five episodes of Sesame Street way back in 1982.
Bill Irwin — I don’t know that I would call Bill Irwin “famous,” exactly, but he’s been a steady character actor in the industry for forty years. Most recently, he’s probably best known for Cary Loudermilk on FX’s Legion.
I don’t know how much crossover there is between fans of Legion and those familiar with Sesame Street — specifically “Elmo’s World” — between 2000 and 2010, but finding out that Cary Loudermilk used to play Mr. Noodle blew my mind.
Oh look! It’s Mr. Noodle.