S.A.M, the Sesame Street Robot (video)


One of the earliest and most vivid memories I have from childhood is sitting on a plaid couch (maybe two years old?), staring into a television, screaming in full toddler freakout because a robot on Sesame Street was scaring me.

What's funny about this memory is that even though the robot terrified me, I could not look away from the screen.

I was trying to retell this tale to someone over IM today, then googled and found one clip in which the robot appears -- the very first time, in 1972. Turns out S.A.M. ("Super Automated Machine") also made a cameo appearance in a Spider Man comic book.

Funny how memory imprints work -- the Sesame Street Robot still kind of scares me when I watch the clip, all these years later. I can't quite bring myself to watch the clip all the way through.

Link to video, Link to scans from the comic book.

Reader comment: David Z. says,

I had the same experience with this clip from Sesame Street of a stop-motion orange singing "Carmen." As a child, it would send me running from the room when it came on. I finally found it on YouTube and felt the same rush of fear as I did thirty-odd years ago. When the orange hits that high note and her face flies off, I almost had to close the browser.

Link.

Wow. Perhaps what David and I both experienced here was an early voyage into the Uncanny Valley.

Greg Baker says:

It was the yip-yip martians that did it for me.

Like david z, I found a clip on YouTube and freaked myself out a little. When the phone rang and their lips flew up above their head, I thought about cowering behind my desk chair for a second.

Video Link.

Thanks for the memory. There's nothing I don't like about Boing Boing. Keep up the good work.

Jon Adams says,
I was terrified by those same freaking aliens, which actually sort of look like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Peter Pentz says,
This is still scary. Bert and Ernie sarcophagi, an Egyptian Ernie doppelganger, creepy music... As a kid, I was terrified they would replay it as a re-run.

My mom says I used to shout from the living room, "It's Coming!" Video Link to "Ernie and Bert Explore a Pyramid."

James Alberts says,
I vividly remember both Burt and Ernie exploring a pyramid and the singing orange, but the Mummenschanz mime troupe on the Muppet Show scarred me forever. Years later, I still can't make it all the way through their act. Thanks for rattling such a bizarre television-memory from my subconscious! Video Link.
Pteryxx Hyperion says,
Mine was the rubber bands that counted to ten. The 'eyes' zigzagging back and forth still weird me out... but now I've learned to enjoy it. Video Link.
Ari B. says,
An earlier commenter mentioned the “Ernie and Bert explore a pyramid” bit freaking him out. In college, I worked in a residential program for young adolescents, and one kid confessed to me that the sketch was responsible for his first psychotic episode.
Paul says,
Xeni, it's no wonder S.A.M. scared you as a kid.

SAM is obviously a Dalek disguised by brain washed hippies to infiltrate our culture, and to gain access to our children. If that voice had started saying "Exterminate! Exterminate!" in an English accent I wouldn't have been surprised, especially after all of that "Machines are perfect," stuff.

Andrew says,
Is it just me, or does that robot have the EXACT same voice as a Dr. Who Dalek? There is something definitely unsettling about the sounds it's making as it moves around, as i was watching that clip my pet rabbits perked up like there was predator in the room. I'm also starting to think that the tail on it is a trophy from a kill it made.
Meredith says,
lets not forget the head-hunter (or whatever theyre called) scene in labyrinth. even though the song is about chilling out it still gives me the heebeejeebees. Video Link.
Lindsey B says,
Your Sesame Street post brought back the terrifying memory of watching a skit where a puppet could get nectarines from a tree but couldn't eat them. A quick google search pulled up the clip for "Geefle and Gonk". I am having post traumatic flashbacks just watching it. Video Link.

Here is another Sesame Street clip I remember was Ernie getting propositioned by a shady "O" dealer pushing his wares.

Anthony says,
On the topic of disturbing muppets this sketch involves a guy pulling a girl's head apart because he loves her. Once her facial features are removed they spontaneously reanimate creating a creepy flesh colored "sheet ghost" like creature. Image Link. I tried to explain the nightmares this gave me (mostly about the sheet ghost creature coming out of the walls and pulling me in) for years but nobody believed me. They said nothing so disturbing would ever get on Sesame Street and that I must have made it up. Link.
Shawn says,
The sights and sounds of mr-nobody. Yes, sesame street clips scared kids. This was one of them. I challenge you to watch it until the end. :) Video Link.
Mike says,
I used to have a deep fear of the Snuggle brand fabric softener spokes bear when I was a kid. I had a nightmare (that is still vivid to this day) that I was out on the fire escape behind my Chicago highrise, and a snuggle bear popped out of nowhere and chased me for ever.

Years later the MTV sketch comedy show The State did a sketch where the Snuggle bear pops up to help a woman with her ironing, causing her to screech and pummel the bear with the iron. I'm SO with that lady.

rightmer says,
I read your bit about the characters that were a bit on the scary side, and couldn't help but post the one that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I found a clip on youtube, and found that it still bugs me out a bit.

I'm not sure which frightened me worse, The music or Duneden. Video Link.

Mark Hurst says,
for me it was the Death Probe on the Six Million Dollar Man. Video Link.
Jenny Norton says,
I'm too young to have recalled SAM the Robot, but I was also terrified by the orange singing "Carmen" and Bert and Ernie in Egypt. I liked the Yip-Yips, though. The Terrifying Trifecta of "Sesame Street" clips for me was completed by this, which, to my horror, I found on a tape I had from 1988. I posted in on YouTube and found out I wasn't the only one scared by the creepy toys, robots, and satellites: Video Link.
Keith Houston says,
Through the magic of the internet, I am one step closer to facing my ultimate nightmare. Not from a kids show, but just a good ole' fashioned childhood destroying 80's sitcom.

There was a strange TV show in the early 80's called "No Soap, Radio", starring Steve Guttenburg. I vaguely remembered the opening sequence involving footage of a roller coaster. I was very young when it aired. I have done some research, and discovered the show was a series of non-sequitors and weird throw away gags centered loosely around the goings on of some dingy hotel. All done in the name of comedy for sure, but one of their little "gags" has terrified me to this very day, some 20-odd years later. There was a green chair that ate people, Just swallowed them up. They would sit in this chair, try to get comfortable and VOOP, they would disappear into the chair, maybe being sucked into some nightmarish non-space, or possibly Hell. Once, my mother dropped me off at a baby-sitters house, and the sitter had THREE green chairs of the same type as the show, and I cowered in the corner until my mom picked me up later in the day, visibly shaken. I can't find any of the clips on-line, and I actually tremble at the thought of seeing it again. I've been afraid of that damn green chair ever since.

Chris Layne says,
I remember S.A.M. and the two Martian creatures from Sesame Street, but because I was the technician sitting in master control of the PBS affiliate in Richmond, Virginia. I was surprised to hear that these puppets were scary to so many people. It has given me food for thought to replay the clips and try to imagine them through children's eyes.
Jesse says,
Here's the Sesame Street clip that gave *me* nightmares: Video Link. Unanswerable question: Was I already scared of clowns when I saw that, or was it that clip that made me scared of clowns?
Drew Amato says,
I just wanted to say that, like, presumably, thousands of other BB readers, the comments about scary Sesame Street clips really touched a nerve for me. I remember being scared of the "Carmen" orange, and the 'Bert and Ernie in the pyramid' clip, but the one clip which made me run out of the room until it was over was this one of Bob and Luis creating a picture of a tunnel, which a train eventually comes charging out of: Video Link.

BB really amazes me; I never thought I'd ever (a) have reason to find the clip on YouTube, (b) find out other people felt the same about it as I do, and (c) realise that these kind of lightning-rod posts are what make the internet awesome.

Keep up the good work!

Jacob says,
I understand if you're sick of this meme by now, but I had to point out another terrifying Sesame Street clip. This is a lesser-known animated clip about a little boy who gets lost in a VERY strange and extremely surreal neighborhood. As a child, I found it horrifying, but had to watch it every time it aired. Video Link.

8

  1. I don’t remember seeing S.A.M. before, but it’s clearly one programming glitch away from a killing spree.
    “I’m a human, you stupid machine.”
    “Incorrect. My infallible sensors have registered that you are a cement mixer. I shall demonstrate by pumping four hundred kilograms of cement mix into your primary aperture.”
    “Aarghmmphle…”

  2. When I was a kid, there was an animated skit that used to have me screaming and running from the TV, as if someone was coming out of the TV to kill me (a la “The Ring”). It was about this girl sitting in her room on a rainy day. She has a whole bunch of cracks on the walls in her room (I guess she had plaster walls). As she’s sitting there, her imagination starts to go wild, and she sees the cracks form into different shapes, mostly animal shapes, and they start to come to life. There’s a camel, and a monkey who sings something like “Good day, good day, good day, I’m glad you came my way!”. Some other things happen too, but she closes her wide-open bedroom door, and behind it is a horrible looking splinter crack monster in the plaster with a really scary face! The music is disturbing, and the monster has a horrible voice! It claims that it is the crack master and starts to moa and scream1 Suddenly, the plaster pieces that make up the face start to fall off the wall until all that’s left is a brick wall behind it. I remember when the skit started, I was like “Oh no!” And started to scream and then when the face appeared I became hysterical! I had horrible re-occurring nightmares based on it for the entire time it was on the show. I’ve been trying to find it on youtube and elsewhere, but nobody has it.

    Anyway, just my two cents!

  3. I remember Crack Monster, Jonathen. He scared me too. I’d run out of the room when the cartoon started. For years afterward I feared he’d show up on my bedroom wall at night. Normal cracks creeped me out too- I’d seen the cartoon and knew what they were capable of!

  4. I also remember Crack Master… but had totally forgotten till now!!!! Now when I see cracks in our plaster, I get totally freaked! (Thanks a lot!) : )

    The Sesame Street Willy Wimple cautionary tales used to scare/shame me to no end. WW was an irresponsible kid who littered and the msg was “well if every kid did it, can’t you seeee what an icky messy, no-fun world it would be.”

    Another clip that used to scare me on SS was a film where kids were commenting on shapes in the clouds. It had surreal harp music in the background. The film began innocently enough, with fluffy marshmallow-like cumulus clouds… but then grew more sinister (or was it my imagination?) with dark clouds. The kids start to talk about how it’s gonna rain, and “let’s go home.” I haven’t been able to find this on YouTube, either.

  5. Sammy the snake terrified me. My mom would have to turn off the tv and spend an hour calming me down. I still don’t like him. The “Daddy Dear” and lost boy in weird neighborhood creeped me out too. The rubber band guy fascinated me though.

  6. –Great subject line! What a great way to purge childhood traumas. I had totally forgotten about the rubber bands counting to ten, but OH did I remember it when I saw it again! My heartbeat still rises when I watch it today. The music, the voice, the eerie winking and blinking–AAAAAAH!
    –One I have NEVER forgotten is the ‘crack’ video. However I recalled the third (wise)crack calling himself the ‘King of the Cracks’, not the ‘Crack Master’. Since it was so long ago and we were all so young then, who knows which one is right until it shows up on youtube (if ever)? Anyway, I DO remember VIVIDLY how it ended. The last scene showed a full shot of the girl on her bed looking up at her wall wistfully singing “I’m gonna go back to the cracks someday” a few times, as if justifying some unnamed mental disorder she has. I remember both anticipating and dreading the possibility of watching it every time SS came on. if anybody sees it on Youtube or anywhere, POST POST POST!!!

  7. My name is Jennifer Picker and I can be reached at jpicker5@yahoo.com and you can look me up on MySpace. I just ran across your notes about S.A.M. the robot. I was doing a little childhood memorylane walking and looked him up. Not being afraid of much of anything as a kid, I remember screaming at the top of my lungs and sobbing with my mother holding me and making me brave the scary S.A.M. the robot. Not long after that I became an AVID Dr. Who fan. Off and on over the years I have wondered if I was the only person out there to make that Dalek/S.A.M. connection. I was very gleeful when I saw the posts relating S.A.M. to the Daleks!!!!!!!! I am almost 34 being born in 1974, I don’t recall when I first met S.A.M., but by 1982 I was in love with the Daleks. I guess now I can truely relate to the stories of the children of the day hiding behind the sofa scared to death, yet still peeking out to watch.

    I originally thought to search Sesame Street this evening to look for the Box mime costumes they used to do brief skits in. Those would creep me out. I would like to try to recreate them for a Halloween costume some year. I am an avid costumer. My masterpieces are the Lucius Malfoy costume I made for someone and the Romana II (Destiny of the Daleks – pink echo of the Dr.’s atire) costume I made for myself. I could be Lalla Ward’s somewhat heavier built twin. :)

    Thanks for reading,

    Jen

  8. Anyone remember the bit from Electric Company that had “There’s a thump at the door!”? I imagined some awful monster called a “Thump” banging on the door, lol.

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