No, really, the Yellow Wiggle is on the phone

102284_300Florida Times-Union — Several things tend to happen when you’re 30, have a bouncing toddler at home and find yourself talking to an actual Wiggle.

First, you make a blithering idiot of yourself offering thanks. Profusely. You want to buy him coffee, or a giant pie, or a car. I’m not sure how to accurately convey this to the kid-less, but the Wiggles are one of the planet’s most brain-meltingly catchy and profoundly addictive children’s entertainers.

March up to the nearest parent, mention the phrase “fruit salad” and watch the chemical reaction that happens to the part of that person’s brain that controls melody retention.

The Wiggles are Greg Page, Jeff Fatt, Anthony Field and Murray Cook; in the band, they’re known by first name and shirt color. The Australian natives will perform twice Sunday at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

I discovered them thanks to my friends’ daughter Marie, who spent most of her time sprinting around things until the Wiggles came on, at which point she’d come to a screeching, Road Runnerlike stop (boooiiing!), like someone had just turned on the gravity.

“Somebody told me that once, and I asked, ‘How old is your child?’ ” said Page, the red-shirted Wiggle who plays guitar. “And they said 6 months! At 6 months, if they’re stopping to watch the Wiggles, that’s pretty incredible.”

The second thing that happens when you talk to a Wiggle: you think, wow, if Marie knew I was talking to a Wiggle, she’d probably punch me in the kneecaps until she could wrestle the phone away.

Third, you think, wow, he’s speaking Adult, which is a very bizarre development when everything you’ve ever heard from this guy involves a dinosaur named Dorothy and an extremely personable pirate named Captain Feathersword.

But Page speaks Adult well, and the success of the Wiggles is no accident.

“Kids are smart,” Page said about the Wiggles’ mission. “A lot of people don’t recognize that, but likewise people sometimes don’t see what we do as educational, they look at it as just entertainment. Everything we do has to meet the criteria of: What are children getting out of it? There has to be something that’s developmentally appropriate.”

Page describes the 70-minute live show as a “combination of rock concert and theater and some old pantomime kinds of bits,” all with messages that are key to their material — three of the guys have degrees in early childhood education.

“We were all studying to become teachers, but we had musical backgrounds, as well,” Page said of the Wiggles’ first days. “We recorded one CD, and then the record company wanted another, and it just grew from that. There was no long-term plan of any sort. We really just wanted to do something for kids.”

And they have, for 15 years. They travel overseas to visit American families about three months out of the year, and use the rest to spend time with their own (Page, Field and Cook all have children; Fatt is “the bachelor of the group,” Page laughs).

Which begs the question: If your dad is a Wiggle, does that mean you essentially rule the playground?

Page laughs the idea off but does admit that when his daughter was 2, she ambled up to a crowd of kids at the park and introduced herself by saying, “My daddy sings songs!” — “Like it was her way of breaking the ice,” he said. “Like a you-might-know-my-daddy kind of thing.”

At 7 months, he added, she could spot the Wiggles logo at stores and on posters, point and say “Dada!”

The best part of being a Wiggle, he said, is fostering that connection, seeing families respond to an experience they can share together. Particularly, he said, the dads.

“In Australia, men are supposed to be macho, but at Wiggles shows, the dads get involved. Doing hula dances, things men typically wouldn’t be expected to do, they don’t mind doing at a Wiggles show because it’s a bonding experience.”


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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