And if you’ve been a constant reader, you know what that means — we’re getting weird today.
Every week, we celebrate elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness in collaboration with Weird Portland United.
If you haven’t read any features from this series yet, you can find our archive of Weird Wednesdays right here. Previous features have profiled The Unipiper, the Portland Sleestak, Spencer Sprocket, Carlos the Rollerblader, Strawberry Pickle, and many more colorful local characters.
Lemme ask you straight up — did you grow up watching the Muppets or any additional Jim Henson puppetry productions? Do you catch yourself humming “Rainbow Connection” under your breath or make time during the holidays to rewatch “A Muppets Christmas Carol”? (Editor’s note: Which is the best, most definitive version of “A Christmas Carol” — my inbox is is open to anyone with thoughts to the contrary.)
If you answered yes, then I think you’re going to really vibe with this newsletter. We interviewed local artist, ventriloquist, and all around badass Winnie McDonald and her friend from Party Animals, Skeeter, about their show this weekend and what it means to be a weird Portlander. By the way, Party Animals puppets are created by Bonnie Erickson who created the first iterations of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
What are you waiting for? Scroll on down.
What was living in Portland during the ‘80s and ‘90s like, and did it influence your appreciation of Portland weirdness?
I moved to Portland in the summer of 1995 when I was 15. I lived in the Sellwood neighborhood when I first moved here, and still do. It has transformed completely. For instance, the current New Seasons market was a Thriftway, and there was a revolving door of weirdos that gravitated to it. One guy dressed in suspenders and wore the same red shirt and hunting cap every day. He would shuffle around Sellwood (he was a very large man) checking for quarters in every single phone booth. We called him Elmer Fudd.
Downtown Portland had all sorts of wild and unique people walking around as well back in the day, which is still true. I would frequently go to the Big Bang and Magpie to purchase all sorts of funky vintage clothes that were particularly fun to wear to raves in the ‘90s, which was a very vibrant scene at the time. The unique characters on the streets and at raves were completely different from the Colorado mountain town that I was used to and allowed for my inner weirdo to feel at home.
During our meet up, you mentioned that Skeeter was made by the same crafter who created the original Kermit and Miss Piggy puppets, and you found him on Ebay. Tell us more about that.
I bought Skeeter for $45. Since then, I’ve only seen one or two like him for sale for around $200. I was lucky to get such a score that made me a good pal. I didn’t know who Bonnie Erickson was (Skeeter’s creator) until after purchasing him. She was the Creative Director for the product division of The Jim Henson Company, which made the score feel that much more special.
She’s a super cool lady in my eyes! Skeeter was part of a line of puppets Bonnie manufactured in 1985 called “Party Animals.” I just watched a documentary on Prime about Jim Henson and the creation of Sesame Street titled “Street Gang,” and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s fantastic!
Winifred McDonald has known what it means to be a Portland weirdo since the mid-90s — and she’s not stopping anytime soon. (📸: Courtesy of Winifred McDonald)
What does being a weird Portlander mean to you, in a philosophic sense?
To me, being a weird Portlander means doing your authentic, creative, funky thing. Portland brings it out in people, and weirdness is contagious. Also the natural beauty of Oregon shifts dramatically throughout the seasons, which is palpable to the people that live here. I think those seasonal changes and the contrast of light and dark also allows people to embrace multiple vibes, looks, and even personalities. It’s a true nesting ground for dynamic weirdos.
Where can folks connect with you, online or in person?
You can connect with me this Sunday, July 18th from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. at the Alberta St. Pub! I’ll be performing an original song with my talented musician friend May Arden alongside Megan Gazzo the comedian and creator of LONG STORY SHORT. It’s a storytelling comedy show. Anyone can come and tell stories! It’s a GAS! You can also connect with me on my Instagram at @whoswinifred. Tickets for the July 18th event can be found here.
What advice would you give to a Portlander interested in ventriloquism?
Being attracted to laughter and silliness is a great place to start. I’ve always loved making people laugh and part of that requires not taking yourself too seriously and noticing the silly undertones of life too. There is too much heaviness in the world to not have humor. I’m obviously not the best I could be at ventriloquism but practicing by watching videos can help. I would say just keep at it and try to eliminate the letter “B” from your act.
Thank you to our Bridgeliner Unabridged members. Stories like these are made possible with your membership and support.