When Kevin Clash does a live Sesame Street event, the kids “don’t know me from a hole in the wall and they don’t care to,” he tells Time. “I’m the guy holding their friend.” That friend would be Elmo, the furry red monster Clash puppets and voices, one of the most popular characters in the show’s 40-year history.
Yes, that is Clash’s voice on all those Tickle Me Elmo dolls and other toys—“I call that job security,” he says. But don’t expect him to jump into character should you run into him on the street: “We can't just sit there as ourselves and do that voice and personality,” he says, explaining why puppets are brought along even to radio interviews. “We're puppeteers.”