A website for Muppet fans who grew up. Our mission is to provide a website and forum for biting satire, poignant observations, and general wittiness related to the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and all things connected to Jim Henson’s life and legacy.
Stephen Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One will be overflowing with references. No movie, video game, TV show, comic book, action figure, or anything with a vague sense of nostalgia is safe from its grips. And, apparently, that includes the Muppets.
The list of companies which have given their blessings to allow the film to reference their materials has leaked, and two of those companies are of great interest to us: The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop. (Disney is also listed, but not “The Muppets” specifically, so who knows about those guys.)
The Henson credit may be referring to the Labyrinth-inspired poster, which you can see above, but there’s a good chance there will be more in the film itself.
The book “Ready Player One”, on which the film is based, also has its fair share of Muppet references. For example, the main character was raised watching Sesame Street and later binge-watches the entirety of The Muppet Show, while another character calls herself “Kira” after the Dark Crystal character.
Ready Player One will be in theaters on March 29th, which is when we’ll find out exactly what those Muppet references are!
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With Muppet Guys Talking‘s unique distribution methods, we never really knew if the film would only be available to watch on their website or if there might be another format eventually. Just a few days after its release, we have method #2.
Muppet Guys Talking will be available on DVD – signed by none other than Frank Oz – only to people who’ve signed up for the VIP membership (which, a reminder, costs $97).
The DVD will only be available for a couple days – only through Wednesday, March 21st. So if you’re on the fence, you don’t have much time to decide.
“Why are they so impressed with the voice? The voice is nothing. I didn’t create a voice, I created a character, and the voice came afterwards.”
-Frank Oz (A&E’s Biography: Sesame Street)
Last Friday, March 16, the documentary called Muppet Guys Talking was released online. The stars of the film are show business veterans, but they’re not usually in the spotlight – it’s the characters, not the puppeteers, who get all the glory. In the days leading up to the film’s release, they’ve been getting a lot of press, which must be nice for them to see, except for one phrase that frequently pops up in the coverage – a phrase that might just make their skin crawl every time they see it.
That phrase is “voice actors.”
For example, when the trailer went live, The Digital Fix went with the headline “The Original Voice Actors Reveal Their Stories!” And when Good Morning America posted their interview with the performers online, the description started with “The voices behind the characters…”
It’s an easy mistake to make. With extremely rare exceptions, the Muppet people do, in fact, provide the voices of their characters. But to call them “voice actors” is simply not accurate. And you know, if you can’t turn to the internet for accuracy, where can you turn?
Of course, voice actors are talented people. They stand in front of a microphone and create a performance using nothing but the sounds that come out of their mouths. That’s a great skill, and the best voice actors deserve the long, prolific careers they’re often blessed with.
But Muppet performers are… not that. They’re another species entirely. Muppet performers work with microphones, sure, and they come up with funny voices for wacky characters, but those microphones are attached to them while they hold their arms up in the air, run around soundstages, squeeze into uncomfortable positions, and get squished against their colleagues all day, all while staring at monitors. And acting.
Just look at veteran Muppet performer Dave Goelz’s performance as Gonzo singing “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” in The Muppet Movie:
I'm Going To Go Back There Someday - Gonzo - YouTube
Did you cry? I bet you cried. There’s so much emotion emanating from that scruffy little puppet. He subtly sways to the music, he casts his eyes sadly to the ground and hopefully up to the sky. Dave’s voice sells the emotion of the song, sure, but it’s his puppetry that really gives the scene its weight. Meanwhile, the other Muppet performers speak volumes with their characters without uttering a word. Including Dave’s colleague Jerry Nelson, who is playing a chicken.
That’s not voice acting.
As a life-long, dyed-in-the-fleece Muppet fan, when I hear a less-nerdy consumer of Muppet media refer to Frank Oz as “the voice of Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show,” I always wonder whether that viewer even noticed that Miss Piggy is a tangible, physical puppet. Did they notice that she’s constantly moving, whether she’s snuggling up to Christopher Reeve, dancing with Elton John, or karate-chopping Kermit? And did they think a stagehand did all that moving while Frank Oz sat in a recording booth drinking coffee?
No, it was Frank Oz with his hand in that puppet, and like all the Muppet performers, he suffered for his art. During a 2018 appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, Frank discussed the filming of the “Piggy’s Fantasy” water ballet sequence in The Great Muppet Caper. That number called for Miss Piggy to spend a lot of time swimming, and that meant that Frank was stationed at the bottom of a heated pool, his feet weighted down so he could not float up to the surface. A diver nearby held an air hose, so at the end of a take, Frank would take the hose so he could breathe, then as soon as “action” was called, the diver would take back the hose and Frank would resume working the puppet while holding his breath.
That’s not voice acting.
Or take the “Rainbow Connection” sequence in The Muppet Movie. Everyone loves that number, but the majority of folks who have enjoyed it probably have no idea how it was achieved. Muppet fans are familiar with the crazy story, which is retold in Muppet Guys Talking: As seen in the wide shots, Kermit the Frog is sitting on a log in what is essentially a real, swampy pond built on a studio backlot. Unlike the classic Sesame Street sketches, there was no fake brick wall for Jim Henson to simply hide behind. He was under the surface of the water in a tiny, cramped, airtight diving bell, with an oxygen line so he could breathe and his arm in a rubber sleeve that went above the surface and allowed him to perform the Kermit puppet. And he had to do that for five days. And Jim was 6’3″.
That’s not voice acting.
Those are extreme examples. But even the seemingly simple gig of a Muppet appearing on a talk show can be demanding for the performers. For example, look at this image from a 2015 Kermit and Piggy appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live:
Where the heck are the puppeteers?! They’re not, as YouTube commenter LanceTV suggested, “wearing the cloak of invisibility.” No, they’re stuffed inside those chairs with their arms sticking through into the puppets. But even when you understand this fact, it’s like… How? How can two full-grown adult men (Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson, in this case) fit themselves in that space… and then wiggle those puppets for the duration of the interview? It would be reasonable to expect that their arms would fall off.
And in fact, at a VultureFest panel in 2016, Eric talked about a particularly memorable talk show appearance when his hand fell asleep partway through the interview, at which point Miss Piggy began to give noticeably shorter and shorter answers to the host’s questions.
That’s not voice acting.
How long can YOU hold your arms straight up in the air? I can do it for just a couple of minutes before they start to get tired. And fortunately, I can put them down. But these guys have to hold theirs up for several minutes at a time, all day long. In the A&E Biography special on Sesame Street in 2001, Caroll Spinney talked about traveling to Melbourne, Australia to perform Big Bird in a parade that lasted an hour and 45 minutes. That’s almost two hours inside a bulky costume, holding up a 4.5-pound bird head!
That’s another extreme example, but still… That’s not voice acting.
Not to mention those moments when the Muppet performers have to get uncomfortably close to each other. Just look at this image, often circulated on the internet:
When people who are not Muppet geeks see this image, they often comment on the fact that the guy on the left has his face in Jim Henson’s armpit. That guy, of course, is Richard Hunt. He was one of the most prominent Muppet performers from the 1970s to his death in 1992. He played Don Music, Forgetful Jones, and Placido Flamingo on Sesame Street; Scooter, Beaker, Janice and Statler on The Muppet Show; and Junior Gorg and dozens of others on Fraggle Rock. He was a big deal in the Muppets. And yet, sometimes his job was to stick his face in his boss’s armpit.
In the Muppet Guys Talking documentary, the titular Muppet guys talk about performing while perched precariously on a forklift, riding a makeshift elevator, and buried in a hole in the woods. They do whatever it takes to make the scene work. The work they do is often strenuous, often exhausting, and always very physical. And it’s not voice acting.
So the next time you hear someone call these guys “voice actors,” try politely but firmly correcting them. It’s the least you can do for the Muppet performers after all they’ve gone through to entertain you.
For more on this subject, head over to the amazing Muppet Wiki and take a look at the collections of behind the scenes photos to see lots of full-grown adults squeezed into odd positions with their arms over their heads!
P.S. “Muppet performer” is the preferred terminology. You could call them “Muppeteers,” but Jim Henson reportedly hated that word. But that’s a topic for another time!
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We’re talking about Minutes 31 & 32 of The Muppet Movie: The band plays “Can You Picture That?” for almost this entire clip! With guest Josh Spiegel of the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast! Plus: Jim Henson is a good rock singer! Scooter plays the fish! And none of us can understand that one lyric by Dr. Teeth!
As of this writing, Muppet Guys Talking has been available to watch by everyone with an internet connection and $10 in their pocket for three days. Have you seen it yet? If not, stop reading my ramblings and get over to MuppetGuysTalking.com to remedy this situation. And then come back here for the ramblings.
For those of you who have seen the movie, wasn’t it just the best?? For years, we’ve been hoping, begging, pleading the original Muppet performers to write their memoirs or get their stories down on tape. We’ve been grateful to get a few biographies, autobiographies, and documentaries over the years, but none have focused on the five performers who sat around a coffee table and talked about their memories of wiggling dollies.
What I’m trying to say is this: We are beyond lucky to get this glimpse into the minds of Frank Oz, Fran Brill, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, and Bill Barretta.
I’ve got to start this review with my one and only complaint. There isn’t enough. Oh, don’t get me wrong – just over an hour of Muppet performers talking about Muppet performing is glorious. And with a reported 9 hours of footage, cutting it down to that length seems on par to just about any other documentary. But the whole thing just made me want to see more, learn more, laugh more. I’m sure I’d be making the same complaint if the doc was 9 hours long. And y’know, that’s easily the best problem to have.
My partner-in-crime Ryan Roe already did a bang-up job writing about his feelings toward the film in his spoiler-free review (be warned: this one will be entirely spoiler-filled starting now), so I’ll take a slightly different approach. Rather than recap the whole movie you’ve already seen (more than a few times, I assume), I’ve broken out my thoughts into some super-fun categories. Who doesn’t love a good category???
Favorite Frank Moment
Well, this is just an impossible place to start. As the de-facto “star” of this film, as well as the conductor of the conversation, Frank acts as the master puppeteer he’s always been, pulling this string or moving that rod in order to get his cast to provide the best performance necessary. It’s easy to see why Frank is such a great director in those little moments, and the film as a whole really showcases his brilliance and flexibility. Just like the world-class puppeteer we know him to be.
Favorite Bill Moment
As someone who’s heard hundreds of behind-the-scenes stories and knows more about Muppet history than the average Schmo on the street, I love getting surprised by learning about a new Muppet factoid. For example, I’d heard before about the origin of Pepe’s accent (Bill’s wife’s aunt, who accented most sentences with “okay”), but I’d never heard the story about developing Pepe’s personality. Kirk Thatcher asked Bill to tell him about his aunt-in-law, and when trying to explain how she can often act selfish, he accidentally said “shellfish”. And thus, a King Prawn was born!
Favorite Fran Moment
When this movie was first announced, most everyone immediately noticed that the title was Muppet Guys Talking, but one of the talkers is not a guy. And somehow, this was a complete shock to Frank Oz, as Fran blew his mind when she said that as a woman, she could never just be “one of the guys”. Even though she was completely accepted as a member of the Muppet troupe, she needed to keep a certain distance from the boys’ club in order to retain her femininity. This is such an important moment in the documentary, reminding us all that this industry was (and, in many ways, still is) male-dominated, and Fran is still shocking her longtime collaborators with the truth about gender inequity.
Favorite Dave Moment
This is an easy one. I love hearing Dave tell stories, but rarely do we hear him start the same story four times, completely lose his train of thought, and abandon the entire point. That’s probably because this is normally the sort of thing that gets left on the cutting room floor, but for reasons we may never truly understand, the choice was made to leave it in. This says a lot about the sort of film Frank Oz wanted to make, but it says more about Dave Goelz and his humanity, his flaws (more on this soon), and his joy in rolling with the punches.
Favorite Jerry Moment
Is it bad to say “everything”? As the only member who isn’t around to share any more of his stories, I ate up every second of Jerry’s screen time. But the part that brought the biggest smile to my face was Jerry’s description of The Count: “he wasn’t into blood and all, but has a real jones for counting.” Not that we needed to learn the secret motivation behind the creation of a vampire numerologist, but Jerry’s explanation is packed with an innate simplicity, as well as some Floyd-level hipness without any effort, thus cementing Jerry Nelson as the coolest person who ever lived.
Favorite “So That’s How They Did That” Moment
For my entire life, I’ve wondered how the Muppets shimmied up a drainpipe in The Great Muppet Caper. And now we know, and I’m blown away by the brilliant simplicity of the technology, as well as the sheer danger all the performers were put in for a single gag.
Favorite Behind-the-Scenes Moment
What happens when the cameras stop rolling? Frank Oz lets us know (while, I guess, not actually stopping the camera roll) as the cast breaks for coffee and the conversation continues. Not only does this prove that Frank is a fearless director, but also, the entire movie is a true-to-life conversation that might be similar even if there were no cameras at all. What a wonderful moment to help us feel like we’re actually in the room with these magnificent people.
Favorite Positive Attribute in Character Development
It’s mentioned several times while discussing characters: Sometimes you need to let go to really bring a character to life. Big Mean Carl, Gonzo, and Guy Smiley were all outlets for their performers to completely cut loose, act crazy, and help inject pure energy and comedy into the life of a Muppet.
Favorite Negative Attribute in Character Development
Dave Goelz put it best when he said that his characters are defined by their flaws. Frank Oz said the same thing about Miss Piggy, who is apparently constantly doing everything she can to cover up her pain. But in those flaws come equally positive attributes (for example, Gonzo is “crazy, but free”), and that’s one of the most important lessons I think anyone could learn about character creation.
Favorite Revelation into What Made the Muppets Great
That’s the real thing we’d all want to discover from a documentary like this, right? What was that magic combination that led to decades of brilliant work, memorable characters, and iconic productions? The secret is revealed in this documentary, and it’s proven through the creation of the documentary itself. The Muppets’ success came from a concoction of fun, experimentation, and collaboration. Jim Henson encouraged a sense of play in everything they did. He wasn’t afraid to try any idea from anyone. And, as it was stated in the film, Jim was a cultivator of people. That’s the secret to success, and you can see all these elements in play throughout Muppet Guys Talking.
Favorite Dangling Thread
Seriously, what the hell is the camel???
Favorite Inspirational Moment
Jerry Nelson put it so eloquently. “People who feel disenfranchised in life feel accepted in the Muppet world.” He was talking about those lucky enough to work close to Jim Henson, and how Jim surrounded himself with misfits and free thinkers, but I like to think he was talking about us too – those of us who have chosen to love the Muppets and the works of Jim Henson more than most. Many of us feel out of place, or different in some way, and that’s a difficult thing to accept and embrace. But we’ve got a lifetime of amazing TV and film to love and share and a motley crew of a community to share in it with. There’s something about the Muppets that especially lends itself to this sort of acceptance, and we’re all so grateful to have found it.
That’s just a few of the amazing moments found in Muppet Guys Talking, so I’ll leave you with this one final observation: The glue that holds each and every character, joke, song, production, and moment together is collaboration. And although it’s rare when the original Muppet performers work together anymore, the result of collaboration plus time is reunion, and this is the gift Frank Oz and the filmmakers behind this fantastic documentary have given to us.
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The fourth and final issue of the latest miniseries based on Jim Henson’s classic series, The Storyteller, is coming to stores this Wednesday, March 21st.
In the last “Fairies” story, writer and artist Celia Lowenthal weaves a tale about a man who shrinks down to the size of a fairy and, inevitably, learns some tough lessons and morals, as one does in a Storyteller story.
The first few pages are below for your teasing needs. Enjoy!
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Normally, a film debut comes tandem with a big red carpet premiere. Today, with the official release of Muppet Guys Talking, the stars are spread across the country, so they chose to have the world premiere in the same place where you can find the movie: on the internet.
For over an hour, four well-dressed Muppet performers hosted a live hangout on Facebook Live where they answered questions, joked around, and welcomed celebrity guests like Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage, Star Wars director Rian Johnson, Alan Tudyk, David Arquette, and more.
Join the Guys of "Muppet Guys Talking" Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Fran Brill, Frank Oz. We're taking selected questions from you, talking about the film, and hosting special guests.When you ask a question, be sure to tell us where you're from and who your question is for!
My house, sometime in the 1990’s: A young Matthew watches The Great Muppet Caper on VHS for the umpteenth time. At the moment when Animal grunts and strains to pull off the roof panel at the Mallory Gallery, he asks a question that would lead to a huge discovery.
“Why does Animal sound like Grover?”
It’s because of that question that I’ve uncovered a crucial fact that needs to be shared. It may change people’s perception forever, but I’m compelled to reveal the truth.
The Muppets are not actually frogs, bears, pigs, birds, monsters, and the like. The Muppets are, in fact… puppets.
(I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself. Come back when you’re ready.)
Yes, it’s true. The Muppets are puppets. Puppets that are operated by… wait for it… people. Real life human beings. Just like you and me. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true.
You see, Jim Henson knew all this. He knew that even with all the technical wizardry that he and his team developed, the real key asset in bringing these puppets to life was the puppeteers, and he was never afraid to show them off. When 60 Minutes did a piece on how The Muppet Show was made, alongside Jim and Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, and Jerry Nelson were interviewed. When The Jim Henson Hour revealed the “Secrets of the Muppets,” it ended with Henson showing off the puppeteers on the show at work, showing just how much effort and coordination is required to make fleece and foam into unforgettable characters.
And then for a while, after Jim’s death, it felt like a conscious decision was made by the powers in charge to hide the performers behind the scenes, like they were a dirty little secret that only the diehard fans really cared about. But in recent years, it seems that the curtain has been lifted. Three years ago, at the D23 Expo, I was pleasantly surprised to see the likes of Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson, and David Rudman receive equal billing with Rowlf, Miss Piggy, and Scooter. At Vulture Fest’s “Morning With the Muppets,” Steve Whitmire and Eric were interviewed longer that Kermit and Fozzie (and not just because those puppets are hard to keep up for long periods of time). And live performances that may have been eschewed in the past because you would have to see the performers are now coming to fruition.
Now some may say that it spoils the magic. Kermit is a frog, not a composition of fabric and a ping pong ball cut in half! But to them, I say, does it really take away what you get out of these performances? Even when I’m seeing these characters performed with the puppeteers in full view, my eyes are still drawn to the puppets. These characters are so expressive and so well-performed that having a puppeteer visible doesn’t change anything. That’s a testament to the incredible work that these performers put into their characters. Kermit is a frog, and it’s because of the performers that we feel that way.
But perhaps the most wonderful part of it all is that these puppeteers are finally getting to tell their stories, and are being appreciated for who they are and the work they do. Caroll Spinney was celebrated in a feature documentary, I Am Big Bird. Muppet fans around the world jump on Facebook to watch Below the Frame. And this week, another film joins the pantheon in Muppet Guys Talking. They share performing tricks, behind the scenes in-jokes, and most importantly, how they were inspired to become puppeteers and how aspiring performers can hone their craft so that, maybe one day, they can join them on Sesame Street, or with the Muppet Show Muppets, or perhaps in a completely new project from the next aspiring Jim Henson.
So I’m going to make a bold prediction, one that I don’t make lightly. Now that the performers are more visible and accessible than they’ve been in years, I think you’re going to see something.
I think you’re going to see more people getting interested in puppetry.
Not all of them will wind up on Sesame Street or the like, but I think more people will think of puppetry as an art form that anyone can try. Maybe it starts with a kid (or even an adult) playing with sock puppets. Someday, that kid buys a toy puppet with a little more expression. And if they’re still having fun, they take a class, or maybe even build their own puppet. And now that they see more examples that puppetry can be a viable career, maybe they stick with it a little longer.
They meet up with other puppeteers. Maybe even join the Puppeteers of America (or a similar organization they have in their country). And then, when these big production companies put out a call for performers for workshops, they send their video in. And maybe, with a lot of time and effort, they can join the ranks of the Muppet performers. And they can share their stories, so that some other kid can be inspired and make up characters with sock puppets.
After years below the frame, the Muppet performers are standing up, and the world is seeing that the people behind the Muppets are just as fascinating as the Muppets themselves.
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by Matthew Soberman
It’s Goelz, actually. But it’s nice to see him on TV!
With the release of Muppet Guys Talking finally upon us, the Muppet Guys are making sure the whole world knows about the documentary. The promotional campaign includes an appearance on today’s Good Morning America. Check it out to see Frank Oz, Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz and Fran Brill chat about the documentary, their colleagues, and doin’ Muppet stuff:
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Muppet Guys Talking, Frank Oz’s documentary featuring Muppet performers Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta, and Dave Goelz, is now available to watch. Finally!
To stream or download the film, it’ll only cost you $9.97, and you can get it on the film’s website, MuppetGuysTalking.com.
And there’s also a second option: the “Below Stage Pass”, which costs a whopping $97!!! (A price that will presumably go up to $197 after March 21st.) This VIP pass will get you the film, access to live Hangouts with the cast, recordings of those Hangouts (in case you’re unable to watch live), the ability to submit questions to the performers, and bonus deleted outtakes from the film. This option is also available on MuppetGuysTalking.com.
Hopefully there are some Muppet fans with deep pockets who will be able to enjoy the VIP package.
In any case, we can’t wait for everyone to see this fantastic movie. Go ahead and give it a watch (or two) and let us know what you think!
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