How Muppets Work


Announcer

Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from www.HowStuffWorks.com.Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what's on the other side?

Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. Hey, Chuck Bryant!

Chuck Bryant

Hey, Josh Clark.

Josh Clark

It's a beautiful day here at How Stuff Works, isn't it?

Chuck Bryant

It is.

Josh Clark

I have a question for you, Chuck. Have you ever been half asleep and heard voices, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

Josh, I've heard them call my name.

Josh Clark

Is that a sweet sound that calls young sailors?

Chuck Bryant

I can't remember the next line.

Josh Clark

It might be one and the same - I think it is one and the same, yes.

Chuck Bryant

Clearly, we are speaking of none other than the top 25 hit Academy Award nominated song, rainbow connection.

Josh Clark

Yeah. As performed by a certain philosophizing frog in a swamp in the beginning of "The Muppet Movie." We're going to be talking about how the Muppets work today.

Chuck Bryant

Josh is like rocking in his chair right now. He's so excited.

Josh Clark

I love the Muppets. Who doesn't love the Muppets?

Chuck Bryant

You show me somebody who doesn't love the Muppets, and they've got a butt kicking coming to them via me.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Chuck's the Muppet enforcer.

Chuck Bryant

I am.

Josh Clark

The Muppet love enforcer.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

I think we should probably give a disclaimer, Chuck. If anybody is really attached to illusion and doesn't really want to know the nitty-gritty details of how Muppets are made and moved about, they should probably not listen to this one.

Chuck Bryant

Right. People that don't even want to acknowledge that they are puppets.

Josh Clark

Yeah. The lovers, the dreamers!

Chuck Bryant

And me. That's awesome.

Josh Clark

Chuck, let's start at the beginning. Let's start in 1955.

Chuck Bryant

Got to start with Jim Henson.

Josh Clark

Well, yeah. There areno Muppets without Jim Henson. It even says it right there in the article, "How Muppets Work," that you can find at www.HowStuffWorks.com, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yep.

Josh Clark

Washington D.C. Has a local TV station, and in, I think, the winter of 1955, a young college freshman, Jim Henson -

Chuck Bryant

1955, dude. People probably had no idea this went back that far.

Josh Clark

This guy was starting something huge at this time. It's puppets. Puppets were relegated to children's birthday parties and stuff like that. This guy is bringing them onto TV.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly. Huge!

Josh Clark

And what was kind of surprising is that this show, "Sam and Friends -"

Chuck Bryant

That was his first show.

Josh Clark

Um hm, the one on the local Washington D.C. television station - was for adults.

Chuck Bryant

Absolutely. I believe there was some satire involved, correct?

Josh Clark

Correct.

Chuck Bryant

Political satire, parody. They parodied other television shows, and it ran for six years. It got him on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show."

Josh Clark

Actually, this was where a little lizard-like creature, who came to be known as Kermit, debuted.

Chuck Bryant

Should I do it?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Hi ho, Kermit the Frog here.

Josh Clark

That is wonderful.

Chuck Bryant

Not bad, huh?

Josh Clark

Chuck revealed before the reel that's run by a hamster started rolling that he started with Kermit. That was your first voice?

Chuck Bryant

First voice.

Josh Clark

What else do you got?

Chuck Bryant

My voices are mediocre at best, but I still like doing them.

Josh Clark

I gotta tell you, you nail Kermit.

Chuck Bryant

I've been doing Kermit since I was 6. Kermie!

Josh Clark

Well, you got him. I'm trying to get a yay out of Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

I can't do that. I have a limited range.

Josh Clark

Well, Kermit, lizard-like Kermit, as we'll call him, was joined by some other wonderfully named puppets that weren't quite called Muppets yet. They were still puppets in Henson's mind. You had Sam, Yorick, Harry the Hipster - one of my favorites.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Professor Madcliffe.

Chuck Bryant

I'm surprised it wasn't a Hippie Rob.

Josh Clark

No Hippie Rob yet. Give it another decade. Mushmellon and Chicken Liver were part of the regular cast. Basically, it was Henson and a classmate of his named Jane Nebel.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

Who later became Jane Henson?

Chuck Bryant

Yep. They met up, and she kind of assisted him early on. They fell in love - dated, fell in love. She was actually replaced when they got married and had kids.

Josh Clark

By one Frank Oz.

Chuck Bryant

Frank Oz, a 19-year-old Frank Oz.

Josh Clark

He was originally hired just to be the right hand, literally, of Rowlf the dog.

Chuck Bryant

Right. They call that technique right-handing.

Josh Clark

We'll get into that. Rowlf actually - fun fact - Rowlf the dog with big floppy ears who's performed with the likes of Liberace, among others, was actually created specifically to sell Purina dog food.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. After he did "Sam and Friends," he produced TV commercials for a while with the early Muppets, a bunch of them.

Josh Clark

Clearly, we've transitioned into the era where there were Muppets. We went from "Sam and Friends," and now Muppets are starting to come about. There's Rowlf. Kermit's now a frog. He's made that sexual transition from lizard to frog.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly.

Josh Clark

That rite of passage that every lizard has to go through. There's still no TV show. We're in the 60s and everyone's getting to be aware of the Muppets. Chuck, like you said, they were on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Jimmy Dean Show," which you should've been in the green room for that one - sausage everywhere.

Chuck Bryant

I'm sure. He did create some pilots, but they never took. No one every bought them up.

Josh Clark

No, and he got really close with ABC, but they walked on a deal.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

What really kind of catapulted him into a possible TV deal was the formation of a kids' show called "Sesame Street."

Chuck Bryant

Yep, the Children's Television Network, started by Joan Cooney in 1968.

Josh Clark

Right. And Jim Henson always kind of thought of his puppets, and then Muppets, as for adults! This was adult stuff. Even today, there's Puppet Up! Uncensored! It's a live improve Muppet/puppet show.

Chuck Bryant

For adults only.

Josh Clark

That's carried on by his son Brian. It's very much in the tradition of Jim Henson's original idea, which is these are puppets, but they're for adults. There's just that kind of ironic twist that these puppets are cursing, you know?

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But apparently, somewhere along the line, the way he came to figure out that children can be a very sophisticated audience. That was a quote in the article.

Chuck Bryant

Absolutely. That's pretty cool.

Josh Clark

He went along with "Sesame Street," right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, and that's where it blew up. Everyone who grew up in the United States, and probably elsewhere, watched "Sesame Street" as a kid, and may still! That's where we were introduced to Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster. It doesn't get any more classic than that.

Josh Clark

No. Grover is my favorite "Sesame Street" character.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I did a little video of a Grover finger puppet. This was back in the VHS days where you could edit. I had to edit it all in camera as I shot it. I used a Ween song and a Grover finger puppet.

Josh Clark

Nice.

Chuck Bryant

It was pretty fun.

Josh Clark

This had nothing to do with karate, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

No. These were just my early film-making days. It was fun.

Josh Clark

Got you. So "Sesame Street" takes off, and is still going today. This has got to be one of the longest-running television shows of all time.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

I think "60 Minutes" has it beat, maybe "General Hospital." Did you know "General Hospital" has been on since the mid 50s?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, who cares?

Josh Clark

Yeah, but dude, that's a really long time for a single television show to run.

Chuck Bryant

That's a lot of crap.

Josh Clark

It is. They just shovel it on, don't they?

Chuck Bryant

Back to the goodness of the Muppets though.

Josh Clark

So he's almost there. He's so close. He's been shooting pilots. None of them are getting taken up. ABC walked. A little show called "Saturday Night Live" starts up in 1975.

Chuck Bryant

I did not know this until I read this article.

Josh Clark

I didn't either, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

And I'm a big SNL fan.

Josh Clark

I'm trying to sound like I did know this already.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

The first season include sketches called "The Land of Gorch."

Chuck Bryant

Which were larger Muppets?

Josh Clark

Uh huh. The SNL writers said, "We're not writing for puppets."

Chuck Bryant

In fact, I think their head writer is famously quoted as saying, "I don't write for felt."

Josh Clark

Who was that, Al Franken?

Chuck Bryant

It wasn't Al Franken. I can't remember his name.

Josh Clark

Senator Al Franken.

Chuck Bryant

Senator Al Franken.

Josh Clark

That's so crazy.

Chuck Bryant

That was very short-lived.

Josh Clark

Finally, Henson strikes the deal with ITC, and they start shooting "The Muppet Show" in London and syndicating it out on CBS. This was 1976.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. The pilot, though - I thought this was interesting. I should mention - the name of the pilot was called "Sex and Violence."

Josh Clark

I was watching it earlier. One of the Muppets comes out - not one I could identify by sight - comes out, and there's this huge thing carved out of stone. It says, "Sex and Violence." The announcer said, "And now the end of Sex and Violence on TV," and the Muppet presses a dynamite plunger and blows up the Sex and Violence, and then the Muppet theme show starts.

Chuck Bryant

Nice. That makes sense, then. I thought it was just one of those ironic names or something.

Josh Clark

I don't think so.

Chuck Bryant

Like Jim Henson was trying to be ironically funny.

Josh Clark

I think he was still, but sure.

Chuck Bryant

Got you. The end of sex and violence! So "The Muppet Show" was born, and the rest is history. The end!

Josh Clark

The end. Thanks for coming. Chuck, what was your favorite Muppet?

Chuck Bryant

Pigs in space.

Josh Clark

Nice. How did you get your voice to do that?

Chuck Bryant

Any time you say those three words together, that happens. You should try it at home.

Josh Clark

Let me try. Pigs in space! I can do it too.

Chuck Bryant

That was good. Or the judges!

Josh Clark

The two old guys in the balcony?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

What was it, Statler and Waldorf?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Those guys were excellent.

Chuck Bryant

Henson actually voiced Waldorf. I guess we should talk about who the creator actually voiced, specifically.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

He did Kermit the Frog. He did Rowlf the Dog. He did Waldorf. He did Dr. Teeth of -

Josh Clark

Electric Mayhem.

Chuck Bryant

Electric Mayhem, which was the hippie band. I think Dr. Teeth was probably modeled after Dr. John. That's a guess.

Josh Clark

Probably. He had that kind of New Orleans accent, did he?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Then Link Hogthrob of "Pigs in Space!"

Josh Clark

Of what?

Chuck Bryant

Pigs in Space.

Josh Clark

Excellent.

Chuck Bryant

And he did the Ernie half of Bert and Ernie.

Josh Clark

I have to say, Ernie is one of my favorite characters. I know he's on "Sesame Street," but he's one of my favorite Muppets.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

I kind of go for the really sweet, kind-hearted ones.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Ernie, Fozzie, Bunson.

Chuck Bryant

Which one was Bunson?

Josh Clark

The little professor with Beaker.

Chuck Bryant

Oh yeah. Loved them!

Josh Clark

Have you seen Beaker doing "Ode to Joy"?

Chuck Bryant

No.

Josh Clark

It's pretty cool. It's on YouTube. Type in "Meep" and "Ode to Joy," and it'll come up.

Chuck Bryant

Really? I'll have to check it out.

Josh Clark

He's like, "Meep meep meep meep meep meep meep." It's pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant

And of course the chef.

Josh Clark

The Swedish chef who actually has the distinction of being the only Muppet with live human hands uncovered by gloves or anything like that. I was watching a clip of the Swedish chef, and you can very easily see why they did that. He has to put dashes of things in and pinches of stuff in. He actually has, I believe, Frank Oz's hands.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Then it's Jim Henson doing his head.

Chuck Bryant

We'll talk about the Muppets here in a minute, too, because it gets really intense.

Josh Clark

I get really ahead of myself sometimes.

Chuck Bryant

I know. It's just exciting. Then Frank Oz, of course, which was the other half. I think the quote in the article, which I thought was cool, was Jim Henson said that Frank Oz was probably the person most responsible for the Muppets being funny. Frank Oz is a very funny guy.

Josh Clark

He is. He also puppeted and voiced Yoda in all the "Star Wars."

Chuck Bryant

Well of course.

Josh Clark

Oh, you know that, did you?

Chuck Bryant

I think everyone knew Frank Oz did Yoda. He did Rowlf the Dog. I'm sorry, he right-handed Rowlf the Dog. Jim Henson did the voice.

Josh Clark

Remember, that's what he was hired for at age 19.

Chuck Bryant

Right. He did the Bert half. He did Grover, your favorite. He did Cookie Monster, Animal. Who doesn't love Animal?

Josh Clark

I love Animal.

Chuck Bryant

A lot of screaming with that one. Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear, of course, two of the iconic characters! You know, Frank went on to direct movies. He worked with Henson for like30 years, and then directed movies.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

He directed "What About Bob," and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and some other classics.

Josh Clark

Which I gotta tell you, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is one of the greatest movies ever made.

Chuck Bryant

And he's acted too. He was in "The Blues Brothers" briefly.

Josh Clark

Was he the corrections offer who hands him back his prophylactic?

Chuck Bryant

Yes, he is.

Josh Clark

"One prophylactic, used."

Chuck Bryant

Later on, he reprises that role, sort of, in "Trading Places." He plays the officer checking out Dan Aykroyd in prison in that film as well. So he's a specialist. He plays officers giving prisoners their stuff back.

Josh Clark

He's typecast. Poor Frank Oz!

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

So Chuck, you want to get into a little behind-the-scenes stuff?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, why not? We might as well.

Josh Clark

Let's start with how a Muppet is made.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, Josh. The Muppets were created only by Jim Henson. He did all the original sketches, and he built some of the original Muppets when he was still a small shop.

Josh Clark

Yeah, but he figured out pretty quick that he had too many in his head, and he needed too many to just do it himself.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. He started out using some materials like paper mache. That didn't work out because it was too hard. Then he tried different cuts of foam. I think he used foam rubber, but found that that deteriorated.

Josh Clark

Yeah, so he used reticulated poly-foam, which I imagine is very much like foam rubber but a little more durable.

Chuck Bryant

Right. I think it's more flexible, because that gave him the opportunity, if you stick your hand in Kermit's head to operate the puppet, to move your knuckles around. And he would raise an eyebrow, and it would give him a little more feature to his face.

Josh Clark

Chuck, you know I love lore. I want to toss this one out. Kermit, lizard Kermit, pre-great-transition Kermit was actually made from - the skin of Kermit - was made from a fuzzy green coat that Jim Henson's mother owned. His eyes were two halves of a toy which I'm not familiar with.

Chuck Bryant

I'm not either.

Josh Clark

Wacky stacks.

Chuck Bryant

I'd never heard of that.

Josh Clark

Cut in half. They always kind of looked like ping pong balls with little pupils drawn on.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Let's go ahead and talk about that.

Josh Clark

The pupils?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. They say they do the eyes last when they're building Muppets because it's the most important part. The pupils are actually very important. This I actually didn't know either. The bigger the pupil, the younger the Muppet!

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Pretty cool.

Josh Clark

It really kind of makes sense. It gets the point across that they're kind of wide-eyed, and innocent, and unfamiliar with the horrors and evil of the world.

ChuckBryant

Right. It says they also tilt the pupils in slightly to give them more focus.

Josh Clark

They move them closer together because if they just put them on these huge eyes where they should be in the middle, the Muppets would look like they had lazy eyes.

Chuck Bryant

Right. The man responsible for this was one of the first guys Jim Henson hired. His name was Don Sahlin.

Josh Clark

I get the impression that this guy was like the man behind the man in a lot of ways. Jim Henson was this very creative, artistic person. He knew what he was doing, but I think Don Sahlin was like, "Okay, I'll make it work."

Chuck Bryant

He was definitely a master sewer, it sounds like.

Josh Clark

He came up with the Henson stitch, which he very graciously named after Henson, the Henson stitch, which is I guess a method of sewing that hides the seam.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

You don't want to see a seam there. It's like, "Oh, I forgot that's a puppet."

Chuck Bryant

Exactly. This is so chockfull of things I never knew. I'm so glad we're doing this. Kermit the Frog actually has a Henson stitch going right up the center of his nose, and you would never know it because the Henson stitch and the little fuzzy felt helps to hide it.

Josh Clark

Yeah, and the fuzzy felt actually is called antron fleece. That's the covering of Kermit and most of the other - you know that Muppet skin?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

They actually call it Muppet fleece, that fabric.

Chuck Bryant

Sort of like a worn tennis ball.

Josh Clark

You know you've arrived when there's a type of textile named after your creation.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, or a stitch named after you. So most Muppets - well, there's either two ways you can go about it. There's either the hand-in-rod method of operating, or a live hand. We talked about the live hand. That is when you literally stick your arm into the arm of the puppet, into a glove, or in the Swedish chef's case, a natural hand.

Josh Clark

Right. There's actually two people operating it. Let's start with the hand-in-rod one - or rod-in-hand.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

Most puppeteers are right-handed, so their right hand would be inside the Muppet operating the head, the face, that kind of thing. Their left hand would be holding the two rods that were attached to the Muppet's hand. Grover is an example of a hand-in-rod one.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So the left hand would make the hands clap, that kind of thing. These two very thin dowels! You could move them with your fingers, right?

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

So one person could operate it. Actually, since most Muppeteers were right-handed, and they were operating with their left hand, most Muppets are left-handed, since they're operating the hands with them.

Chuck Bryant

Yep. Another cool fact!

Josh Clark

Except there was one Muppeteer who was left-handed, and all of her Muppets were right-handed.

Chuck Bryant

Really? I didn't know that.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Man, I'm learning so much. Then clearly if one person is operating both hands, there's a limited amount of things they can do. That's where the right-handing comes in. If you need specific movements done with both hands, then a second puppeteer comes in, operates only the right hand - which is what Frank Oz was hired to do in the case of Rowlf.

Josh Clark

Right. Ernie is another example.

Chuck Bryant

Is he right-handed?

Josh Clark

Yes. There are two guys standing next to each other. There's one guy who has his right hand up as high as it can go, and he's operating the face. Then his left hand is up the arm of the Muppet. Then the other guy has his right hand up the Muppet's right hand. There's two people operating these three parts. They do a pretty good job, but you think about it, and you look at Ernie or something. You wouldn't think there's two people operating him. It sounds very cramped and close.

Chuck Bryant

And it is.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Talk about Henson at the beginning of "The Muppet Movie" when Kermit's on the log.

Chuck Bryant

Oh yeah. Sure. The shots in the movies where you don't see a human - let's back-track a little! What they usually do was a technique that Henson invented called platforming up. So they would build the actual Muppet stage six to eight feet off the ground so the Muppeteers could stand fully upright so they don't have to bend over. Sometimes when that wasn't possible, they built trenches for the Muppeteers to get down in.For the movies, which is what you were talking about, for the scenes where Kermit was sitting on the log and singing "Rainbow Connection" at the opening of the film, Jim Henson was in a little capsule cramped down.

Josh Clark

Underwater.

Chuck Bryant

Underwater, sealed.

Josh Clark

There was a tube sticking up out of the water, probably disguised as a reed that allowed him to breathe, but they were showing off right off the gate. They did a 360 shot of Kermit on the log to show -

Chuck Bryant

No wires. This is not a marionette. Pretty cool!

Josh Clark

It was pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant

I love that. Then they did scenes where they were riding bicycles. In some cases, I think they had to have - I think they call it Muppet switching - where they had a full-body Muppet that they would occasionally have to use the marionette wires.

Josh Clark

Or they would have a little person in it.

Chuck Bryant

Or they would have a little person, or they would use a remote control, which came a little bit later.

Josh Clark

Also, this is my favorite. When they had a Muppet driving a car, the car was actually being driven, so the Muppet would be in the front seat. The Muppeteer would be crouched down in the back seat operating the Muppet. Then there would be a little person in the trunk driving the car with remote control.

Chuck Bryant

Looking at a video screen.

Josh Clark

They're actually extremely sophisticated. What they have to do - this is incredibly complex. You have to know exactly what's going to happen in every scene. Then you have to build the set to accommodate a human person and a Muppet and their Muppeteer, so there may be several different levels. This sounds very dangerous.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Then the Muppeteer as well, they had - and they have had since the 70s - monitors strapped to their chests so they can see what their Muppet is doing.

Chuck Bryant

Which is all backwards?

Josh Clark

It is backward. So they have to know if they are looking at the screen and they want their Muppet to move left, they have to move right.

Chuck Bryant

Very complicated.

Josh Clark

I imagine that the wiring, the neural connections of these people's brains are very unusual. If you could slap them in a wonder machine and take a look at them next to one of ours, I bet you'd notice dome real distinctions.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. We should write an article on Muppeteer's brains. That would be good. You're dead on. One of the Muppeteers - there's been about 100 of them - one of them Dave Goelz said. "It takes maybe five years to do everything without thinking about it. In fact, I still find it difficult." Frank Oz said, "What you're doing is so complicated that you really don't have time to think about what you're doing. First your body understands. Then your mind grasps what you're doing, sometimes." So very complicated stuff!

Josh Clark

There's one other kind of Muppet. We've got hand-in-rod, live hand or right-hand Muppet. Then there's full-body Muppets like Big Bird. Actually, Big Bird is as tall as he looks. What is he, like eight feet tall?

Chuck Bryant

He's pretty tall.

Josh Clark

So there's a Muppeteer in there, probably a fairly tall Muppeteer, platform shoes.

Chuck Bryant

Five-inch shoes.

Josh Clark

Standing up with his right hand going up to Big Bird's mouth.

Chuck Bryant

It's a reach, too.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Can you imagine? I bet they feel like Neil Peart all the time.

Chuck Bryant

You should look on the article. There's some really good, excellent illustrations that show Big Bird with the person inside of it. It is a stretch. That would get really tiring, just physically exhausting, I would imagine.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So the right hand's up. The left hand's controlling the left hand. Then there's a wire connected to the left elbow that's connecting Big Bird's right hand - or that's controlling Big Bird's right hand.

Chuck Bryant

Right, which is why if you notice, if you watch Big Bird, when the right hand goes up, the left hand goes down. When the left hand goes down, the right hand goes up because it's like a little pulley system.

Josh Clark

Right. Chuck, we were talking about Muppeteers performing in trenches on the set or platforming up, how difficult it is to create these sets. Once you know what they're doing, you can see it pretty easily. I was watching a clip of Steve Martin playing dueling banjos with some Muppets on "The Muppet Show."

Chuck Bryant

Classic.

Josh Clark

They're doing it I guess in between performances because they're out in the theater seats. Steve Martin doesn't move the whole time. God knows how many pits are in either side of him or how far he would fall if he stepped one way or the other. Then some of the other Muppets are in the rows of seats behind him. That clearly provides a trench for the Muppeteers too. Once you kind of know how they did it, you can see the techniques in use. It's pretty interesting.

Chuck Bryant

I bet it was a cool set to visit, for sure. Speaking of sets, there were a couple of ways they could do it. They were either Muppet-sized when there was only Muppets involved, which would be scaled down, obviously."The Muppet Show" was famous for having celebrity guests each week when humans interacted, as they do on "Sesame Street" too. They would have kind of a mix. Some things would be human-sized. Then they would do a technique called forced perspective. They would make a door seven-eighths the size of a real door in the background to make it look like it's really far away, or just to bring everything to where it all matches up.

Josh Clark

Fantastic.

Chuck Bryant

Pretty cool.

Josh Clark

That is cool.

Chuck Bryant

What's the quote from Carol Burnett? The article talked about humans interacting with Muppets and what's it like to act with poly-foam?

Josh Clark

She said something like, "When you're standing next to Kermit and interacting with him, you totally believe him."

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

She was on "The Muppet Show" a lot, wasn't she?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, she was. The other cool thing was between takes, they said the Muppets would often just chit-chat with the actors, like making small talk. Just totally buy into it. I love it.

Josh Clark

That would've been an awesome show to do. It was a good time for it, too. Chuck, if you notice, there's so much going on on "The Muppet Show." They really nailed the realism in part because there was so many Muppets going around.

Chuck Bryant

In the big scenes.

Josh Clark

Right. Then you have the stars, clearly, like Miss Piggy, Kermit, Swedish chef, Bunson, Beaker, all them.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

Then you also had some Muppets you don't really recognize.

Chuck Bryant

Background extras, basically.

Josh Clark

Right. There's actually a name for these Muppets. They create blank-slate Muppets. Then depending on what they need, they have all sorts of costumes, eyebrows, eyes.

Chuck Bryant

Hair.

Josh Clark

Noses. All that stuff they can switch out real quick.

Chuck Bryant

Pretty cool.

Josh Clark

What do they call them?

Chuck Bryant

There's a couple of names. Originally they were called "Anything Muppets." The one I like, they were called "Whatnots."

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I love that.

Josh Clark

I knew you would like Whatnots over Anything Muppets.

Chuck Bryant

Who wouldn't? The Whatnots. That would be a good band name. They were basically the background extra of "The Muppet Show." They would just interchange these guys and girls. I guess they were gender specific.

Josh Clark

Sure. Yeah. Miss Piggy actually had her own real human costume designer for "The Muppet Show."

Chuck Bryant

One of the Muppets that wore clothes. A lot of them were in the buff.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Kermit wore his trench coat sometimes.

Chuck Bryant

When he was on "Sesame Street," he was the roving reporter where he had the trench coat, and the hat, and everything, which was pretty awesome. I love the idea of a frog reporter. Then on "The Muppet Show," his character was kind of the lead producer of the show. That was the idea of the show.That leads me to the "30 Rock" thing I was going to tell you about, the television show "30 Rock," there's a thing on the internet someone did on a blog, I think. They link "The Muppet Show" to "30 Rock," and how they were basically the same show. Liz Lemon was Kermit, trying to pull the show together amid the craziness.

Josh Clark

Oh yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Jane Krakowski was Miss Piggy. I can't remember the other characters, but they kind of tied each one to the other. The only one they couldn't get a representation of was the Alec Baldwin character, which I thought was pretty interesting.

Josh Clark

Maybe he would be Carol Burnett.

Chuck Bryant

Maybe so. I think they said he could've been both Waldorf and Statler, or something like that.

Josh Clark

Got you. That's pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, it's pretty cool.

Josh Clark

Chuck, I guess that's kind of emblematic of the Muppets, right? "The Muppet Show" produced a bunch of spinoffs. First of all, you've got the three movies, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

You've got "The Muppet Movie," "The Muppets Take Manhattan," and "The Great Muppet Caper." All three of them excellent films!

Chuck Bryant

Apparently, Seth Rogan and Jason Siegel, the actors from "Knocked Up," were trying to make another Muppet movie. I don't know if that's ever going to happen, but they were kind of in talks with the Henson people to write a script and make another Muppet movie.

Josh Clark

Did you ever watch "Fraggle Rock"?

Chuck Bryant

Did I watch "Fraggle Rock"?

Josh Clark

I didn't, actually.

Chuck Bryant

Dude, "Fraggle Rock" was on when I was 11, 12, and 13 on HBO, right when I first got HBO.

Josh Clark

Will you just answer the question?

Chuck Bryant

Yes. I lived and breathed "Fraggle Rock." I lived down in "Fraggle Rock."

Josh Clark

Chuck, you will be happy to know - or possibly dismayed - that there is a "Fraggle Rock" movie that is supposed to have already come out that hasn't yet. I imagine it's coming down the pike.

Chuck Bryant

It is. I looked it up today. Right now they have the date listed as 2011.

Josh Clark

Good God.

Chuck Bryant

So we'll see.

Josh Clark

And "Fraggle Rock" is not the only one. Did you ever watch "Muppet Babies"?

Chuck Bryant

I did not. That was after my time.

Josh Clark

That was right in my time. Actually, embarrassingly, maybe slightly after, but I still watched it.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

That was a really good cartoon. Barbara Billingsley played the nanny whose face you never saw.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Yeah. They used to have some great adventures that they took me along on.

Chuck Bryant

I didn't know that. Then my favorite was "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas."

Josh Clark

Have you seen that?

Chuck Bryant

Man, are you joking? How old are you? It came out in 1977. I was six years old.

Josh Clark

I was one.

Chuck Bryant

"Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas." Have you seen it, Jeri?

Jeri

No.

Chuck Bryant

Jeri hasn't seen it. "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" is one of the best Christmas specials ever in the history of Christmas specials.

Josh Clark

I'll check it out.

Chuck Bryant

It was awesome. The Riverbottom Nightmare Band was - there were two bands. There was Emmet Otter, clearly, with his jug-band, who were these little nice otters that played country jug music.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Then there was the evil faction, which was the Riverbottom Nightmare Band. They did this hard rock heavy metal stuff. They had a snake Muppet that was swimming around in a tank. It was awesome.

Josh Clark

That's pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant

Really, really good.

Josh Clark

I will check that out. I will add that to "A Christmas Story," and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Chuck Bryant

You totally should.

Josh Clark

Okay. That's pretty much Muppets. They're still going on. As we mentioned, Brian Henson's doing the "Puppet Up! Uncensored" improve show. I think you can catch him at ComicCon in San Diego, Australia. TBS had some stuff. I'm pretty sure if you type "Puppet Up" on the internet, it'll bring up some stuff for you.

Chuck Bryant

There is a Broadway show called "Avenue Q."

Josh Clark

It's like a revision of "Sesame Street," but for adults, a little more drama.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. They had to work it out with the Henson Company to get approval.

Josh Clark

It won a Tony in 2004 for best musical.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. So good move there! I want to just recommend, if anyone visits Los Angeles ever or lives in Los Angeles - if you live there you know about it - but the Jim Henson Company is located at the corner of LaBrea and Sunset. It was the original Charlie Chaplin studios. It's this really cool, old, English Tudor studio, but it's small. It's not like some big studio. It's right in the middle of Hollywood, so it's not very big.You drive by there now, and it's got a big archway right when you drive in. On top, there's an eight-foot tall Kermit dresses as the Charlie Chaplin little tramp character with a top hat and cane.

Josh Clark

Cool.

Chuck Bryant

It's really cool.

Josh Clark

And the Hitler mustache?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, and the Hitler mustache. I don't think he has the mustache, actually.

Josh Clark

So, Chuck, I want to leave everybody with a really chilling thought. Imagine Jim Henson back in 1955 had decided to go into accounting, and this world was a world without Muppets.

Chuck Bryant

Are you trying to make me cry?

Josh Clark

Isn't that a weird thought?

Chuck Bryant

Are you trying to make me punch you in the neck?

Josh Clark

Imagine there are no Muppets. It really kind of barrels it into perspective.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. We should write a book called A World Without Muppets.

Josh Clark

Like some alternate realty fiction. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

That'd be awful.

Josh Clark

It's nothing but war.

Chuck Bryant

Thank you, Jim Henson, who everyone knows, sadly, in 1990, passed away of a kind of pneumonia. They said it wasn't actually pneumonia, but it was a bacterial infection that shut his organs down, basically. He complained of flu-like symptoms to his ex-wife, who he was still close with. I think they were separated at the time. He went to the hospital and 20 hours later died. It was very, very sad. But his children continue that tradition.His son does not actually do the voice of Kermit, as many people thought. His son, Brian! A lot of people thought he took over for Kermit. It was actually me. I took over for Kermit.

Josh Clark

Yes you did.

Chuck Bryant

That's my side gig.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So that's Muppets.

Chuck Bryant

I could go on for hours.

Josh Clark

I know you could. I've got to stop you right here. I'm going to press stop on the stopwatch, okay?

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

Chuck, are we doing any listener mail today?

Chuck Bryant

No, Josh. No listener mail. This is a special episode. We want to play it out with a little treat for the fans, a little snippet from a song we all know and love. Without further ado, take it away.

Josh Clark

Thanks for coming, everybody.It's time to play the music. It's time to light the light. It's time to meet the Muppets on "The Muppet Show" tonight.

Announcer

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