Frank Oz talks about his work with the Muppets

Long time readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Muppets when they appeared on Sesame Street and in the TV shows and films. I was particularly fond of Grover, Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Ernie and Kermit, and the first four of them were the creations of master puppeteer Frank Oz who later went on to be director of feature films while still keeping his hand (literally and metaphorically) within the Muppet world. He was also Yoda in the Star Wars films.

It turns out that there is going to be a documentary released soon titled Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched where Oz and fellow originators Dave Goelz (Gonzo), Bill Barretta (Pepe the King Prawn), and Fran Brill (Sesame Street’s Zoe, Betty Lou, and Prairie Dawn) talk about what goes into creating a character and that the relationships between the characters is key

In this interview, Oz discusses his life with Muppets.

“I picked Fozzie specifically since his insecurity fit show business. But Grover was not neurotic at all. He’s just a very pure, sweet guy who tries the hardest he can—but you don’t mess with him because he’s wiry and can get ticked off. (Laughs.) They’re all parts of me, as the other guys’ characters are parts of them. But they’re parts of us at different points in our lives because how we grow reflects upon how the character grows.”

It’s that purity, that sweetness. And you don’t need more than that, you know? As I said in the film, in this day and age, which is often cynical, being sweet means you can be laughed at. Even during that time [in 1977]. But Jim [Henson] just did what he believed, that’s all that mattered. Jim was hip and he was very funny and he was very strong, but there was also sweetness. I mean, Jim was not an elf. He was the head of a vast company, he worked like hell, but there’s always parts that are different. And one thing was sweetness, and it came from him. So that thing with Robin on the stairs, I’m sure if you saw it for the first time as a grown-up, you would not react that way. But you saw your childhood. And so it touches you.

And that’s one thing we all do: we try to be very pure with our characters. It can be very easy to get laughs by being lewd or anything else. But we’re very strict in making sure the purity and essence of our characters is strong and we don’t veer from that.

I don’t think I will ever outgrow the Muppets. I still watch the films though I stopped watching Sesame Street once my children outgrew it. But I expect to begin watching it again with my grandson when he becomes a little older. Here is a sketch with the running gag of Grover as a waiter and the blue customer. It still cracks me up.


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