Rumors have long circulated that Ernie and Bert are a gay couple as seen on Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop disavows these rumors and points out that Ernie and Bert are puppets, not humans; the Workshop's official position, therefore, is that Muppet characters Ernie and Bert are simply good friends. Advocates of this position note that Ernie and Bert's bedroom contains two single beds rather than one larger bed.
“Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.”
—The Real Thing by Kurt Andersen, 1980
“Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent.”
—Reverend Joseph Chambers radio show, 1994 
Note that no skit has ever shown either character sewing, wearing the other's clothing, or cooking. Ernie tends to his plants alone.
On October 24, 2010, the Los Angeles Times published an article about how some gay advocates believed that Sesame Street was intentionally appealing more to gay viewers. The article commented on a tweet posted by Bert in June of that year: "Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T’s? The only difference is mine is a little more ‘mo,’ a little less ‘hawk.’" Although meant as a reference to the recent release of the feature film adaptation of The A-Team, some interpreted the tweet's timing (around the time of a number of gay pride celebrations) and the use of the word "mo" (which could be read as short for "homo") as a sly, under-the-table effective outing of Bert. Sesame Workshop denied that they were intentionally trying to reach a gay audience, stating that "the idea that anyone would interpret this season that way never crossed our minds."
In 2002, Sesame Workshop lawyers blocked further showings of the short film Ernest & Bertram by Peter Spears, in which a character based on Ernie confesses his romantic attraction to another character based on Bert.
Another Sesame Street takeoff, the 2003 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q, includes two puppet characters, Rod and Nicky, who bear a striking resemblance to Bert and Ernie. In the musical, Rod is an uptight Republican banker, who is secretly in love with his sloppy, over-enthusiastic straight roommate, Nicky. Several numbers during the show focus on Rod's feelings for Nicky, including "Fantasies Come True", in which Rod dreams that he and Nicky rise from their single beds to share a romantic dance. Several members of the original cast (including John Tartaglia, Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Rick Lyon) were puppeteers who had worked on Sesame Street, but the musical has no connection with the television show. Advertising and merchandise based on the show include a disclaimer: "Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content."
“Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”
—Sesame Workshop's consumer response prepared statement, 1993.
“"They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets," says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell. "They don't exist below the waist."”
—Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street, p. 47.
“Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics... they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
—Sesame Workshop statement, August 11, 2011 (issued in response to a Change.org petition to have Bert and Ernie marry which circulated shortly after gay marriage was legalized in the state of New York)
“They're puppets. They don't exist below the waist!”
—Steve Whitmire, who performed Ernie on Sesame Street beginning in 1993, to students in a Q&A session at Carnegie Mellon. (September 10, 1997) 
“All that stuff about me and Bert? It's not true. We're both very happy, but we're not gay.”
—Ernie to students at Carnegie Mellon, 1997 
“Oh, you had to ask that question. No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”
—Bert to Spencer Howson when asked if he and Ernie are "more than just good friends" in an ABC Brisbane radio interview, March 7, 2005. (sound bite)
- When Michael Davis, author of the 2008 book Street Gang, was asked, "What's the biggest misconception that people have about Sesame Street that you're hoping to dispel with this book?," Davis responded, "That Bert and Ernie are gay... Certainly they [Sesame Street cast members] played to that notion and laughed about it and enjoyed speculating about Bert and Ernie, but the truth is that those characters are a projection of the real-life friendship between Jim Henson and Frank Oz."
- Eric Jacobson to Vanity Fair, 2011:
- I’m sure you’re aware of the online movement this last summer to get Bert and Ernie married. Do you have an opinion about what did or didn’t or should’ve happened?
- [Long pause.] You’re going to have to talk to our P.R. department about that.
- But you’re the guy who plays Bert. You don’t have any thoughts about his sexual orientation?
- If you know the genesis of the characters, it’s an absurd idea. They’re like The Odd Couple. Just think of it like that. It’s Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple. That’s what I believe the inspiration for Bert and Ernie was. If you look at the history, when the show first aired, that makes sense.
- "Hallo, wie wär's mit einem O?" (the German dub of "Would You Like to Buy an O?") also provided a reference to the pair's relationship on that country's version of the show: Lefty's lyrics at 0:45 are changed not only for rhyming's sake, but for comedic purposes also. "So buy the O, and take it home tonight" turns into "Nun kauf schon, und schenk es Deiner Frau!," which translates to "Come buy it, and give it to your wife," to which Ernie quickly asks: "Bert?"
Parody and References
- Family Guy
- American Dad
- Robot Chicken
- Avenue Q
- Bernie und Ert
- Ernest & Bertram
- Daryl Cagle's 2003 editorial cartoon on gay marriage
- The Jay Leno Show
- Matt Bors' 2011 newspaper cartoon
- Glee, Supernatural, The Colbert Report, Greg the Bunny, The King of Queens, The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and Medium Large have all made minor references.
- Tough Pigs - Muppet Sexuality
- Snopes.com Bert & Ernie's Relationship
- TV Guide Letter Column, 12/18-24/1993
- Answers.com Bert & Ernie
- Gay Today Quotes
- ABC Brisbane - Eric Jacobson interview
- "Bert & Ernie's Big Love", Jessica Max Stein (Richard Hunt's biographer) analyzes the controversy.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Wolf, Buck "'Sesame Street' Threatens Lawsuit Over Gay Muppet Rumors" ABC News, April 9, 2002. Web. (Accessed 11/1/09.)
- ↑ Andersen, Kurt The Real Thing; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.
- ↑ Maerz, Melissa. "Some 'Sesame Street' viewers sense a gay-friendly vibe." Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2010.
- ↑ Goodridge, Michael "The best films you can't see: Ernest & Bertram is the latest in a series of acclaimed queer films banned from public view because their makers stepped on some famous toes." The Advocate (The National Gay and Lesbian News Magazine), July 23, 2002. Web. (Accessed 10/31/09.)
- ↑ Oldenburg, Ann. "Marriage for Sesame Street pals Bert and Ernie?", USA Today. August 11, 2011.
- ↑ Felion, Marc; Fernós, Fausto "Sesame Street Cred" Feast of Fools, podcast #926, February 6, 2009. Web. (Accessed 12/29/09.)