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MuppetFest Memories

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Muppetfestzine

Following the MuppetFest fan convention on December 8th and 9th, 2001, a description of the convention was printed in "MuppetFest Memories", a self-published fanzine which was distributed through the Tough Pigs website. The text of the fanzine is reprinted here, with permission.

The zine began with a disclaimer: "This zine is a collection of my memories and notes from the 2001 MuppetFest convention. Like all memories, some of the contents may have shifted during transit." For this wiki version, if you have notes or recordings from the convention, then please add corrections!

Day One: Introduction

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Saturday's host: Kirk Thatcher, Muppet writer who co-wrote Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets Tonight.

Kirk enters holding the Emmy he won for Muppets Tonight. He says that he carries the Emmy around "to meet hot chicks."

He's going to introduce the Muppet performers today. These people have won a lot of awards, but they're very shy about them. "They won't tell you how great they are, so that's my job. I'm the gusher. I'm the company big mouth."

Kirk takes a quick poll, asking the audience to raise their hands if they've come from far away. He ends up with everyone's hand in the air, and he instructs us to keep our hands up. He mostly goes to Star Trek conventions, and Muppet fans need something as cool as "Live Long and Prosper". He's going to teach us the Muppet Salute.

The Muppet Salute goes like this: If you meet a fellow Muppet fan, you raise your hand like it's a puppet, and you say, "Hi ho!" Then, if you're greeted by a female fan, her response is: "Kissy kissy!" If you're greeted by a male Muppet fan, his response is: "Wocka wocka!"

Kirk practices the Muppet Salute with us a couple of times, and doesn't let us put our hands down. "The reason I asked you to keep your hands up is to show you what these Muppet performers go through every day of their lives!"

Next, Kirk introduces a special message from a big star. "It's a big deal getting her to do anything these days... I'm talking, of course, about Hillary Clinton." The video screen comes down -- but there's technical problems, and they can't figure out how to run the tape of Miss Piggy's message. "Isn't that very Muppet Show!"

Kirk vamps for a while. "So, you're all wondering... What's it like to win an Emmy?" To fill the time while the techs figure out what's wrong, Kirk asks the audience trivia questions. What's the Muppets' name in Germany? Nobody knows. "Das Muppets, guys, of course. Come on!"

The video screen lights up -- with live Muppets, backstage! Rizzo, Gonzo, Clifford, Floyd Pepper and Pepe the King Prawn all appear on the screen, and they're all yelling at Kirk.

Clifford: "Kirk, why are you messing up?"
Pepe: "Kirk, please -- make this show go all right, okay? This is very bad, okay."

Kirk announces the new show: Who Wants to Marry a Muppet Guy?

Gonzo: "I'm single!"
Rizzo: "Anybody out there cute and small?"
Kirk: "I think they're underage."
Gonzo: "Of course they're underage, if they're ten inches tall!"

Floyd and Clifford exit to go to the bathroom, followed by Rizzo. Gonzo stays behind: "I'm not going to the bathroom... Oh. Yes, I am." The Muppets all leave.

Finally, they play the recorded message from Miss Piggy, who informs us, "It is with great regret that I cannot be with you at Muppetfest, but celebritude brings so many demands... But it is moi's pleasure, and contractual obligation, to bring to you the Chairman and CEO of the Jim Henson Company -- I have no idea what he does -- Brian Henson!"

Brian Henson enters and welcomes us to Muppetfest. He says that Jim Henson always had a vision -- and then he would involve a lot of other people, and then the vision would come out completely different.

Brian: "One of the things that Frank Oz would say when people ask, 'How do you become a Muppet performer?', he said, 'Well, you just have to fight to survive,' which is really true. In the Muppets, everyone tries to upstage everybody else -- and whoever wins, gets a bigger role next week. So the winners, you'll be meeting. And the losers... You can book them for your next birthday party. I know, that's really mean."

Brian says that this weekend, we'll get to meet all the real people behind the Muppets. Then the Muppets appear on the video screen again...

Rizzo: "People? No people! We're supposed to talk about Muppets!"
Pepe: "Brian... por favor, no peoples. What about us?"
Rizzo: "We're walking! The door's right there... I'm walking!"

Brian promises the Muppets that they'll get their chance this weekend too.

The History of The Muppet Show

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Brian introduces the Muppet Show panel:

Dave Goelz is one of the core Muppet performers, best known for performing Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew and Boober Fraggle.

Steve Whitmire is another core Muppet performers, who has performed Kermit the Frog since 1990. He also performs Rizzo the Rat and Wembley Fraggle.

Jerry Nelson has been a core Muppet performer since 1965. He performs Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog and Gobo Fraggle.

Amy Van Gilder was the head of the Muppet Workshop during The Muppet Show.

Paul Williams was the songwriter who wrote the music for Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Muppet Movie, and The Muppet Christmas Carol. He was also a guest on The Muppet Show.

Martin Baker was the Floor Manager on The Muppet Show, and has since become one of Henson's main producers. Brian says that Martin is particularly important to him: "One of the few reasons why the company continued after my father passed away... it's all because of this man, who brought us all together. Martin has done production for us. He's produced everything I've directed. And that's why people think I'm a good director. And the next time I direct, he'll be producing. He's quite an extraordinary guy. He's held the team together, and if anybody sort of personifies the spirit of the Muppets and my father, it's this guy."

Brian moderates the panel. "Of course, during The Muppet Show, I was in school, so I don't know anything." He gives a brief history of the Muppets from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show.

Amy talks about a typical week working on The Muppet Show. "I was in charge of the workshop, and the workshop happened to be a room right next to the studio. And so it was a constant flow -- everybody mingling together -- the writers, the music. It was an incredible experience. We would do Whatnots for each show. They would come up with characters, or situations, and then we would build them. We would have to do some crazy, wacky things at the last minute, like dust. Or, 'build a chill.' Things like that, which was wonderful. To come up with our own ideas and build them, I just cannot tell you how wonderful it was to have that freedom. It was great. I work for Walt Disney now..." The name "Walt Disney" gets a murmur of boos from the audience. Amy grimaces: "It's... very different. It's not as fun, because we don't have writers coming up with ideas like a character who is a chill. I'm still sad that it's over... and it's been over for twenty years!"

Paul: "The very best part of my career has involved the Muppets." On the set of The Muppet Show, "there was an ability to play, and a respect for hard work." When you're standing with Steve and Kermit, and Dave and Gonzo... "there are five of you in the conversation! The thing about the Muppets is that nothing is sacred, and no one is safe... To this day, the most important work I've done has been with the Muppets, and it's been a real honor."

Martin describes meeting Jim Henson in the late 60s. Martin was working on The Tom Jones Show in England, and the Muppets were booked on the show. Martin had never heard of the Muppets before. Jim and Frank Oz flew to London together, and Martin was responsible for booking the limo to take them to the studio. Jim said he didn't want a limo -- just send him a train schedule, and they'll take the train. Martin was impressed by Jim, and they really connected when they worked together. Martin later worked with Jim on a Herb Alpert special, and on the Julie on Sesame Street special. Jim and Martin became close, and Martin became a part of the core production staff on The Muppet Show.

Jerry describes the excitement of joining the Muppets in the 60s, when the company was only five people. He talks about Richard Hunt: "Richard was kind of the bad boy on the team... and so all us kids loved him." Some glass breaks offstage. Jerry says, "He's here in spirit! That would be Richard."

Dave: "I hadn't thought about what I was going to say, but I'm just gonna go through everything that's happened to me since 1973." He describes watching Sesame Street when it premiered -- being fascinated by Ernie and Bert, and wanting to meet the Muppeteers. "I wanted to know who they were, and I thought they would just be hippies. It turned out that they were really hard-working people." Jim invited Dave to come and visit the Muppets in 1973, and Dave showed up when they were working on a program. Dave didn't know what he was supposed to do. "Jane told me, 'I'm sure Jim will find something for you to do,'... and that was twenty-eight and a half years ago."

Steve describes his job interview with the Muppets. He was a puppeteer working on a local kid's show in DC, and he managed to get an interview with Henson. He met Jim, Jane and some of the other Muppet staff in an airport, and he took out his puppet and performed for a while. He wasn't doing that well, but there were some kids sitting in the cafeteria at the airport, and Steve interacted with the kids. He says that the reason he got hired was because of those kids in the airport.

The panel takes questions from the audience.

Jerry is asked how he comes up with so many voices. He says that he has to see a puppet to really develop a character. It doesn't work if he only gets a script and a song. Sometimes, he has to record a song before he gets to see the puppet, "but that's very dangerous."

Paul is asked if he got to keep the puppet version of himself that appeared on The Muppet Show. Paul says that he has it: "Oddly, it ages and I don't." For a while, the puppet was displayed on his piano, but the sun faded it.

Dave: "I think there's a warranty!"

Steve is asked his favorite character. He says it's Rizzo, who's much more sarcastic than the others, and therefore more fun.

Brian: "Rizzo is the Dark Steve."

The panel ends; they get a standing ovation.

Henson Clips

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Kirk comes out with his Emmy to introduce the Henson Clips reel. His image is being broadcast on the screen behind him. He turns around to look at it: "Now I know what I look like from behind! I'm hot!... And I have an Emmy!" They roll the clips...

Sam and Friends: Kermit interviews puppet versions of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. All the dialogue from the newsmen is taken from two sound clips: "Chet Huntley, NBC News, New York" and "David Brinkley, NBC News, Washington."

Wilkins Coffee: Wilkins has four cups of coffee. Wontkins asks why he drinks so much Wilkins Coffee. Wilkins says he won't answer: "I'm taking the fifth!"

The Steve Allen Show: Steve Allen introduces "two young college students, Jim Henson and Jane Nebel!" Kermit sings "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" to Yorick, who eats his own costume and then starts noshing on Kermit's leg.

Southern Bread commercial: The Colonel promises to do anything to prove his love for Southern Bread -- even take a rocket to the moon! The rocket explodes.

The Creature Shop

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David Barrington-Holt introduces a series of film clips by The Creature Shop, from The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Lost in Space and Jack Frost. One of the big surprises of the presentation is a clip of test footage from Dragonheart; the Creature Shop originally worked on a dragon puppet for that film, but the producers eventually chose to use a CGI dragon. They also show a clip from Farscape, which leads to a special appearance...

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Kirk announces a special surprise guest: Claudia Black, from Farscape! Claudia pretends to punch Kirk across the face as she enters the stage. She welcomes everyone to Muppetfest, and says that she's there because she's a Muppet fan too. The reason why she accepted the role on Farscape is because she wanted to work with the Henson company. She thanks us all for being here, and for keeping the Muppet spirit alive.

Timepiece

Lisa Henson introduces Timepiece, Jim's 1965 Academy Award-nominated short. In the film, a man (played by Jim) waits in a hospital bed for his doctor's report. The ticking of the clock and the thumping of his heartbeat form the background for a wild fantasy about mortality, and the inevitable passage of time.

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Bear from the Big Blue House makes an appearance. He sings "The Bear Cha Cha Cha" and "The Goodbye Song".

Muppet Q&A

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Kirk introduces the Muppet Performers for the Muppet Q&A segment: Jerry Nelson, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta and Brian Henson. The performers each have a box of puppets next to them. They take questions from the audience, and they bring different puppets up from the box to answer the questions.

Q: Do the performers ever switch characters?

Kevin brings up Elmo. Kevin describes how Elmo was originally performed by Richard Hunt, but he couldn't make the character work -- so at one point, Richard unceremoniously threw Elmo across the room at Kevin, and told him to try it.

Q for Elmo: Why is your goldfish named Dorothy?

Elmo: "Because. No, it's because Elmo loves The Wizard of Oz."

There are no more questions for Elmo.

Elmo: "You're tired of Elmo already!"
Kirk: "We have other characters, Elmo... Don't hog the show! You've already taken over Sesame Street!"

Q for Floyd: Is he still tight with Janice?

Floyd: "Well... Janice ain't so tight anymore."

(This completely breaks Bill and Steve.)

Elmo: "Elmo doesn't understand the question! Could you explain the question, Mr. Floyd? Cause Elmo learned on Sesame Street... if you don't understand something, always ask!"

Rizzo comes up.

Rizzo: "Who's this little fire hydrant here?"
Elmo: "Hello, Rizzo!"
Rizzo: "Thanks."

Gonzo comes up.

Gonzo: "Does anybody have a question? I bet it's a sick one."

Q for Gonzo about Camilla.

Gonzo: "Be careful what you say, she's backstage."

Q: Are you and Camilla still dating?

Gonzo: "That is such a rude question. I wouldn't ask you something like that about your personal life. I'm just an alien dating poultry -- do you mind?"

Q for Gonzo: Do you ever talk to your family in space?

Gonzo: "We did, until my phone card ran out. Now we just e-mail."

Pepe comes up, to great applause.

Pepe: "I'm incredible, huh?"

Q for Pepe: Are you still in touch with Seymour, or have you lost touch with the little people now that you're a big star?

Pepe: "I don't know about Seymour being a little person, okay? We talk... He has a condo in Florida. He's taking it easy. But, maybe he'll be back... Right, Brain?"
Brian: "We decided Seymour wasn't as funny as Pepe."
Pepe: "That is true."

Johnny Fiama and Sal come up.

Johnny: "It's great to be here in Hoboken!"

The other Muppets tell him that this is Santa Monica.

Johnny: "Sal! You messed up again!"
Sal: "Santa Monica? That's not what it said on the outside of the box when they shipped us."

Johnny sings "You Make Me Feel So Young".

Kevin is asked a question about working on Labyrinth -- but while he's answering, Dave brings up Bunsen, who gets a whoop of applause. It's obvious that we don't really want to hear from the people. The Muppets are the rock stars.

Bunsen observes that he thought he was traveling in the box with Beaker... but now that he looks in the box, he finds that it's Phil van Neuter.

Brian takes the Phil puppet, grumbling that Phil is "the hardest puppet in the world to perform..." Bill performs Phil's hands.

Bunsen: "I'm sorry, Mr. Brian. Now I may be fired."
Phil: "A E I O U! I'm Dr. Phil van Neuter!... That's all I've got."

Q for Phil: Are you working on anything these days?

Phil: "Yes, I have a lot of TV projects... and a feature... and I also have a live tour that I'm working on."

Bunsen approaches Phil. They're both scientists, but they've never really worked together before. Bunsen observes that Phil is very nervous and timid -- what's the problem? Phil starts to answer, but Bunsen interrupts him.

Bunsen: "Would it be all right if I twiddled your ear a little bit? Woogie woogie woogie!"

Q: Were any of the puppets more problematic on the set than the others?

Phil: "Why is everybody looking at me?"

Clifford, Kermit and Sal come up.

Kermit surveys the audience: "If something happened here, it could wipe out the entire fanbase."

Q: An audience member comes to the mike dressed in a full-body Kermit costume, and asks in a Kermit voice if he can ask a question.

Sal: "That's incredibly scary."
Gonzo: "This is probably the only time in your life that you could ask the question and have people pay attention to you."

The Kermit-costumed audience member switches to an Elmo impression.

Sal: "Oh my God! That frog ate Elmo!"

Q: Another audience member says that he sent Kermit an invitation to the wedding, but Kermit never showed up.

Pepe: "I was there!"
Gonzo: "He was in the cocktail sauce."
Kermit: "This is turning into the Muppet Fan Gripe Session."

Pepe announces that he has a new doll: "Peel and Eat Pepe".

Gonzo: "Wow. That's sick."

Q: An audience member introduces herself as an "eligible bachelorette", and asks Pepe to tell her about himself.

Pepe: "Well, I come from Malaga, which is in the southern part of Spain. I am twenty-one years old..."
Gonzo: "No, you're not twenty-one..."
Pepe: "I am twenty-one, si... I am not currently dating... And I am orange. Now, you tell me about yourself."

The audience member thanks Pepe.

Pepe: "It's a pleasure to meet you. Call me sometime!"

Q: Can the Muppets do impressions of each other?

Floyd: "It's only gonna be a one-word impression..." [Elmo voice:] "No!"

Pepe does a Gonzo impression by moving his mouth while Dave does the Gonzo voice.

Gonzo: "How did you do that? This is an outrage!"

Gonzo does his Pepe impression the same way: "I just want to say that all of you coming to see us, it is a big important thing, okay."

Elmo does an impression of Ernie's laugh, which gets applause.

Elmo: "Thank you! Thank you! Money! Throw money!"
Pepe: "Pesos! Pesos!"

Floyd does an impression of Robin the Frog, singing "Halfway Down the Stairs".

Sal: "That is scary!"

Q for Kevin: Why is Clifford back in sunglasses?

Kevin says that it wasn't his decision to take the shades off when Clifford hosted Muppets Tonight. "I thought the character was in the glasses. Now they're back... I like it with the glasses."

Q for the Muppets: Is there anything you'd like to say to your performer?

Kermit: "We never talk to these people."
Gonzo: "What are you talking about?"
Pepe: "Yes, I would like to tell Bill Barretta... be very careful with your hands."

The panel ends; the Muppets get a huge standing ovation.

Muppet Music

Kirk does an impression of William Shatner singing "The Rainbow Connection" while the band sets up.

Jerry, Kevin and Bill come out to sing with the band. They sing "Mahna Mahna", with Jerry and Bill trading solos. They also sing "Mississippi Mud" and "Cabin Fever".

Fraggle Rock Panel

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Martin Baker is the moderator of the Fraggle Rock panel, and he introduces the panel: Karen Prell, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire and Jerry Nelson.

Karen comes out dressed in red. She gives a huge Whoo-hoo-hoo! as she comes out. She pulls a camera out of her pocket and takes a picture of the audience. She sits down, and pulls out a Red Fraggle hat, which she puts on, and cries, "I can out-geek all of you guys!"

She talks about getting cast as Red on Fraggle Rock. Originally, she was disappointed, because she wanted to play Mokey. She thought of herself as shy and quiet, and didn't know what to do with Red. "That was the great thing about Jim... He saw the potential in you that sometimes you didn't see yourself." Early on in the series, in Episode 107: I Want to Be You, Red imitated Mokey, and Karen got to see how really different they were: "That's the show when I discovered who Red was. From then on, it was clear sailing, and it was one of the best things in my life."

Dave says that the producers had already cast all the characters, but they held a "sham" tryout to match the performers and characters. "They looked at the performers, and picked out our flaws, and made characters out of them. They denied it... So that's how I ended up with Boober, the suspicious, paranoid character."

Steve says that as soon as he read the character description of Wembley, "I knew it was the character I just had to get. That's who I was then."

Steve also performed Sprocket, and he tells a story about performing Sprocket in the German version. After they shot the first thirteen Fraggle Rock episodes in Canada, Steve flew to Germany to perform Sprocket in the German version. Steve didn't know any German at all. Steve describes Hans-Helmut Dickow, the German actor who was cast as Doc: "He'd been a Nazi solider, actually. Temperamental actor... Nice guy, but temperamental." The producers wanted him to play the role exactly as Gerry Parkes had in the North American version, but the German Doc refused to watch the North American shows. So on the first day, Dickow said his first line in German, and Steve was stuck playing Sprocket with no idea what Doc had just said.

Dave: "Fraggles, for some reason, had more meaning than anything else. It was always about something. We're all sad that it's over. We'd all jump at the chance to do something with the Fraggles again. Maybe not a five-year series again, but something."

Karen takes a quick poll: If all the Fraggle Rock episodes came out on DVD, who would buy them? Devoted Fraggle fans raise their hands. Jerry deadpans, "Well, that's five of them sold."

Jerry: "We were all on a quest for quality. We knew if we were upset with something and let it go by, Jim would be unhappy. And we didn't want that to happen."

Dave says that when they were shooting Fraggle Rock, they would just stay on the set until they'd gotten it right. Karen recalls that their record was 6:00am on one show.

Dave: "We didn't leave until we were satisfied."

Jerry describes the tradition of "Frosty Friday", when they would gather at the end of the week and drink beer. They'd talk about the episode they'd worked on that week, and how they could make the show better. "That was a part of Jim's legacy that lived within us."

Some more panel members join to talk about The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth -- Kevin Clash, Brian Henson and Jane Gootnick, the current head of the Muppet Workshop.

Dave describes his first day of working on the set of The Dark Crystal, and being overwhelmed by the size of the puppets. "We had characters that took six people to operate. I was in my Skeksis costume-puppet with my five people... and I thought, 'Boy, Jim's optimism has really got the best of him this time.'"

Jane says that The Dark Crystal was the first project she worked on: "I was hired for three weeks, and stayed on for twenty-three years."

Brian says that in the original version of The Dark Crystal, only the Gelflings spoke English; the other species spoke made-up languages. The studio agreed to finance Crystal as long as they made a Muppet movie at the same time, so Jim made The Great Muppet Caper. When the first cut was made of Dark Crystal, Jim and Frank screened it for four studio executives. At the end of the screening, the four executives stood up and walked out without a word. "That's when Jim and Frank decided that more characters should speak English..."

The panel ends, and they cue up some more historic Henson video clips.

Henson Clips

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Wilson's Meats presentation: This was an industrial short made in the early 60s for Wilson's Meats. Henson was doing a series of commercials for Wilson's at the time, starring two puppet characters, Scoop and Skip. This industrial was a presentation for the Wilson's Meats salespeople.

In the short, Scoop brings us behind the scenes at Muppets Inc. (Skip worries: "You're not gonna tell them the truth, are you?") We see Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl and Don Sahlin working on a Wilson's commercial. They talk about how much they love the product; they even eat it while they're working. We see Henson holding a sandwich while he's performing. Soon everyone has sandwiches. Even the puppets have sandwiches in their mouths. They start drinking beer. Then the Muppets Inc. secretaries come in -- young women in short skirts, who start dancing and partying. "Every effort is made to turn out fine commercials for a fine product like Wilson's." A puppet is seen discarded on the floor with the rest of the trash.

Scoop: "You say that you edited that film?"
Skip: "Yeah."
Scoop: "What do you have against Jim Henson?"
Skip: "Nothing."
Scoop: "What do you have against me?"
Skip: "Nothing."
Scoop: "What do you have against Wilson's Meats?"
Skip: "Well, actually, I'm a vegetarian."
BANG! Scoop shoots Skip in the head.

The Dick Cavett Show: A clip from an early-70s interview with Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Caroll Spinney, promoting The Muppet Alphabet Album. Caroll is wearing a suit and tie, and the Big Bird legs. Dick: "Some of you people thought those legs were a costume -- but that's how he actually got the job!" Caroll:"It's always been a hindrance until now."

Jim introduces Frank and Jerry, and he gets a little mixed up, saying that Frank performs Herbert Birdsfoot. Frank: "Actually, I don't do Herbert Birdsfoot... Are you Jim Henson?"

Jim, Frank and Jerry close the appearance by demonstrating three Anything Muppets, then singing "P: My Favorite Letter". One notable thing about this clip: Jim, Frank and Jerry just perform the characters while sitting in the chairs, with the puppets up front. It seems like they're really casual about the puppet-illusion at this point, with Caroll sitting on stage in the Big Bird legs. They became much more protective about that illusion later on.

Kirk asks a few more trivia questions as they're setting up for the next panel. The hardest one: What's The La Choy Dragon's first name? (The answer: Delbert.)

Creating the Classic Muppets Panel

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Kirk introduces the next panel, on Creating the Classic Muppets. The one question they're always asked is, How do you come up with your characters? So this panel will be all about character creation. The panelists: Jerry Nelson, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Brian Henson, Jane Gootnick, and Amy Van Gilder.

Brian, on Sal: Sal was built by Jane for Muppet Treasure Island, for the opening shot where the animals on the island sing. This is one instance where the puppet was definitely built before the character was created. Kevin performed Sal first, and came up with Sal's "workout" action with his arms. "We all fell in love with this stupid monkey."

Brian talks about starting to work on Muppets Tonight, and the show's name gets a little smattering of applause. Brian: "Yeah... it was a good show!" When they started working on the show, the performers got together with a bunch of random puppets to start working out characters. Bill picked up a puppet and starting singing, as Johnny Fiama -- this was before the Johnny puppet was built, but Bill had the name and the character -- but everybody else was fooling around with their own puppets and not paying attention. So Brian picked up this monkey and shouted, "Would you all quiet down and listen to Johnny Fiama!" And that was Sal. From then on, he just wanted to be Johnny's gentleman monkey. Brian says that the other reason he stuck with this character is because he's kind of quiet, and tends not to shout too much -- so whenever he was frustrated with the business, he would go to Muppets Tonight set, and perform Sal for a while, so he'd have a chance to shout and get all his frustration out. "He was an annoying character. Everyone would run away."

Kirk: "He was so annoying, that Sal's favorite line was, 'C'mere, you!', because everyone would leave."

Bill, on Pepe: Pepe's character was modeled after Maria Teresa, his wife Cristina's aunt. Maria Teresa was from Spain, and she has a very distinctive speech pattern. "The first thing she said to me was, 'You're wearing a nice jacket, okay.' I had no response... I said, okay." He discovered that that was the way she talked, which tickled him. "She was a very funny lady. She was mischievous. She had a very funny laugh... I wouldn't understand half of what she said. She would start in English, and go off into Spanish, and start laughing... and we would just laugh with her, with no idea what she said." Originally, Pepe was going to be a mouse, but the Muppet Workshop built this goofy little shrimp puppet, and they loved it. "We decided an elephant and a mouse was too easy."

Dave, on Gonzo: There were four sources for characters during The Muppet Show -- Jim, the writers, the performers, and the workshop. The Gonzo puppet was created as one of the Frackles, the monsters in The Great Santa Claus Switch. Then, when The Muppet Show was being written, Jerry Juhl had the idea for a character who comes on and does awful acts, but thinks of them as high art. Jack Burns came up with the name. Jim gave the character to Dave, who panicked: "I have no voice!" He thought of the voice the morning before he had to actually perform the character.

"Over the years, he sort of evolved along with me... I was an impostor in show business. In the first season, Gonzo is always self-effacing and embarrassed. But he knows he has something special." Dave recalls trying to entertain the crew during rehearsals. When the other Muppeteers performed, the crew would always laugh -- but when Dave performed, they would just open their newspapers and read. Finally, towards the end of the first season, Gonzo had a scene where he had to shout, in amazement: "No!" Jim told him to go bigger, so Dave tried it bigger: "NO!" And the crew laughed, for the first time! "I got another laugh the second season. It was unstoppable now! And I thought, I could make a character of this."

Steve, on Rizzo: "Rizzo was the character who grew out of my desperation to do something on The Muppet Show." Steve was a background puppeteer when he was hired, and Jim would encourage him to act up. "Jim would say, 'Grab a puppet, get back there, and do something,' as long as you could do it on television." Steve went backstage and found a box of rats from The Muppet Musicians of Bremen -- "just forgotten puppets." They were basically just rat dolls on sticks, who could bounce around and not much else. The original Rizzo didn't even have a working mouth. So Steve just grabbed a rat and bounced it around in the background. "Jim always encouraged that, he wanted us to go out and just do something stupid."

Steve's wife made clothes for Rizzo; he would have a different outfit for every episode, just to stand out. After a while, puppet builder Polly Smith started making clothes for Rizzo. "It just developed out of -- I just wanted to be a part of this!" Steve struggled with Rizzo's character in The Muppets Take Manhattan, but he really came into his own with Christmas Carol. "As I get older and more crotchety myself, so does Rizzo!"

Kevin, on Elmo: On Sesame Street, "Richard and Jerry were like big brothers to us... They always encouraged the newcomers to get out there and do something. Richard would always come in with a hangover, and not want to do a chicken or a pig or something..." So one day, they had to shoot an Elmo sketch, where Elmo was going on a trip, and he had to have a jacket and a suitcase, even though he was just going down the street. Richard threw the puppet at Kevin, and said he should do the sketch. Kevin did it, and everybody laughed -- so he kept performing the character. "When Elmo became popular, Richard teased me every single day..." Kevin's mom was a day care worker, and Kevin used to watch his mom's kids to see what was funny and Muppety about them. He used what he learned from them to build Elmo's character.

Jerry, on Floyd: "My wife will tell you that I'm the laziest man on earth... I may be lazy, but I'm loud. I can talk loud while laying down, y'know?" Dave actually built the Floyd puppet, which was designed by Michael Frith. Floyd himself pipes up: "Now, Zoot doesn't say too much... but he's more burned out than I am."

Jane describes building Johnny Fiama, and Bill brings Johnny over for her to demonstrate. As she's talking, Bill starts mugging with Johnny.

Johnny: "You're beautiful. Go on."

Then Johnny gets distracted and starts talking to Floyd.

Floyd: "It's been too long since we did a gig, man."
Johnny: "You should come with me to Vegas."
Floyd: "Naw, naw."
Johnny: "What, you don't play Vegas? You're too big?"
Floyd: "No, no, we've gone small. We only play places like the Squealing Pig."
Johnny: "That's a massage parlor."
Floyd: "That's what I'm saying, man!"

Then Johnny notices Bill.

Johnny: "Good god, there's a man under me!"
Sal: "Y'want me to get him outta there?"
Johnny: "Sal... there's a man directly under me. Could you help me out?"

Sal comes over to help Johnny.

Sal: "Awright! YOU! Get outta Johnny Fiama!"

Sal tries to pull Johnny off of Bill's arm. It seems to hurt.

Johnny: "Ow. Ouch. Ow! OW! It's not gonna work. Leave 'im alone, it's better this way."
Sal, to Bill: "Okay... you just be very, very careful."
Johnny: "It's all right."
Elmo: "Elmo's used to it!"
Sal: "I'm gettin' outta here."

Amy gets back to the subject. "There is no thrill like building a puppet and having one of these guys put their hand in it, and have it turn around and say something to you. I'd recommend it to all of you."

Dave talks about how much Jim loved this energy. "It was all about upstaging. It was an art form to him. When he was doing a musical number, if you could upstage him, he loved it."

Kirk: "That's the one question that people always ask: How do you create characters? There is no one way. It's magic. It's voodoo. It's fun."

They take questions from the audience.

Q: How was Jim as a director?

Jerry: "In directing, he never told you what to do. He'd always give you total free rein. Then if you didn't get it right, he'd just go, 'Mmm. No. Let's try it again.' He'd keep on doing that until you went totally over the top, and that's what he actually wanted. He taught by example. He lived his word."

Q: What's up with Gonzo loving pain? Where did that come from?

Dave: "I think it was instinctive..."
Bill: "Is that something that was always part of you?"
Dave: "One of the maxims in comedy is that pain is funny. It's a transcendence -- it's a sense of superiority. You walk through life, and you trip and fall, and people laugh. It's nice to have someone else do it for a while."
Gonzo: "That's a bunch of crud. I love pain! Don't you love it? It feels good!"

Q: Does Sal consider himself to be more of a pants-ironer, or a boneologist?

Sal demonstrates his Boneology skills on Kermit. He tells Kermit to think about pretty butterflies flying by. Kermit nervously tries: "Yeah, butterflies." Then: Yaaaaaah!!! Sal breaks Kermit's neck, and Kermit's head flops around uselessly on his neck.

Q: What was the performers' "most compromising position" as puppeteers?

Kirk: "You people are sick and twisted!"

Steve says his most difficult position was when Kermit was the Grand Marshal at the Rose Bowl Parade in 1996.

Brian: "Steve won the world record for puppeteering that day. Two hours and forty-three minutes, he raised his arm up over his head." They actually gave him a plaque afterwards.

Kevin says his most difficult was the Dinosaurs episode "Nature Calls," when Baby Sinclair sat on the toilet for the whole episode. Kevin had to spend the entire week inside the toilet on the set, and people took embarrassing pictures of him from above.

Bill talks about a scene from the Muppet Sing-Alongs video, "Things That Fly". He performed a pig flying a plane in that video -- a real plane, really flying. He was lying on the floor of the plane, doing loop-the-loops, performing a song. He got nauseous, but he knew that if he didn't get the shot, he'd have to keep doing it. So he just grit his teeth and kept trying to get the shot.

Dave says his worst was for The Great Muppet Caper opening shot. The puppets were rigged into the balloon by Faz Fazakas, with two helicopters flying alongside. Jim, Frank and Dave were in one helicopter, performing Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo by radio control, and the other helicopter had the camera. They did that for a week.

Jerry says that his most compromising position was playing Rover Joe the hound dog in The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. For one scene, he had to lie under the "ground" of the set, and perform the puppet. He was down there for so long that he fell asleep... until someone walked on him.

Q: How hard is it to create a new puppet for a classic character, when the old puppet wears out?

Jane says that the performer is usually involved in the final stages when a new version of a puppet is built, to make sure that the character comes through in the new puppet. For example, Dave has always been involved when they've made a new Gonzo.

Gonzo: "Y'know, when you're a new Gonzo, and you're a block of foam, and you're in the middle of it... They're just rolling you around on the table. And then you hear some snipping, and you know you're in there, but they haven't gotten to you yet. And then you see a little bit of light... and then Jane nicks you! Ow! A little off the tip of your nose. You can see it getting lighter and lighter, and then she's doing your nose - and you can see it, it's right in front of your eyes... And then you're born."

And that's the end of the first day... After that, there's a big autograph line, and then everybody goes out and talks all night about how cool it was.

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