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MuppetZine: An Interview with Bill Barretta

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Muppetzine19

"I Don't Like Coffee!"
An interview with Bill Barretta

By Danny Horn for MuppetZine, Issue #19 (Early 1997)
Illustrations by Chris Smigliano



Six years ago, Bill Barretta was the guy inside the Earl Sinclair suit on Dinosaurs. Now he's a popular core Muppeteer, playing many of the major characters on Muppets Tonight. In this interview, Bill talks to Danny Horn about Clueless Morgan's motivations, Pepe's accent, and Johnny's "connections"...


BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Pepe

Is this your first interview as yourself as a human being? I've seen some of the stuff you've done as characters...

No, actually, I was interviewed one time with Mak Wilson, when we were doing Dinosaurs. I can't remember who it was, I don't know if it was Entertainment Tonight or something. They interviewed the two of us. Basically we talked for about twenty-five minutes, and - Mak and I kind of play around with each other's minds a little bit, and we have a really dry sense of humor when we get together, so we were just kind of, y'know, throwing them back and forth off each other, and being ridiculous, pretty much. So I imagine they didn't get much out of it, because, basically, what they left on the actual aired interview was something like Mak saying, "And so, we, y'know, we really enjoy working on it." And then I just went... (chuckle)... and that was about the size of the interview that they kept. No, I haven't really been interviewed that much, as myself. I... I'm not real comfortable with it, actually.

Oh, really?

But, you know. That's okay.

Well, maybe you'll be more comfortable by the end of this. Or less. I guess we'll find out.

I'll let you know, yeah.

Okay. All right. We'll keep a running gauge throughout the interview.

Okay. Just check me, and I'll let you know how I'm doing.

I'll ask for a spot check. All right, good. That's a good way to start. I was wondering if you'd done acting, and how you got started in puppeteering and in performing.

Well, I can say the reason that I got into a lot of the things I'm doing now is because of my brother, who's four years older than me. My brother Gene created new things to do, every weekend it was something new. And he decided that he wanted to know how to make puppets - we were watching Sesame Street in the early 70's, and he decided that he wanted to make a Muppet. So I was going to make a Muppet because he wanted to, you know? Gene wrote to Jim Henson, and Jim sent us a letter back with instructions on how to make a Muppet.

Wow.

Yeah, it was wild.

How old were you then?

I was eight; my brother was twelve. I think my mother must have helped us put the letter together. My brother was always into art. He was always cartooning ever since he was a kid, and I always performed as a kid. I would mime to Jungle Book, or something stupid like that. So we were always interested in art in some way. I think it was either Jim - I know he signed the letter - but I think it may have been Jane Henson who actually sent it to us. And it had pictures of the puppets, and instructions on how to make them, so we went to the store and started making them. Then we used to do puppet shows for kids, and neighborhood stuff.

Do you remember what your characters were?

Oh, God. They were just abstract, mostly. There were two that were cowboys. And my cousin Gary also got involved - he was a year older than my brother. We would just make weird stuff, just buy fur and put eyes on it. They were so hard to use, too, because they were just made out of the stiffest materials, you know, cardboard mouths and stuff like that. Just crazy stuff. I don't know how long we did that off and on for, but eventually my brother wanted to make home movies, and we started to do that. When I was about thirteen, I was more interested in acting and doing plays and things like that, and went away from puppeteering, pretty much altogether. I really had no idea I would ever pick up a puppet again. I just went more towards acting. I quit high school, and worked, and moved to Philadelphia...

And then you went to acting school?

I went to acting school for three years in Philadelphia, and then I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York for two years, and studied there. Then I got tired of being in the shadows of New York and moved out to California. I got tired of it always being cementy - and I'd lived on the East Coast all my life, so I think I just wanted to move and go somewhere different. You know, someplace where they have earthquakes, and fires, and riots. Things like that. It's more exciting. And also, you get tired of being mugged in New York, and out here you're more likely to get in an earthquake or something like that. I needed a change of disasters.

And that would explain Muppets Tonight.

Right, exactly. So I moved here, in '90, and basically I was just looking for more acting work. Actually, I skipped something. In 1981, maybe, '81 or '82, I met Brian, and we worked at Sesame Place - you know, the theme park? We both worked there in the summer.

Brian worked at Sesame Place?

Uh huh.

I didn't know that.

I'm sure you didn't.

That's not in the official bio.

I'm sure it's not. But he, actually, I think he enjoys the idea of it, that we worked there. Cause we used to just sweep up cigarette butts and clean toilets...

Wow. So you weren't even doing the characters...

Oh, no, no. We were just working, making money. So that's where we actually met. Then he went to college, I think, and I moved to the city. We separated, but we always kept in touch over the years. We talked to each other. He'd gone to London, so we'd just keep in touch. So about, I guess, almost ten years later, I moved out here. Then he came out here because they were getting ready to do this new show, Dinosaurs. I was looking for work. I just wanted anything. I was auditioning, and I was working as a carpenter, and waitering. I was living in Long Beach, and driving back and forth to go on auditions and things. So Brian had come to visit, and I said, you know, you're doing this show, if there's anything, I don't care what it is - you want me to pull cables or something, I just want to be around the business, working. Eventually he said there was this character for Dinosaurs that he wanted to know whether I was interested in auditioning for - not that I was going to get it, but, you know, it was at least an opportunity, to see what I can do. Cause there's a lot of people that had done Ninja Turtles, so there were a lot of people that were used to working in these animatronic costumes. So, I thought, yeah, I'll do it. So I did, I shaved my head, and I went into my method thing, that I learned in my acting school...

You shaved your head so you'd be more like a dinosaur? That's really intense.

Well, it's bizarre, but once I shaved my head, the shape of my head - I didn't feel as much like a person. I felt more like a dinosaur. It's weird, but that's what I did. Then I went on the auditions, and eventually, they liked what I did. Michael Jacobs and Brian decided that they wanted me to play Earl. So I started doing that, and I did it for three years. Every now and then, off and on, I would put my hand into a puppet. It was kind of like, they were letting me play a little bit.

Did you do voices then?

Yeah, I actually used to go in and loop for other characters - some of the Unisaurs, the guys that looked the same, but they were always different characters. I would do some of those. And then Dinosaurs ended, and now I get stuck. Then it starts to get blurry.

Maybe I know some of that stuff. But let me ask you a question first. At that point you were working with the Muppets, and you'd grown up watching Sesame Street. Did you hold that in a high regard, since you'd been imitating that when you were a kid, and now here you were actually working with them, or was it just a new acting job?

No, I think - because Brian and I were friends first, it didn't really hit me in that sense. Except for the fact that there he was running this company now that his father passed away. And that was really intense and amazing. The way he handled it was incredible. And then - I think it really kind of hit me when I met Frank Oz. Then I thought, I've actually had a dream come true. They say that there's six degrees of separation, where you're connected to someone in the world by at the most six degrees, and I never really thought about that. And then I just thought, God, there I am as a kid, thinking how great it would be to be in the same room with Bert and Ernie, and then you meet this person. I think as I started to puppeteer more, then I started to realize I actually learned from them. Even through acting, through characters. Frank has a strong sense of reality based in his characters, which is what makes them amazing, and so did Jim. I don't know what it is. But I felt really connected to him, when I met him, and I thought - God, that's amazing. This is what I guess I'm supposed to be doing now, you know? Yeah, it was a real shock. It took me a while to get comfortable and to feel like I should be doing that.

Well, it's actually - as far as I know about the way that the Muppets work, that's very fast. To be going from 1991, cast as Earl, to just six years later, you're doing major characters, and you're one of the core puppeteers.

That's what they're telling me...

Cause I know Steve Whitmire worked for a bunch of years, just doing minor characters, before he ever got anything more than a dog...

And look how amazing he is. And that's the thing - obviously, everyone's different, but I'm constantly learning. If I ever thought that I wasn't going to learn from these guys... there's always something to learn from them, every one of them. They all have very specific styles. I try to take a little bit of that from each of them, and try and use that, however I can. Maybe that's part of it; maybe I'm just a good mimic, in a way. I just try to learn so much from all of them, from Kevin and Frank and Jim and Jerry and Dave and Steve and Brian... I wonder if that's why I progressed, they say, a little quickly.

Well, something that I think is really neat about you and your characters is actually that you sound different. You're saying that one of the things you're good at is being a mimic, but I've noticed I can always tell your characters, even before I know that you're playing them. Because the other Muppets, for the most part, sound kind of cartoony. They sound kind of puppety. And your characters have kind of a more realistic, and often a New York, tough kind of accent.

I think part of that is from Frank, watching Frank, and part of it is maybe my acting training, and just what I think is funny. The funniest things to me are the things that come out of the most bland situation. I guess an example that I'm just thinking of off the top of my head right now would be in Goodfellas - there's a scene where they're digging up this guy that they buried. And you would think, this is really a horrible scene, and generally people would play it as people who are sick, they don't feel well cause they're doing it. But Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro are digging this hole, and one of them says, "Oh, look, I found an arm." And the other one goes, "Oh, I found a leg." And then another one says, "Oh, look, I got a wing." You know, it's like - just the absurdity in the reality of it. Something you wouldn't expect. But it's coming from a real place. I hope that explains it.

Not at all. That was interesting, but no.

Really? I don't know. I guess I just - the simplicity of being... I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it's kind of like watching Rowlf play the piano. That was something that always amazed me, that I thought was great about the Muppets, was that you could see them doing things that people do, but doing them really well. Not just faking it. Where you really believe it. You believe that Rowlf is playing the piano. And I thought, God, that's amazing. And maybe that's more of it. It's just that idea, of making these puppets be very real. It's already a funny thing, you know, a puppet can look very funny. But to see it doing something that people can relate to is what's funny.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Bobo

Yeah. And that's what has really impressed me. Seeing characters like Bobo, who seems to me like a very real security guard. And that voice - obviously exaggerated and amplified.

Well, it's definitely a Jim voice. Maybe the attitude isn't. But it's definitely something that comes from a lot of Jim's characters. But, yeah, I guess that's a good example. He's pretty plain, (as Bobo:) He's just a bear, you know? He just likes to eat and watch TV, and whatever happens happens kind of thing.

And he sounds real.

He means it. He means that he's lazy.

Okay. That was a good answer. That makes sense.

So you have to weed out all this stuff, huh?

Yeah.

Sorry.

That's fine. No, this is great. I'd much rather have it be this way than have to pretend - you know, make the whole thing up.

Yes. (Pretentious:) You know, I believe that puppeteering is an extension of my being.

Is it.

Yes. I've always felt comfortable in felt.

Have you. Well, who hasn't, really.

True.

Okay. This is exactly how I thought this would go.

Oh, good.

Down to the letter. All right. I'm going back to your life. Do you mind?

No.

Okay, back to your life. You said that you didn't know where you went from Dinosaurs. I think maybe... The Animal Show?

The Animal Show? Yes. No, wait a minute... I did, uh... no, I just remembered something, actually. That helps, when you tell me something.

Okay. I'll try to keep doing that.

Okay. The next thing I think that I did, puppet-wise, that I remember being really nervous about, was the "Kokomo" video. I did that. And then I think the next thing was The Animal Show.

So what did you do in "Kokomo," you were one of the many...

Oh, I don't know. Weasels. I can't remember. Just stuff. A lot of assisting. Then The Animal Show, right. That was trippy.

Yeah, that was your first major character, then, with a voice and a personality.

Yeah, and actually, I felt somewhat comfortable up until the point when we had to shoot it, because we recorded all of the songs first for all the characters we had to do. The hard thing was that you didn't always know what the characters were going to look like, so you hoped that the voice and the character was going to fit the puppet. But I felt a little comfortable because I got to do that first, and I'm pretty comfortable singing, and having fun with that. And then doing the show was like a conveyor belt. We did them so fast. It was great training, actually, because it just had to happen so quickly. You didn't have time to go back and fix things a lot. And, you know, Dave and Steve are just soaring through it, and I'm trying to catch up, and Mak is just soaring through it. So. That was cool, that was fun. And I got to stay in London. Oh, and I think I did some other stuff too, but not puppet-related, I did some other suit things. I did the Royal Variety Show. Okay. So then what did I do?

Yeah, I have your resume here, actually. Muppet Classic Theater?

Right. Yeah. That was fun. That was a good thing. Do you want me to try and think of something about that?

No, that's okay. Just whatever comes.

All right. Frank! That was a big Frank thing.

Muppet Classic Theater?

Yeah. Getting to work next to him.

Oh, was that the first time?

Yeah. Working with him, yeah. That was great.

Is he generous, as a performer?

Is he generous?

I don't even know what that means; I just read that in interviews.

Well, now that I know him, I can probably say whatever I want. Uh... no, is he generous?

Like, does he upstage you?

Always. Oh, yeah. That's like his goal; he loves it. That's the fun of it. That's one of the key rules of doing Muppets.

Everybody tries to upstage each other?

Always. Yeah. That's the fun part. Try to make each other laugh, screw up. But Frank, he's just real good, and I think also just watching him work and breaking down a scene, and to watch him take his vision of what he thinks a scene should be like, and working with other people - he's just a real force. He's great. Really good.

And the next thing is Muppet Treasure Island.

Yeah, Treasure Island. I love that character.

Clueless Morgan?

He's so stupid. I just love doing that. I always wanted to do a really stupid character. And you only get to do, really, one, and then after that, they're all kind of the same, when it's just blatantly stupid.

Yeah. And if you're going to do one, he would be the one.

I guess. He's pretty stupid. And he was also like a kid, which I liked too. He was like a little - a little goat.

And something that I loved about him was that he's really mean. You know, he tries to torture people, he talks about cutting people's throats. And he totally gets away with it because he's so adorable.

Well, also I think - you know, we develop these backstories a lot of times with our characters that never really gets to be seen, and Kevin and I had a great relationship going with those two characters. In other things too, Kevin and I get along really well. So we had this great relationship where Polly really - obviously, he was the ringleader in the film. But Clueless did those mean things because someone told him to. He didn't really know that it was bad. He just did it because he thought that's what he was supposed to do.

So if he'd fallen in with another crowd he would have just been really nice.

Yeah, he could have been making chocolates in a nice little factory somewhere for Betty Crocker, and that's what he would have been happy doing. He just didn't know any better. He was just a victim of circumstances.

And he gets away with it, totally. I felt - you know, leaving the film - Polly, I like him, I thought he was a funny character, but I didn't love him as I was leaving, because he had been mean, he was a villain. But Clueless, I actually walked out liking him more than a lot of the good characters. I liked him more than Jim Hawkins. I liked him more than a whole bunch of the good characters. I wanted to go home and buy a Clueless doll.

Well, there's something seriously wrong with you.

I guess. Yeah. That would be the only answer.

But thank you, I think. I appreciate that. He was definitely a cool character to do. And I think he just - again, upstaging? Even on the set, stuff that wasn't in the movie. He did a lot of that stuff. So I think he got in a little more than he was supposed to be. Yeah, that's Treasure Island. And then I did... what? Muppets Tonight. And Johnny Fiama's a fun one.

Is he... I was going to ask you who your favorite character was.

On Muppets Tonight? My favorite... I'm going to be really boring. I don't know. That's really hard to say, actually, it really is, to say favorite. Because you know what? They're different parts of me. So I like them for those reasons, that I get to do that stuff. Like Johnny Fiama is actually part of my grandfather, and my dad, people in my family. He comes from that. So he's like my family part of me.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-JohnnySal

And you said there was something wrong with me, for liking Clueless, and now you're telling me that your family put together turns out to be Johnny Fiama.

I know. Isn't that weird?

Yeah.

Sorry. It just reminds me of Philadelphia, of back east. My family has always been very entertaining. I've had a real variety of characters in my family ever since I was a kid. So it just reminds me of that. An entertainer type, Italian. Smooth, sharp dresser kind of guy. Very sociable, you know, he can be very polite at times. He's very cordial at the right moment in time.

Except he's got this obnoxious monkey.

Right. His best friend. It's hard, you know, there's so much stuff. Because then I also think I like that because there's a relationship there, that's Brian and I, that makes that character and those two characters really special and make them my favorite. And then there's Seymour and Pepe, and again that's a relationship between Brian and I...

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. And actually now that makes a lot of sense, knowing that you knew Brian for a long time. The two of you seem to team up a lot on the show.

Yeah, we're just hogs. We like to steal all the characters. We just like to play. You know? We love to play. Seymour and Pepe - Pepe is really based on my wife Cristina's aunt, who's from Spain. She's very funny, this very funny lady. It was amazing - it just struck me, the first time I met her, that she always spoke in statements. She never really asks a question. And when she's asking a question, it's a statement, because she always ends it with "okay." So if you're standing there, she's saying, "Thees ees a nice sweater, okay." There's nothing - there's no real response you can have to that. You can only say, "Uh... okay."

So when someone disagrees with Pepe, he gets really furious.

Well, he's misunderstood. He also has a problem because he has a little bit of a language barrier, and he gets frustrated about it. He knows he's saying it right. He knows he's speaking clearly. But it's just a little barrier thing. And he's got a little complex about being short, and very adamant about being called a prawn as opposed to a shrimp. A king prawn. He definitely has an attitude. So I like him for that, he's my favorite because of that. I really enjoy doing them all for different reasons. And I think if you ask most of the guys, I would think they probably have the same feeling.

Well, I've noticed that, especially when you're teamed up with Brian, that your characters tend to push his characters around a lot.

Oh, really?

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-PepeSeymour

Pepe sort of bosses Seymour around, and Johnny obviously is the boss of Sal...

Interesting, isn't it?

Yeah. Do you have anything to say about that?

Well, he's my boss. So I gotta get in somewhere. I can't let him get away with being my boss all the time. You know? We wouldn't be friends.

So you're sort of acting out worker-management conflict. That's fascinating.

That's right. I'm living through it. See, I can say anything I want to him when I'm doing a puppet.

And actually all of your characters are kind of aggressive.

Are they really?

Well, not all of them, but most of them. Johnny and Pepe and Clueless.. not aggressive, but kind of cranky?

Cranky? That's interesting.

Which is something... you haven't seen the latest MuppetZine, but it was The Cranky Issue, and I wrote an article about how the thing that I most love about the Muppets is not the sweetness and the everybody ought to love each other, but when the characters yell at each other and insult each other and sort of act out the worst parts of all of us. And we can see that, and love it, and identify with it. And your characters really, I think pretty much down the line...

Say what's on their minds.

Cranky. Yeah.

That's very funny.

Yeah, So where am I going now?

Cranky. I like cranky.

Okay, I'll stay with crankiness, actually. I'll ask you the cranky question. What's the feeling among the puppeteers about Kevin and Tickle Me Elmo?

Oh, we're all really cranky.

Are you? Are you jealous?

No, as a matter of fact, there's a Johnny Fiama doll coming out. It's called Don't Fuck With Me Johnny.

(Laughs) Okay.

Can you print that?

Sure. Why not. I can print anything.

No. Are you kidding? That was, like, amazing. That was a very cool thing. He was in shock. His head was spinning. He had to do so many things, he had to go so many places. Doing, like, ninety cities in ninety minutes. Everybody wanted Elmo. Everybody jumped on the Elmo thing. And he loved it. I mean, who wouldn't? I'm sure he was so floored. Who knows why that stuff happens? Somebody comes up with an idea, and you have a great cute character, and then something just happens. Somebody catches on to it.

Well, fifteen years ago, it was Miss Piggy. So a bunch of the Muppets have had turns at being that. Now it's Elmo's turn.

Yeah. I think this was pretty intense. When you hear about people auctioning them off... It's really bizarre.

Yeah. So next it's Pepe.

Yeah. Pepe. Peel And Eat Pepe.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Carl2

That would be good. Or Insult Me Pepe.

Yeah. Cause if it was Peel and Eat Pepe, you can only play with it one time.

Here's another cranky question. You play Carl, the big mean...

Carl's not cranky!

No?

He's hungry!

Okay. Anything to say in Carl's defense?

(as Carl:) Thank you! That's about it.

Where do the characters come from... how much of the writers, and how much of you?

It depends. It's not always one or the other, really. Bobo started in Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree - I can't remember if they kept all of my voice or not. I think they did for some of it. But that's where I first saw that puppet, and knew that there was some kind of basic attitude to him.

I don't remember the bears in that even having any lines.

Yeah, I think there was just a couple, where it was something about the tree. I can't remember what it was exactly he said. I remember doing them. So that was that. Johnny Fiama was actually a character that I did as myself, when I first moved out here. It was just me.

Pre-monkey. The pre-monkey days.

Yeah. Actually, it was Johnny and Frankie Fiama, two brothers. Johnny played to the older crowd, and his brother was maybe about five years younger, maybe ten, and played to the younger crowd. But still, not very good entertainers. My brother and I did a ten-minute short documentary about their last concert called The Last Swing. You got to see them behind the scenes, and we did interviews. That's where he came from. Then when we started to talk about doing the new show, we did a workshop, and they just brought a whole bunch of puppets to this workshop, and we just started putting them on in front of a video camera and playing around with them. The only one that I ended up doing that came from that was Bobo. He was there. We changed him a little bit. Johnny came later, somebody else did drawings of him, and then I also worked with Jane Gootnick - she's an amazing puppet-builder, and she worked together with me, kind of figuring him out, making him look right. She just has this great sense of characters. You know, they just come. And then, of course, the writers start to think of other characters, as they're writing. Carl - I don't even know where that came from. I think somebody just wrote him. They said, there's this guy Carl, and he's going to come in and just eat something. And that's it. And then they just said, here's this puppet. Sometimes, you know, when we do read-throughs, Brian will just give us different characters to do, and if they work, we do the character, and if not, somebody else tries it. It's really just kind of a playing around.

Is there any kind of character that you've thought about, that you want to play but haven't had a chance to do yet?

No. Not really. I don't know if anyone has seen Howard Tubman, have you guys seen that? I think he's just in Europe, for those European versions, you know, the longer stuff?

For the extra sketches in Muppets Tonight?

Yeah. He was fun to do. Kevin and I had fun doing - there were two characters. Howard Tubman and Carter. Howard's this large boor, very selfish, kind of campy in a way. He's very wealthy, lives in this huge mansion. And he has a butler named Carter, who's this really old guy who Kevin does. Like a James Mason kind of old, old guy. The writers just decided to think up a sketch about it. Actually, Howard started in a workshop too, just playing around. But he's one that I'd like to do more with, cause he's kind of edgy. Cause in a way he's... he's camp, and there aren't really many male Muppet characters that have a funny, interesting, feminine side to them. He's kind of very: "Carter? Carter, where's my apple butter?" He's fun. And he's real light, he's very carefree. He was just fun to do; he was different to do. A lot of people had different reactions to him, which I like. Some people thought, oh, that's too much. Some people thought he was funny. You try to find a balance somewhere. He's one that I'd like to try to find a balance with. That would be fun to do, challenging.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Bobo2

Okay... what else?

What kind of coffee do I like?

Yeah, what kind of coffee do you like?

I don't like coffee. Actually, I like espresso. But I don't have it that often.

That's the scoop. That's what's going on the cover.

That's right, you got an inside thing.

Don't like coffee... "Bill Barretta Comes Clean on Coffee." Cool That's great. Now I'm golden. Pulitzer...

There you go.

Watch out. What's the gauge by now, actually? The comfort gauge about being interviewed? I haven't been checking it.

Oh, right. Uh... uncomfortable.

Are you really?

No, no. I haven't thought about it, so it must be okay.

Okay. Great So, Johnny Fiama. One M or two?

One. As far as I'm concerned.

This is what I'm thinking. There's a controversy about this, I don't know if you know that.

I do. Cause we went through it when we started putting his name in scripts. But I've always said one.

Okay. If you say one, if Johnny says one...

When I thought of Johnny Fiama, it was always one. For two reasons. The first one was, my mother had a cat that she called Fiama, which means "flame" in Italian. And I always thought it was spelled with one M, at least we spelled the cat's name with one M. So to me, his name is Johnny Flame, but in Italian it's Johnny Fiama. But the proper Italian spelling is two M's, so my Italian writers have told me. But then the second part is, I like the fact that it's an anagram for Mafia.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Johnny

Oh! I never thought of that.

Neither did Johnny. Although he's not connected to the Mafia.

Of course not.

(As Johnny:) I just want to make that perfectly clear.

He owes some people money.

No, he does not owe people money. Johnny's not in the red at all.

Oh, okay. I don't know where I heard that.

I don't either. But maybe when you find out, you could let me know.

I'm sure I didn't even hear it I'm sure it was just a dream I had, or something. How about guest stars? Were there ones that you really liked working with, were there ones that you didn't work with so well?

Uh-oh. One of those questions again. My favorite?

See, I didn't say favorite. I'm too smart for that.

Well, again, unfortunately, for different reasons, I liked different people. I liked watching Michelle Pfeiffer just relate to the characters. You know, she didn't think of them as puppets. She just did what she does, she's a great actress. Watching her work - there's so much you see that doesn't get shown. So just watching her work, I just thought she was great. And then, there's Tony Bennett. He kind of warmed up to it. I loved watching that happen. When he first saw the puppet - he's an artist, he was interested in the look of it. Physically, what it looked like, (as Tony Bennett:) "Oh, that's incredible. That's marvelous." And I would talk to him with the puppet, and he didn't - he wasn't sure whether to look at me or not. Then gradually as we started shooting, we ended up - well, the way I knew that he finally warmed up to it was that we were just sitting there, waiting to shoot. I had the puppet up behind the desk - it was when we were doing the Johnny Fiama Show bit. Johnny said, "Tony, you know, one of the biggest problems I have with LA, as opposed to the East Coast-West Coast thing, is..." And he said, "Well, what is that, Johnny?" And he called him Johnny. And Johnny said, "Well, you can't get good bread in LA." And he said, "That's right! It's because of the water." And Johnny said, "Really? Because of the water..." "That's right, because the water's different." And he started to explain it, to Johnny, the difference in the breads. And I just thought, now he's got it.

What do you think about the future of Muppets Tonight? What I know right now is that it's supposed to be coming back, and then probably after they run some, that's going to be it. But I don't know. Do you know any better than me?

To be honest, I really don't. I don't know what they're going to do. My instincts tell me that if they decide to put a show on in June, there has to be this amazingly large audience, you know, that watches the show, that makes people at ABC say, oh, we need more of these. So common sense tells me that I don't think we're going to make any more. But you don't know. It's such a weird business. It's like Tickle Me Elmo. You never what's gonna happen.

BillBarretta-MuppetZine-Carl

So if it doesn't come back, what do you think is going to happen to your characters? Are they going to survive?

Well, I know they're having trouble breathing in their boxes. I don't know, I have no idea. Maybe we'll see some again. I think Bobo probably fits in a little more with some of the other guys than maybe Johnny. And I think Pepe probably fits in a little more. But I don't know where they would be used, or how they would come back. So to be honest, I really don't know. I haven't really thought about it.

What are you working on now?

I'm getting ready to work on Doctor Doolittle, with Eddie Murphy. We're doing some animals, animatronic stuff. So I'm going to work on that for a while. And as far as I know, that's it! That's all there is for work right now. That's up to the boss man.

What is your brother doing now?

He's an animator. This past season, he did three animations for Sesame Street. He's a camera man and editor, a writer, a musician - he does all kinds of things. I'm just trying to find something for the two of us to do together. We're always working on new ideas. We haven't done anything in a while together. He lives in Virginia, and he's enjoying the artsy lifestyle. He's a great guy.

So do you think you're going to be a puppeteer forever?

As long as they'll keep me.

Excellent. That was a beautiful ending.

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