14 Trivia Tidbits About The Muppets
With over 65 years of history, there’s always more to learn about the Muppets. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the gang are international superstars, having touched multiple series, films and hearts across generations. Even ones long though to be frozen:
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Their latest venture is The Muppets Mayhem, a new series on Disney+ starring The Muppet Show’s house band, The Electric Mayhem, as they take a break from their 40-year concert tour to record their very first album. In honor of their first show and record (both of which are available now), we’re happy to share these trivia tidbits all about Jim Henson’s most beloved creations, The Muppets...
Only Two Muppets Appeared in Every Episode of ‘The Muppet Show’
While The Muppet Show is populated with hundreds of characters, only two were part of all 120 episodes. The first is no surprise: Kermit the Frog, the equally celebrated and frustrated host, made it a point to show up each and every week. The second isn’t quite as obvious: Waldorf, the mustachioed half of the cantankerous old balcony duo that heckled the cast at the conclusion of each episode. His partner in crime, Statler, was absent for the Dizzy Gillespie episode but replaced by Waldorf’s wife, Astoria, who just so happens to look exactly like Statler in drag.
Right behind them is Fozzie Bear, appearing in 115 episodes, with Scooter at 113, Miss Piggy at 111 and Gonzo at 106.
The Muppets Almost Starred in a Movie With No Budget
In the mid-1980s, Henson and Jerry Juhl created a concept for The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made!. The idea came from their shared struggle to cut corners and trim budgets for their various Muppet projects. The film would’ve begun with Gonzo in charge of creating an explosive opening title sequence and wasting their entire budget in the process. The rest of the movie would’ve seen the characters using the same street corner for every scene, props and costumes looking cheaper and cheaper throughout the film and the production value even dipping to black-and-white (and eventually just storyboards). Juhl revealed in an interview that, ironically, successfully making a Muppet movie look cheap is actually a very expensive endeavor.
In 2009, Disney announced that Jason Segel would helm The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made!. However, that appeared to be a title reference only, as what we eventually got was 2011’s The Muppets.
‘Miss Piggy’ Is Not Miss Piggy’s Name
Created in 1974, Miss Piggy made her debut on The Tonight Show, lip-syncing to “That Old Black Magic.” A staple performance from Henson’s first television series, Sam & Friends.
However, she wasn’t introduced as Miss Piggy but as Piggy Lee. Bonnie Erickson, who designed the original puppet, said she named her “Miss Piggy Lee” as a joke and tribute to famed singer Peggy Lee. Both Piggy and Peggy were talented vocalists and independent women, but as Piggy’s star began to rise, no one wished to potentially insult Peggy, so the “Lee” was dropped, and a legend was born.
Slightly less canonical, Miss Piggy revealed that “Piggy” is just a nickname on the Avery Schreiber edition of The Muppet Show. Her real name is “Pigathius,” which is Greek for “river of passion.” Schreiber responds that his name is Yiddish for “Hold the mayo.”
Only One Original ‘Muppet Show’ Performer Still Regularly Performs with the Troupe
The circle of Muppet performers has always been small, which makes sense since each puppeteer can deftly perform dozens of characters. But most of the original performers from The Muppet Show have passed away, retired or otherwise moved on in their careers. Only one remains: Dave Goelz, who continues to portray Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot and more.
‘The Muppet Show’ Was Two Minutes Longer in the U.K.
Although The Muppet Show aired worldwide, not every country had the same time limitations. American television had two additional minutes of commercials, so the Muppets needed to fill that space for U.K. audiences. They did so with 120 sketches that Americans wouldn’t get an opportunity to see until the advent of home video. It turned out that many British pub songs were the perfect length and just the right amount of silly for the Muppets’ sensibility.
The “U.K. Spots,” as they’re lovingly referred to, contain some now-classic Muppet moments, such as “To Morrow” (featuring caricature puppets of Henson, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson), “I’m Looking Through You” (the Beatles classic, performed by translucent ghosts) and Floyd Pepper singing the Billy Joel hit “New York State of Mind.”
What Is Gonzo?
The topic of Gonzo’s background is often debated. The Ed Sullivan-produced The Great Santa Claus Switch, Gonzo’s first appearance, labeled him a “Frackle,” a species similar to a Muppet monster or Grouch. Easily the most recognizable Frackle in the special, he was initially named “Snarl” and lived in a cigar box.
Since then, he’s been referred to as a “whatever,” a “weirdo,” “a little like a turkey,” and famously, in Muppets from Space, as a member of an alien race. However, most fans don’t really acknowledge his alien parentage, leaving his identity most easily summed up in a panel of The Muppet Show Comic Book, in which Gonzo reveals that he is “an artist.”
Gonzo Doesn’t Know Which Chicken Is His Girlfriend
In the second season of The Muppet Show, Gonzo made an offhand ad-lib while auditioning a dancing chicken for his act, noting that she had “nice legs,” sparking the idea of Gonzo’s infatuation with poultry. His official girlfriend, Camilla, one of very few Muppet chickens with an actual name, would debut a year later. Except the Muppet performers quickly forgot which chicken was which. Their solution was eloquently simple: Write it into Gonzo’s character so he didn’t know which one was Camilla either. Therefore, whichever chicken was closest to Gonzo became “Camilla.”
Camilla accompanied Gonzo through most Muppet films and spin-off series, including both versions of the Muppet Babies animated series. In the 1984 version, Camilla was Gonzo’s stuffed chicken toy, while in the 2018 version, she was an actual baby chick (part of a trio with Priscilla and Beep).
The Swedish Chef Was Henson’s Third Attempt at a Muppet Chef
Everyone loves The Swedish Chef, despite his unintelligible gibberish and habit of making inedible dishes. However, it’s interesting to note that two other extremely similar chefs preceded him. In Henson’s first TV series, Sam and Friends, he used his character Omar as a chef preparing a flaming salad while speaking in broken mock German. Meanwhile, in 1966, Henson debuted “Chef Bernardi” on The Mike Douglas Show, who again prepared a flammable salad. Although not incomprehensible, Chef Bernardi began the tradition of using real hands for the character (to avoid clean-up due to the actual food being used).
Henson provided the voice and puppetry for the head in this performance, while Oz performed the hands, which is exactly how they brought The Swedish Chef to life on The Muppet Show.
Speaking of The Swedish Chef’s hands, if you visit The Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, the Chef is on permanent display in their “Jim Henson Exhibition.” The hands seen on the chef are actual casts of Oz’s hands, creating a sense of realism for how the character was meant to be seen.
Muppets Have Promoted Cannibalism
It’s been said that Henson’s favorite methods of ending a sketch are to have something explode, throw chickens in the air or have one Muppet eat another. That helps explain why there have been a few instances of Muppets promoting the edible nature of their own species in commercials. In 2002, Pepe the King Prawn starred in a series of ads for Long John Silver’s, conveniently overlooking that his fellow prawns (don’t call him a shrimp) can be found on the menu.
That same year also saw Kermit and Miss Piggy in a campaign for Denny’s, where Piggy is salivating over Denny’s signature Grand Slam breakfast. One of those ingredients? Bacon. Ironically, The Muppet Movie predicted this very controversy, as the main plot features Kermit being hunted by Doc Hopper — the Colonel Sanders of frogs’ legs — to appear in his commercials. However, while Hopper was unsuccessful with Kermit, it appears he may have gotten through to Piggy.
‘Dr. Teeth’ Has a Real Name
Unless your parents are setting unreasonable expectations, no one is born with the name “Doctor.” Even Dr. Teeth — the keyboardist for The Electric Mayhem — had to earn his moniker. The earliest illustration of the good doctor, by artist Bob Taylor, dubbed him “The Boogie Man.” His appearance was heavily influenced by keyboardist and singer Dr. John, which may have inspired his next name.
Muppet designer Michael Frith made the subsequent illustration, this time giving him the extended name, “Leon ‘Doctor’ Eltonjohn Dontshoot (the Piano Player).” Naturally, his winning smile helped shorten this to the “Dr. Teeth” we know and love.
In the most recent series, The Muppets Mayhem, it’s revealed that Dr. Teeth is actually a doctor. Predictably, he’s a dentist, and his full name is Dr. Gerald Teeth, Jr. D.D.S. Available for appointments now.
Fozzie Bear Used to Have Much More Movement in His Face
Fozzie Bear, the Muppet icon, is instantly recognizable with his cuddly visage. Still, there have been several attempted additions that have tried to make his head more animated. Despite being expertly brought to life by Oz (and, nowadays, by Eric Jacobson), his facial features are almost entirely static and unmoving. Early in his design, Fozzie would wiggle his ears to punctuate a joke; less used was the mechanism that brought the edges of his mouth down to crack a frown. And even less utilized were his eyebrows, which could raise but were rarely done because it was difficult to see on camera. All of these were eventually discarded.
Still, you’d never realize that Fozzie’s face doesn’t move much, thanks to the expertise of the performers and a loose joint in his jaw that allows for more range of emotion. As Henson famously said, “Simple is good.”
Animal Can Be Summed Up in Five Words
In his approach to performing Animal, Oz boiled him down to just five words: Sex, sleep, food, drums and pain. Everything he did as an Animal could be directed right back to any of those concepts, with no room for change or growth.
Of course, Animal has had the opportunity to grow a bit as a character in more recent years. His obsession with chasing women has rightfully been diminished, and new characteristics, like an obsession with bunny rabbits, have softened him to be less dangerous and more lovable. Although he’s certainly lost a bit of his edge, Animal still steals the show in The Muppets Mayhem.
Why Kermit Has a Collar
In his earliest appearances on Henson’s Sam and Friends, Kermit (and the rest of the cast) were built to be abstract, with no specific species, so they could fit into any sketch or circumstance. It wouldn’t be until the 1969 TV special Hey Cinderella! that he’d be officially labeled as a frog, collar and all. But frogs don’t have collars! To trace its origin, we look back a few more years to an unaired pilot called Tales of the Tinkerdee, where Kermit hosts and narrates stories about a Muppet-filled fairytale kingdom. He wears a tunic with a frilled collar in this role, much like a medieval minstrel or jester, which inspired his now recognizable neck accessory.
After a couple variations on the collar design in Kermit’s early years, they settled on the exact size and shape of the collar and its points, which is still in use today. And in all those years, it’s retained the same number of points: 11.
Sam the Eagle Has a Tragic Backstory
Originally The Muppet Show’s resident censor and exemplar of good, clean entertainment, Sam the Eagle is often seen as a stick-in-the-mud. But he has good reason to be, thanks to his sad past. On The Muppet Show, Sam revealed that he was previously married, but his wife left him. To add insult to injury, he can’t even remember her name (though later revealed to possibly be “Eunice”). Sam also has two college-aged children — one who studies taxidermy; the other is dating an owl — neither of whom keeps in touch with their father.
So the next time you roll your eyes when Sam goes on a tirade about decency or derides a guest star for embracing the silliness of The Muppet Show, have a little sympathy. The guy is going through a lot.