Fozzie Bear Was Inspired by a Legendary Comedian

Creating the Muppet’s resident comic was no easy feat
Fozzie Bear Was Inspired by a Legendary Comedian

This week sees the release of Jim Henson: Idea Man, a critically-acclaimed cinematic tribute to one of the 20th century’s great artists, produced by Disney — even though Henson’s characters arguably keep getting disrespected by Disney.

Everyone has their own personal favorite Muppet. For some, it’s Kermit the Frog. For others, it’s Miss Piggy, or perhaps Gonzo if you’re willing to overlook his career-ruining chicken fetish. But we have to say that the Muppet gang just wouldn’t be the same without Fozzie Bear (originally performed by Franz Oz), the ursine stand-up comedian known for his lovably corny jokes. 

It’s hard not to feel bad for Fozzie, who was routinely heckled during his stand-up segments by two assholes who were somehow able to retain box seats for the entirety of The Muppet Show? Did Statler and Waldorf own that theater or something?

Even the staff of The Comedy Store were weirdly cool with two random senior citizens relentlessly harassing the beleaguered comic.

Surprisingly, the original plan for Fozzie Bear was for him to absolutely slay on stageAccording to Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, Fozzie was initially patterned off of comedian Red Skelton. I mean, the hat’s a dead giveaway.

As Henson himself stated, “We knew we wanted to have a stand-up comedian. We had in mind a Red Skelton-type of character that was a bundle of anxieties off stage and a gung-ho storyteller up front.” 

Which, to be honest, probably describes most successful comedians. In another interview, Henson suggested that Fozzie was an “amalgam” of various comedians, including Skelton and Milton Berle. 

But the idea that Fozzie’s insecurities would be counterbalanced by his on-stage prowess didn’t work. “Fozzie was a disaster,” confessed Muppet performer Jerry Juhl. “We said, ‘This is a bad comedian,’ and so we put him on stage and let him be bad.” But letting Fozzie eat shit on stage wasn’t great either, and Statler and Waldorf’s cutting remarks only made Fozzie seem more “pathetic.” 

In the early days of the show, Fozzie would react to this habitual abuse by getting “upset” and even crying. “We just humiliated the poor guy,” said Juhl, adding that “Frank Oz knew it was bad and didn’t know what to do with it.” 

Eventually, the character evolved beyond this unfortunate mold. For starters, the puppet was replaced with a new and improved one; Fozzie’s fur was now a “brighter orange” and his “perpetual grimace” was removed. Gone too was the “unreliable mechanism” that allowed Fozzie’s ears to wiggle.

Instead of playing the victim, Fozzie became a perpetual optimist thanks to Oz who discovered that Fozzie was just “a simple guy who wants to be funny and loved.” According to Juhl, the idea was to take “Fozzie’s ineptness” and “make that entertaining and wonderful.” 

Obviously they succeeded — with the possible exception of the time Fozzie dated a human and things got real weird.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).


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