5 Things People Always Say About This Muppeteer Photo

Published: July 5, 2016
Categories: Feature, Fun Stuff

Hey, look at this photo!

Jim Henson Frank Oz Richard Hunt Bert Ernie puppeteers

It’s cool, isn’t it?  It features two beloved children’s television characters on the set of their all-time classic show, and it’s a pretty perfect demonstration of how Muppets work.  I don’t actually know who took the photo, or whether it captures a genuinely candid moment or a staged one, but it’s one of the best behind-the-scenes Muppet shots out there.

I see this photo posted around the internet pretty frequently, on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  When people come across it, they’re eager to show it to others.  And I’ve noticed that it always seems to inspire the same handful of comments from readers.  Those comments tend to go a little something like this…

Frank's head
1. “I never knew Tobias Fünke played Bert!”

Maybe I don’t have to explain who Tobias Fünke is, but just in case there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t have sophisticated, discriminating tastes in TV comedies featuring frozen banana stands: Tobias is a character from the sitcom Arrested Development.  He was played by David Cross, who grew a moustache for the role.  Frank Oz, meanwhile, grew his moustache for the role of Frank Oz.  So basically, saying “That guy looks like Tobias!” is the same as saying “That guy looks like David Cross with a moustache!”

But come on, people.  Frank Oz is his own man!  He doesn’t look like a silly TV character.  Okay, they’re both bald on top.  And okay, they both have the aforementioned facial hair.  And yes, okay, they both wear glasses.  But Frank doesn’t look that much like Tobias.  Here, let’s compare them side-by-side in two randomly chosen images:

Frank and Tobias
Oh.  Okay.  I guess all those people were right.  Still, Frank had that look first!

Side note: Muppet fans have actually noticed this resemblance since at least 2008, when Tough Pigs’ own Brad created the following image in our “Who Will Be Jim?” game.

One more note on this one: I’m pretty sure anyone who makes this comment is merely remarking upon the resemblance, and not suggesting that the photograph actually depicts David Cross performing Bert.  But for the edification of anyone who may be operating under such an impression, please note that if the photograph was taken in, say, 1976, David Cross would have been 12 years old, and therefore, though not impossible, it is highly unlikely that he would have been performing on Sesame Street at the time.

Jim's shirt
2. “Whoa, Jim Henson’s shirt is so ’70s it hurts!” 

Folks may not recognize the guy with Bert on his hand, but chances are they know exactly who the bearded fellow handling Ernie is, and it ain’t Grizzly Adams!  And they’re quite impressed with Jim’s shirt, which looks like a 3-D picture might pop out of it if you stare long enough.

Yeah, man.  That cat Jim Henson was totally hip to the grooviest threads back in the day.  He wore some fashionable duds, even if they were only fashionable for a few weeks.  Sometimes he dressed like a hippie.  Sometimes he dressed like your grandma’s couch:

Jim Henson Kermit
And then, at some point in the 1980s, he started hanging out with respectable people like lions, so he started wearing sensible sweaters.

Jim sweater Lion
But you know, if any of Jim’s sweet disco-era clothes are still sitting in a closet somewhere, I think they’d make a great addition to one of the various Henson museum galleries.  There’s as much character in each of those shirts as there is in any episode of The Muppet Show.

Richard Hunt in Jim's armpit
3. “Ha ha, that guy’s job is to smell Jim Henson’s armpits!”

One thing that bothers me about comments like these is the implication that “that guy” is somehow a lesser member of the Muppet troupe because his face happens to be adjacent to the boss’s deodorant area.  Granted, all the behind-the-scenes books and documentaries do indicate that new hires are often given the bulk of the right-handing jobs when they first start out.  But by all accounts, the major performers continue to right-hand for each other as needed.  After all, Cookie Monster eats cookies with both hands, and somebody has to be there to help his left hand shove chocolate chips in the general vicinity of his mouth in sync with his right.

Also: “That guy” is not merely “that guy!”  As anyone reading this probably knows, he’s Richard Hunt, an indispensable member of the Muppet troupe from the early ’70s until his passing in 1992.  When I see people laughing at Richard for getting armpit duty, I want to stand up and say, “He’s an important Muppet guy! Do the names Scooter, Janice and Statler mean anything to you?  Or how about the name… Forgetful Jones?”  That oughtta shut them up.

Ernie Bert with puppeteers

4. “My childhood is now ruined.”

This is the stupidest one.

Anyone old enough to be commenting on an image on Facebook or Tumblr is old enough to know that the Muppets are puppets.  Right?  That’s a reasonable assumption?  So even putting aside how ridiculous the whole “this ruined/destroyed/violated my childhood” whining is, why would it lessen anyone’s enjoyment of the Muppets to see how they’re operated?

It’s not like a magic trick, where the entertainment value depends on the audience not knowing how it’s done.  The Muppets are puppets.  The Muppet and Sesame people generally don’t try to hide that fact.  In all the classic stuff, you can even see the arm rods onscreen, and on Sesame Street, I’m pretty sure you still can!

I don’t remember the particular moment when I first learned that the Sesame Street characters were puppets, but I was never disappointed or disturbed by it.  On the contrary, I’ve always been fascinated to see all the work these creative geniuses put in to make the Muppets completely believable.  If anything, seeing photos like this enriches my childhood because it makes me appreciate the Muppets even more.  But I’m probably preaching to the Muppet geek choir here.  (Speaking of Muppet Geek Choir, guys, don’t forget we have practice next Wednesday.)

Ernie Bert cropped
5. “lol ernie and bert got them dudes hands up there butts”

I take back what I said earlier.  This is the stupidest one.

P.S. What about the other thing?

These are the comments I’ve seen time and time again when this image is posted.  But there’s one element of the photo I almost never see anyone comment on, which genuinely surprises me.

It’s just slightly in the background, to the left of Richard Hunt… There’s an empty, lifeless Anything Muppet girl sitting on the shelf!

Anything Muppet Girl
I would think a “dead” Muppet lying there, eyes open and mouth agape, would be more traumatizing to the sensitive souls of the internet than seeing how Bert and Ernie work.  But maybe not, because Bert and Ernie are well-known characters, and nobody cares about Anonymous Anything Muppet Girl.

Or maybe nobody notices because they’re all too fixated on those other five things.  Who has time to notice an empty puppet when you have Jim Henson wearing an awesome shirt destroying everyone’s childhood while flanked by a random armpit-sniffer and an Arrested Development character?


Have you seen any common comments on this image around the internet that I forgot?  Feel free to let me know via e-mail at Ryan@ToughPigs.com or at the Tough Pigs forum!

Click here to stick your face in the armpit of the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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