Let’s Get Frank: Frank Oz’s “Ask Me Anything”

Published: January 5, 2018
Categories: Feature, Reports

This week, we got a rare opportunity to submit questions to the one, the only Frank Oz.  He asked folks to ask anything in a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”), and the site was flooded with questions about the Muppets, Star Wars, the films he directed, and more.

We highly recommend that you read the full AMA, which you can do right here.  But if you’re only interested in the Muppet-related stuff, then we’ve got the most interesting bits just below for you!  (Slightly edited for clarity.)

Many thanks to everyone who asked such hard-hitting questions, and double-thanks to Frank Oz for taking the time to answer them!

dwayne1115: [W]hat do you think Disney and the Muppets need to do now going forward? They have had a movie and a TV show be unsuccessful and I wonder is it because they are truly a thing of the past or do they just need to move in a different direction?

Frank Oz: I believe Disney really loves the Muppets and they really want to do their best for them. But my answer is not to go in a different direction for them, my answer is to get deeper into the purity of the characters. And that can be done by getting Bill Barretta and Dave Goelz and other performers who know the characters very well. It’s the purity of the characters, the purity of intent that connects with people in my opinion.

ToughPigsJoe: I’ve heard some of the backstories about your characters that help you figure out who they are offscreen. (I’ve heard the stories about Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Marvin Suggs.) Do you have similar backstories for your Sesame Street characters like Grover, Cookie Monster, or Bert? Or some of your lesser-known characters like George the Janitor or Lefty the Salesman?

Frank Oz: The answer is that I create backstories for my characters when I don’t have time to let them develop organically. So Bert developed over many months, even a year, because I had time on SS to do that. But for instance, I didn’t have that time with Yoda, I didn’t have that much time with Piggy, so I worked on getting specific about their story so that it could become a part of me.

threelittletrees: Has there been any work that was particularly emotional for you, or really changed you as a person?

Frank Oz: I think the answer to your question is that it wasn’t a particular piece of work, but it was the years of working with Jim Henson that changed me. His was an open, trusting, collaborative and supportive way of life, and that affected me deeply.

NintendoGuy1995: What job would Grover be the best at? I’m from Texas.

Frank Oz: I think Grover would be best if there was a job for hugging.

siggeplump: I love the chemistry between Kermit and Fozzie and I like to think they are great avatars for you and Jim Henson to embody that also reflect your real-life friendship. Is there any particular moment between the two characters that you both shared as a favorite? I am personally very fond of Kermit shouting “Is there no end to this running gag?!?!!” as Fozzie continuously answers the phone with bad puns coming out.

Frank Oz: I guess it’s fair to say that in every character that Jim did was a bit of Jim. And every character that I did was a bit of me. So there was indeed a part of the Fozzie/Kermit relationship that was Jim and me. But the character relationships were magnified, exaggerated, through our professional filters and made funny. Jim and I weren’t that funny in a room. You know I gotta throw something in here. Go to MuppetGuysTalking.com, will you? Because all of these questions you have, there’s going to be more answers there, building up to he release on March 16 to the release of our documentary “Muppet Guys Talking.” I know that was a shameless plug, but I have no shame.

Merari01: I am a great fan of the movie Dark Crystal. Do you maybe have an amusing or interesting anecdote to share from working on it?

Frank Oz: The Dark Crystal was such a huge project that along with Jim, I was so focused every day trying to make the day and because I have a lousy memory, I can’t think of anything. But I will say this…it was Jim’s vision. I just helped Jim direct his movie.

spasmunkey: Do performers that work with Muppets get shoulder injuries? It looks painful to have your arm up in the air for long periods of time.

Frank Oz: Shoulder injuries. I know Dave Goelz had to have maybe one or two operations on his shoulder. I don’t know about others, but I’ve had no problems whatsoever. I think because I must be a mutant.

Therizino: Do you recall where “Wocka Wocka” came from? As far as we at the Muppet Wiki can tell, Fozzie said it for the first time in The Muppet Movie.

Frank Oz: I remember exactly when Fozzie said “Whaka Whaka” first. In The Muppet Movie script, Fozzie was doing a comedy act on stage where Kermit first saw him, but there was no comedy act written, so I just made one up — and what you see on screen is what I showed Jim in an empty sound stage about a week before. And he loved it, so I kept it. And it really is a steal from old fashioned burlesque comedians.

MuppetConnoisseur: You were reportedly developing The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made around the same time Jason Segel was developing his Muppet movie. What are the chances we’ll ever see yours see the light of day?

Frank Oz: Very few people know about The Cheapest Muppet Movie. It was something that Jerry Juhl and Jim originally wrote about 40 years ago. When Dick Cook was head of Disney, he asked me to get involved with a Muppet movie, so because the previous script was dated from being written 40 years ago, I did rewrite it with the help of Jim Lewis. And personally, I love it. And I wish it could be made. But maybe it’s time now is gone because it feels like Disney would like to go their own way.

ginger621: What do you think was the hardest project you’ve ever worked on, performing or directing?

Frank Oz: The hardest project that I worked on was the project that I actually both performed and directed, and that was DARK CRYSTAL. And as I said before, I helped Jim direct his vision of DARK CRYSTAL. Besides working in that capacity, I also performed Aughra and the Chamberlain and, like Jim, who also performed, it was hard, sweaty heavy work and at the same time having an eye out as one of the directors to see how the scene was going.

JohanneN98: Was Miss Piggy’s voice hard on your vocal cords? Specifically, the singing?

Frank Oz: Piggy’s voice wasn’t that hard. For some reason I had this very high range I was able to do. I have no idea how that happened. But I could reach very high and there were no problems. The voice that was hard on me was Cookie Monster. That was one that can rip your throat out if you’re not careful. But I’ve been careful.

endersandman: If you had to pull off a heist using a team of only Muppet performers who would you choose and why?

Frank Oz: I think you have a very odd idea of who we are. I wouldn’t choose a team of Muppet performers to cook hot dogs. You don’t know these people.

peachepie: If the movie succeeds the way you and everyone hopes it does, could you see a series on this with other muppeteers on Netflix/Amazon etc where u have a 60 min episodes with others or even those that are working in the industry now?

Frank Oz: [Y]es there is a possibility of more people from Muppets talking that were not on camera this time, including other puppeteers, writers who worked with Jim and especially the workshop people who made the puppets. I think it’d be great for them to share their stories, too, But this time, it was the original Muppet originator/performers of the characters, and I knew we had plenty of stories with them.

Therizino: In an interview promoting your film Bowfinger, you mentioned that the way Bowfinger made “Chubby Rain” was not dissimilar to the way Jim Henson made Time Piece. Could you elaborate on that?

Frank Oz: With Bowfinger, he and his gang had very little money and used whatever equipment they could get to shoot the movie. With Time Piece, we had very little money. We would earn the money doing commercials, then Jim would gear up and we’d shoot a weekend using an old Mitchell rack-over camera, which means with that camera you can’t see what you’re shooting so we couldn’t get the best equipment — like Bowfinger — and every time Jim wanted to shoot more, we’d have to make more money making commercials. The main difference between Jim and Bowfinger is that Jim was a genius and the only thing stopping Bowfinger from being successful was his complete lack of talent.

BaymaxandTianaFan: How do you feel about the legacy you’ve helped create? Is it ever surreal to see how much people love the Muppets, Dark Crystal, etc.?

Frank Oz: This is a question that’s difficult to answer. I can’t grasp the idea of a large number of people being so affected by my work and the work of others in Muppets. It is surreal to think of it, because all I did is put my nose to the grindstone, had a lot of fun with my fellow performers and never thought about it going beyond that. My wife has told me for a long time that I seem to affect people positively, and I still can’t grasp that because I just am who I am.

aquanaut: How was it working at SNL their first season?

Frank Oz: It was so exciting being in the first year of Saturday Night Live and to get to know all the original performers and work in an atmosphere of electricity that happens when you’re doing a live show. So that part was an absolute privilege and joy. But as the show went on, it was clear that our style of comedy which was punchy and energetic did not fit the Not Ready For Primetime Players. Their comedy was more a Second City kind of laid back comedy. So it was difficult for the SNL writers to write for a type of comedy that didn’t fit the show. But personally, we are friends with everybody and after SNL’s first year, we got The Muppet Show, so everything turned out fine.

suaveitguy: Where do you stand on the firing of Steve Whitmire?

Frank Oz: I’m just very sad about what happened with Steve. I’m not privy to the reasons. I’m not part of Disney. As I understand it, the reasons had nothing to do with performing. When Steve was on the set he was always a joy to work with. So it saddens me that something outside of performing caused this to happen. It just saddens me, that’s all.

ebrhale: What’s your favourite Miss Piggy Song?

Frank Oz: [I]t’s difficult for me to judge when she’s such a lousy singer. But I will tell you something that not many people know. “Never Before and Never Again” Jim first asked Johnny Mathis to record it. And he did. And it was beautiful. But it wasn’t funny. So it was a rare time where this guy who can’t sing his way out of a paper bag took over from Johnny Mathis. Bizarre.

JohanneN98: I’m a very shy person and I’m currently trying to get into the animation industry. I wanna do creative work, but I’m afraid that my introversions and insecurities will limit my opportunities. I heard that you used to be a shy person, when you were younger, yet you still got up and performed (brilliantly I might add). How did you overcome shyness?

Frank Oz: I overcame the shyness when I was a kid by hiding behind the puppets. I’m still shy when it comes to large crowds or even people that I don’t know. And you’re right, I was not only shy, but I also had very low self esteem for many years. I was lucky to have a mentor in Jim Henson who gave me opportunities and supported me. That’s the real answer. But there’re are not that many Jim Hensons around. And lastly, if you really are really shy, fake it. There’s an old adage which i used earlier on performing to combat my shyness which is if you can’t be good, be loud. I don’t know how that translates to animation, but introversion can be a gift sometimes. Don’t run away from it. I’m sure if you keep on doing it something is going to happen.

Click here to learn from the master on the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com

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