Doc Hopper Has No Friends: Is That Funny or Sad?

Published: July 1, 2024
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Did you go see the Fathom Events screening of The Muppet Movie last month? I sure did! It was just swell seeing one of my favorite movies on the big screen — and looking better than I’ve ever seen it. I swear I could see every hair on Fozzie’s face, clear as day.

There was also an added benefit to seeing it in a theater: I got to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members. Steve Martin and Mel Brooks got big laughs in their show-stealing scenes, and when Doc Hopper started threatening Muppets with guns, there were actual gasps.

And then there was the scene when Kermit has his showdown with Doc Hopper in the ghost town. I think the biggest audience laugh of the whole movie came in that scene, when Kermit stepped onto the street wearing his cowboy hat and spurs.

And hey, that’s understandable. An anthropomorphic frog with spindly little legs, naked except for shoes and a hat? That’s funny! It’s one of those things that I tend to forget is funny because I’ve seen the movie a zillion times, so I was grateful to have an audience remind me.

But soon after that, there was an audience reaction that surprised me. It happened in the tense moment when Kermit and Hopper come face to face. After Kermit berates Hopper for pursuing him obsessively, there’s this exchange, including Kermit’s Famous Speech:

DOC HOPPER: All my life I wanted to own a thousand frog leg restaurants, and you’re the key, greenie.

KERMIT: Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. It’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well… I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And… that kinda makes us like a family. You have anybody like that, Hopper? I mean, once you get all those restaurants,* who’re you gonna share it with? Who are your friends, Doc? Those guys?


(Max steps forward.)

DOC HOPPER: I got lots of friends. (pointing) Max, for instance.

(Max shakes his head sadly.)

DOC HOPPER (disappointed): Max!

At that moment, when Doc said “Max!” several people in the audience laughed. 

Wait a minute. Is that funny?!

Sure, Doc Hopper’s the bad guy, and Max had shown signs of misgivings earlier in the film. Anyone who was paying attention, or who hadn’t slipped out to buy some more Buncha Crunch, had probably realized that Max considers his relationship with Doc to be strictly employee and employer.

But you know who apparently didn’t realize that? Doc Hopper. The way the great Charles Durning delivers that line — that one word! — he seems genuinely surprised and hurt by this revelation. He honestly thought Max was his friend! Should we really be kicking him while he’s down by laughing at him?

Still, he is the bad guy. I suppose I could understand how some people would respond by laughing, because this whole sequence is where Hopper gets his comeuppance, mostly in the form of an exceptionally large and scary drummer. It’s a “HA, that’s what you get!” kind of laugh, rather than a “HA, you’re a sad and lonely man!” laugh. That’s not an unnatural reaction from a viewer who’s rooting for Kermit to make it through the movie alive.

All of this makes me think about the overall question of Doc Hopper’s redeemability, or lack thereof. We learned from Brian Jay Jones’s excellent Jim Henson biography that Jim Henson and Frank Oz disagreed on this point. Jim Henson believed Hopper was, in fact, redeemable, and that his true “innocence” might shine through. But Frank strongly believed that Hopper should remain a bad guy to the end.

Obviously, Frank’s version won out, and Hopper only gives up his chase because of his run-in with the terrifying giant Animal. I don’t want to get too deep into the woods of French-fried philosophy here, but there was a time when I probably would have agreed with Jim’s take. Surely any once-malicious figure could turn over a new leaf, I would have said. But now that I’m older and more jaded and I’ve witnessed the actions of certain corporate executives and elected officials (you know which ones), I’m more inclined to think Frank was right. Some bad guys are just bad guys.

And yet… I always find myself feeling a pang of sympathy for Doc Hopper when Max disavows him, and I felt even worse for him when the audience laughed at him. So maybe there’s still a part of me that believes, as Kermit does, that Doc Hopper is “not a bad man.” Curse you, Muppet Movie filmmakers, for forcing me to see shades of gray!

And now: What do you think? Is it funny or sad when Max rejects Doc Hopper’s claim of friendship? And if it’s funny, why is it funny? I’d love to hear from all of you in the comments or on the Tough Pigs Discord! I really want to hear from everyone reading this, because you’re all my friends.

You are my friends, right? …RIGHT?!

*Please note that Jim Henson as Kermit pronounces the word “restaurants” as “rest’rints” and it’s delightful.

Click here to laugh or feel sad for Doc Hopper on the Tough Pigs Discord!

by Ryan Roe –

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