An Interview with “The Muppets Mayhem’s” Hannah Friedman

Published: September 6, 2023
Categories: Feature, Interviews

Unsurprisingly, “The Muppets Mayhem” has had us rocking, rolling, living like a hurricane, electricity through our brains all summer long. Recently, I had the chance to talk with one of the show’s writers, co-producers, songwriters, and Forsureleans, Hannah Friedman. With all the hats she wore on this project, we had a lot to talk about!

TOUGHPIGS: How did you get involved with the show?

HANNAH FRIEDMAN: I was always a Muppets fan, a huge Muppets fan, and I loved the original “Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street.”  I have been trying to work with the Muppets forever, so when this show came around, I was introduced through a friend who knows how passionate I am about puppets to the showrunner, Adam Goldberg, and we really hit it off. I have experience in music, my dad was a touring musician and I grew up on the road with him, so it was a really good fit with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. I was so pumped to work on “Muppets Mayhem.”

TOUGHPIGS: Developing this show must’ve been a real challenge, because we’ve seen so much of the Electric Mayhem over the course of decades, and yet we know so little about them, because it’s always been focused on their performances and not so much on their backstories. Was that more of a challenge or was that more like, “we have the ball, we can run with it?”

HANNAH: The puppeteers are so talented, and they have been playing these characters – I mean, in the case of Dave Goelz, for like thirty or forty years, so he has had a lot of time to think about these characters, and some of the things that you might not have seen on screen, so just the process of getting to go into backstory was really exciting and generative and also a team process, [because] those puppeteers just know the characters so well and had a lot of fun ideas.

TOUGHPIGS: There must’ve been a lot of interplay between the writing staff and the puppeteers, which is great, because when you work with these characters for so long, you have your own ideas and that helps you inform the performance.

HANNAH: Exactly! And Bill Barretta, who plays Dr. Teeth [and] took over from Jim Henson, he was also a co-creator of the show, so he was in the room with us and had a lot of helpful experience and thoughts to share.

TOUGHPIGS: That leads me to my next question, because on our podcast about the show, Bill has mentioned that it was a majority female writing staff. I was wondering, because you don’t see that often in Hollywood, did it have a different energy? Because you’ve done a lot of writing over the years and a lot of producing.

HANNAH: All of the top creators were men, so I would say it was really nice to have those female collaborators and add to the female voices who were able to give voice to Nora and Hannah’s experiences, those are our human characters.

TOUGHPIGS: That’s right, not only do we get these characters that we’ve known for so long, we get brand new ones. How did those characters necessarily come about?

HANNAH: I think the characters of Dr. Teeth and Janice and Floyd and Lips, they are so wacky that I think we wanted to make sure there was a good balance. As we know with “The Muppet Show,” it’s always great to have a straight man like Kermit or Scooter.

TOUGHPIGS: And not having those this time…

HANNAH: Exactly! So I think it was helpful to have to have the band be so wild and crazy and to have these grounded human characters. But surprisingly, if there was concern about whether or not the band themselves could carry the whole show, as you see over the course of the [season], they have really emotional stories, we get to find out about their families and sort of their origin and how they got into music. I think they become fleshed out and dimensional in their own right. So we loved talking about Hannah and Nora, we loved Tahj Mowry as Moog, that romance was so fun. There is some kind of magic when humans and puppets connect, and it was great to see those scenes.

TOUGHPIGS: I liked your talking about the love triangle between Nora and Moog and JJ. So was it ever really intended for Nora and Moog to sort of move closer in that direction, or was it really left ambiguous? Because at the end of the first season, you sort of see Nora pushing away from JJ and maybe, as she’s discovering herself, maybe coming closer to Moog.

HANNAH: Yeah, Moog was always intended to be a character who surprises us. He’s always talking about his producing, and it’s a big surprise that he’s an incredible producer, and I think he’s supposed to be surprising to Nora also with his viability as a romantic partner. And he’s just so charming. We heard those lines from lots of actors who sort of sounded quirky and nerdy, and [Tahj] had such soulfulness with warmth and depth. He was really so lovely and appealing and funny and sexy and all the things that we needed. When we saw Tahj reading that part, we said “oh my god, it’s got to be him.” I think he did an incredible job.

TOUGHPIGS: A factor I definitely appreciate is that JJ is not necessarily this stock, “oh okay, there’s no way she’s going to end up with him.”

HANNAH: Yeah, yeah.

TOUGHPIGS: JJ is a complicated guy. He wants to do right by Nora and he wants to right by the Mayhem, though it may not necessarily be the same way the Mayhem see themselves.

HANNAH: Exactly.

TOUGHPIGS: So moving on, you mentioned that your father was a singer/songwriter, and I believe your aunt was a sitcom writer named Racelle Schaefer. So obviously you come from this family legacy of entertainment, and I know you did a lot of writing for the show, but the episode you’re credited for as lead writer is “Fortunate Son,” which of course deals with [Dr. Teeth’s] family legacy. Did your own experience sort of play into that?

HANNAH: I would say there was a lot that Bill brought to the character and a lot that he had thought about based on the very funny idea that Dr. Teeth is a real medical doctor. I don’t think that was part of the canon, but I know that Bill had been playing with that idea [along with] Adam and Jeff [Yorkes]. So it came really naturally, the parental conflict that he was really a doctor but he had this other passion and his parents really wanted him to take over the family business. It was exciting to brainstorm in that area. I definitely used some of [my experience], there’s a little wink to my dad. My dad has a song about brushing your teeth, and I put a little wink to that song into Dr. Teeth’s mom in the flashback. I would say most of the emotion of the story, Bill had thought about it a lot before we started breaking the story.

TOUGHPIGS: Interesting! Also in that episode, we also see how Dr. Teeth and Floyd come together, and that sort of forms the genesis of the Mayhem. So was there sort of bouncing off of ideas as to how this band would really get started?

HANNAH: Yeah, definitely, and sort of where Floyd came from, and that Floyd was kind of a military brat. He was a veteran and had come back. There was some deep, not-very-funny stuff, I think that Floyd had had a difficult time at war. We got some notes that said, “maybe don’t focus on the fact that Floyd has seen death in the eyes.”

TOUGHPIGS: I believe they say that Floyd was drummed out of West Point.

HANNAH: Yeah, he had turned “Taps” into a jazz odyssey. We liked the idea of Baby Animal being adopted by Floyd and they have this very special relationship, so that was fun to get to see that.

TOUGHPIGS: I’m definitely hoping there’s a second season because I need to know more about where Animal came from, because obviously we see him from this point where he shows up on Floyd’s doorstep, and [I’m] like, “how did he get here? Who are his parents? Where are his parents?” Obviously, there are some mysteries about Animal that we still have yet to discover.

HANNAH: Yes, totally!

TOUGHPIGS: Moving on from writer to producer, obviously there’s this producing team, so how did you help bring this vision to life in collaboration with everyone?

HANNAH: Talking! Talking through the emotions of the story, talking through the philosophy of the band, and talking through where we wanted them to end up. We really liked the idea that they would, in this process of recording their very first album, they would each gain some sort of notoriety or success in ways that pull them apart, and ultimately we would want Nora to have to get them all back together again. So it was just really fun brainstorming how they would each get pulled away, Dr. Teeth with Penny, and Janice with her Foresureleans, that seemed like the right flow.

TOUGHPIGS: Yeah, as Bill revealed on our podcast, you play the lead Forsurelean!

HANNAH: Yeah, it was so much fun getting to act with Janice was really a dream come true.

TOUGHPIGS: So much fun. So how did it come about that Janice would become a cult leader? That’s got to be an interesting story, because at the same point, I could see it, but also the free spiritedness, it takes a lot of organization to run something like that.

HANNAH: It’s true. I think [it’s] because she has such good vibes, for sure. We just liked the idea, I think we were talking about a phone episode where everyone gets really sucked into their phone and some people are promoting themselves and their photographs, and some people are connecting socially. She’s so friendly, and she is all about kind of spirituality, and we liked the idea that she makes all these friends and that then they are influenced by her. That just seemed really funny to us.

TOUGHPIGS: Moving on to the next hat, because you also wrote the theme song to the show, “Rock On,” which is my favorite song of the whole series.

HANNAH: Thank you so much! I’m really proud of it.

TOUGHPIGS: You wrote, as the kids say, a banger. It’s one of those things I don’t even have to watch the show, I can just listen to the theme, because it’s such a great song!

HANNAH: Thank you so much, we’re so, so, so proud of it. It was totally a dream. They had been soliciting music for the very last episode, for the Hollywood Bowl, so we submitted for that, and we didn’t get that, and we were really bummed, and we heard “oh, but hold on, because it might be a contender for the theme song.” I was just so excited, it was such a journey. There’s a lot of people who have to sign off on that kind of decision. It was a song that came out so easily, like I had been immersed in the philosophy of the show and the characters of the show, and the vibe and also the musical influences that the band was influenced by, and so it just came so intuitively, and it was such a joy to work on. It was so much fun to lay down the saxophone track, and Dan Pinnella, the co-writer/producer, was so… you know, we were just jamming on electric guitar, and it felt very special and magical, so the fact that it went all the way to Times Square was just so surreal.

TOUGHPIGS: So how did the development of this song come about? You’re talking about jamming, did the lyrics come after that point, or did you have this sort of vision of, “I want to talk about this unity they have,” and then sort of wrote from there?

HANNAH: It was thinking about their philosophy as a band, which is that they keep going no matter what. They keep going through the rain and sleet, like no matter what happens, they find solace and community and purpose in their music. And that’s sort of what they do in the show, like music always solves the problem, or music brings them together, reminds them of what’s important, so that just came really naturally. And then listening to Bill do all the Dr. Teeth-isms, [like] “rock on for the joyeriffic, groovalicious bliss,” those kinds of playful word things were really just fun to say, and I knew they were going to be such fun to hear Bill deliver them in his Dr. Teeth way, so yeah, that was exciting. The song, we’re so proud of [it]. We love the short cut, we love the long version of the song,

TOUGHPIGS: So the way you’re describing it, I can absolutely see it as one of the Hollywood Bowl songs, so I’m glad it was at least considered [for that], and that it wasn’t thrown away entirely, because that is such a great song. You mentioned that you played the saxophone on that. Obviously, filling in for Zoot, helping Zoot out. What was it like getting to step in, in a sense, for a Muppet?

HANNAH: We also had a fabulous main saxophonist, I was not the main saxophonist, but it was incredible, it’s a total dream come true. My favorite lyric in the song, because it really did just come from a very Electric Mayhem place of jamming and being in the moment was in the bridge when they’re kind of rap-singing a little bit, and [Dr. Teeth] says “roll and rock, reverse and repeat.” That lyric really made us laugh because we felt it was very Muppety and silly and playful.

TOUGHPIGS: And so part of the Mayhem’s vibe. So we want to make sure people get their proper credits, so with all these hats, is there something else [you did] that has not necessarily been revealed? Because you did a LOT on this show.

HANNAH: No, I think we covered all the things. I just feel very grateful to Adam and Jeff and Bill, Michael [Bostick], our other executive producer, Kris [Eber], who was there every day making sure everything was happening, that the trains were running on time, all the puppeteers, who are such incredible mentors. I have gotten to interview some of them recently for another project, and like the wisdom and kindness and just genuine curiosity about human behavior and emotions. It really is a masterful craft that they have brought onto television and into our lives, and so I feel so grateful to have been a teeny, teeny, tiny part of getting to make that work. I learned so much getting to see, and now I’m working on another musical show once the writers’ strike is over for The Muppets Studio.

TOUGHPIGS: Oh, that’s wonderful!

HANNAH: I can’t get enough! I can’t get enough of Muppet projects.

TOUGHPIGS: That is fabulous. I’m so glad that the journey continues. So nothing has been announced yet, but certainly a lot of us are hoping for a second season. Where would you like to see that go?

HANNAH: Well, as you know, the first season ended [with the setup] that they’re going on tour, so that would be really exciting to see the twists and turns of a real live Mayhem tour and the mayhem that would ensue. I think there were a lot of fun characters that we introduced, like Dr. Teeth’s parents, Janice’s twin sister–

TOUGHPIGS: Yes! That was the one among the ToughPigs staff where we felt like, “we need to know more!”

HANNAH: So I would also love to know more about all those things.

TOUGHPIGS: The beauty is that you laid so many mysteries into the first season that at least I know I’m clamoring for a second one and I know a lot of my friends are too.

HANNAH: Who’s your favorite character?

TOUGHPIGS: Wow, of the Mayhem, oh my goodness, my favorite character… I mean, they all bring such a different energy to [the band]. It really depends on the moment. I tend to gravitate more towards Floyd or Zoot, though I got to tell you, Lips had a renaissance on this show. This was a character we heard very little from before this show, and now Lips is just this bon vivant. It seems he’s everywhere, and now he’s on a mission to save the world.

HANNAH: That was a really funny concept. I’m excited to see his “We Are the World” plans, like a big concert.

TOUGHPIGS: Well “We Are the World” would be a very Mayhem way to do it, trying to help the world with a song.


TOUGHPIGS: So that was the question I was about to ask, what’s your favorite Mayhem character?

HANNAH: Ooh, I think that’s impossible to pick, but I really do love Baby Animal, that was so sweet to get to see that design with his little snaggletooth. I love the episode where they hallucinate and Baby Animal gets to talk and is sort of the inner conscience of Animal in a little British accent. I just always thought that was a hilarious idea.

TOUGHPIGS: Eric Jacobson really sells that beautifully. Thank you so much for doing this!

HANNAH: Of course! And I know it’s not a public vote, but “Rock On,” we’re hoping it’ll potentially be submitted for the Children’s and Family Emmy Awards, so that’d be really rocking. That would be really special and cool.

TOUGHPIGS: My fingers are crossed! Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us.

HANNAH: Of course! I love the Muppet community, I’m so grateful, and I feel so lucky to have worked on this show.

TOUGHPIGS: We’re so lucky to have you! Thanks again!

HANNAH: Thanks for the chat!

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by Matthew Soberman –

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