Interview with Nicholas Stoller (Writer: The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted)

Published: March 22, 2014

Monday afternoon I had the incredible opportunity to chat with Nicholas Stoller, co-writer of both The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. Nick and I talked on the phone for about 20 minutes and it was such a joy to get to hear things from his perspective. After speaking to Nick both at the World Premiere of Muppets Most Wanted and on the phone, I can’t say enough how great he is, and how much he understands the Muppets. It’s great to have him ingrained in the franchise. Below is the transcription of the interview because the audio recording quality was very poor. I hope you enjoy–and go see Muppets Most Wanted!


Co-Writer of The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted
Director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the GreekThe Five Year Engagement, Neighbors

RYAN DOSIER:   I guess we should start with how you first got involved with the Muppets—either the franchise or the movie.
NICHOLAS STOLLER:   Yes, of course. Basically, on the first movie, Jason Segel had a meeting at Disney and they asked him about properties he was interested in. He asked them what they were doing with the Muppets and they were like, “We don’t know.” And he was like, “Well I’d love to do the Muppets” and he called me up as he was driving home from the meeting and said, “Do you want to write a Muppet movie with me?” and I said of course. We started working on it on that phone call, actually. A lot of stuff from the first movie kind of came out of that phone call. It took a few years for there to be enough momentum at the studio for that to get made, but that’s basically how I got involved.RYAN:   Who is your favorite Muppet to write for?

NICK:   Umm… Beaker.

RYAN:   (laughs)

NICK:   Yeah, he’s the easiest. Fozzie… well, he’s one of my favorites, but he’s really hard—I think we might’ve talked about this—but puns are hard. Fozzie’s really stupid, it’s always fun to write for really dumb characters, ya know? Well—he’s not really stupid, but he’s pretty stupid. So Fozzie’s always fun to write for. I also feel like it’s always fun to figure out how to make Kermit funny. It’s fun to write for him too, his kind of exasperated tone is always really fun.

RYAN:   Right, those are always so great. I love when he gets to freak out a little bit.

NICK:   Yeah, it’s so much fun when he gets to freak out. He’s a really fun character to write for too.

RYAN:   Did you ever have meetings with the Muppet performers to discuss their characters?

NICK:   Yeah, we did. Back on the first one, there was a lot of stuff that we didn’t know—you know, about the rules of the world and stuff. We didn’t know any of the performers or anything, so we had a lot of meetings there. By the second one, I had kind of learned a lot about the rules of the world. Very basic stuff like they never refer to themselves or think of themselves as puppets—they’re people or creatures or animals or whatever, ya know? That was a big part of it. And then on this one, in developing Constantine, we had a lot of conversations with Matt Vogel, who ended up voicing and acting Constantine.

RYAN:   I guess spinning off of that, you’ve created two brand new Muppet characters with Constantine and Walter. What is your process like for creating a new Muppet?

NICK:   Whenever I’m doing a screenplay and creating characters, I always think of them as just other characters. I don’t really think of them as Muppets. With the Muppets you can’t really think of them like that, they’re just characters. You have to treat them that way. Like with Walter, this is a super innocent guy who doesn’t fit in in his world and he’s obsessed with the Muppets and he’s a super fan. That’s what Segel and I thought about: super fans, and we created this guy.

RYAN:   I don’t know anything about super fans.

NICK:   Ha, right, do you know anything about that? And with Constantine, James Bobin and I were like, he has to be the most evil villain we’ve seen in the Muppet universe and he has to be really full of himself and have this competition with his Number Two. And he happens to be a frog.

RYAN:   Right. That’s the second part. He’s evil and horrible but he just happens to be a frog.

NICK:   Exactly. He doesn’t think of himself as a frog.

RYAN:   Are there any deleted scenes from either movie you were said to see got cut?

NICK:   Ya know, I’m never attached to scenes. Stuff is always cut for a good reason, usually because it doesn’t fit in the story. There was this really funny scene in the first one, fortunately we ended up getting it on the DVD. That was the Muppets pulling a fake Oscars and try to get celebrities to show up. They do a fake red carpet and they try to get celebrities to show up for their show. They get in trouble for throwing a fake Oscars. It really made me laugh. There’s a lot of really funny cameos—there’s a cameo by Ricky Gervais that was super funny, but we couldn’t use it because that entire set piece got cut. But it got cut for good reason. Like, out of context it’s really funny, but in the context of the movie it sort of made the movie kind of drag a bit.

RYAN:   What’s your favorite episode of The Muppet Show?

NICK:   Ummm. Oh, let me think. I love the Peter Sellers episode. That one’s really good. I’m trying to think of other ones… There are some really weird ones. That one is kind of amazing. What’s your favorite one?

RYAN:   Oh… my favorite. I love the Raquel Welch one.

NICK:   Oh yes, that one’s awesome.

RYAN:   And the Star Wars one, of course.

NICK:   Of course. That one’s really good. Umm… the Gilda Radner one is really good too. There are a lot of good ones. I started rewatching them all with my daughter. They’re all really funny and really insane in an awesome way.

RYAN:   What was your favorite part about getting to come back and write the sequel?

NICK:   I love writing for Muppets. They’re so much fun, they’re such indelible characters. You know, I always call the Muppets the gateway drug for comedy writing—when you’re a kid you always say, “I want to do that.” I have a lifetime of Muppet stories I would want to tell, if given the opportunity. I was hoping if the first one was successful enough they’d let us do another one. It was just a lot of fun.

RYAN:   You’ve directed so many great comedies, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and the upcoming Neighbors, which I’m really excited about.

NICK:   Oh, thanks.

RYAN:   If you could put the Muppets into any of those movies, which Muppets would you put into which movies?

NICK:  Well we basically put Muppets in the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

RYAN:   Right! That’s true.

NICK:   I feel like Miss Piggy would definitely be one of the girls that Jason dated in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I feel like that would be a good use of her talent. Electric Mayhem would be excellent in Get Him to the Greek as Aldous Snow’s former band mates. I think those two would be good. And just to do Get Him to the Greek with Scooter and Animal would be good. Just to do the entire movie with Scooter trying to get Animal to a show would be amazing.

RYAN:   Who’s weirder to work with? Gonzo or Russell Brand?

NICK:   You know I’d have to say at the end of the day, Gonzo is weirder. Russell is a very smart, quiet guy when he’s not working. Gonzo is just as weird as can be.

RYAN:   Are there any obscure characters you’re still hoping to bring back into the Muppet family?

NICK:   You know, there was one we were trying to get in this one. I’m gonna blank on the names, but I love them… they’re actually from Sesame Street, they’re the aliens.

RYAN:   The Yip-Yip Martians?

NICK:   Yes! Yip-Yip Martians. We tried to put them into this Muppet movie, but they’re kind of a slow burn joke and they didn’t fit in the pace of the movie. (starts going “yip-yip-yip” endlessly)

RYAN:   (laughs) That would’ve been so great though!

NICK:   It would’ve been great.

RYAN:   What about Angus McGonagle? Do you know who that is?

NICK:   I recognize the name… who is that? Is he from Pigs in Space? That’s something I always wanted to put in somehow.

RYAN:   Oh yeah! That would be great too. Angus is the gargling gargoyle. He was only in the Star Wars episode.

NICK:   Oh, okay. Is he your favorite obscure Muppet?

RYAN:   Yeah, I think so.

NICK:   Well that’s as obscure as it gets.

RYAN:   I loved seeing Bobby Benson at the end of Muppets Most Wanted.

NICK:   Oh yeah, and the babies! We had a lot of stuff with the babies that ended up on the cutting room floor.

RYAN:   I was on the floor laughing when I saw it!

NICK:   (laughs) Nice.

RYAN:   Besides the obvious, why do you think hardcore Muppet fans should go see Muppets Most Wanted?

NICK:   Ah, I’m so bad at selling things. I would say this is even more Muppety than the last Muppet movie—if you can believe it. The last Muppet movie was to reintroduce the Muppets to the world. This one goes right for the heart. There’s fewer human characters, more Muppet characters, far more Muppety. Also it’s the only Muppet movie to incorporate a kind of sexy, 70s soft rock song into it. So… that’s another reason to see it!

RYAN:   I agree on every account!

NICK:   How would you sell it to your fellow Muppet fans?

RYAN:   I would sell it by saying… it feels like Jim Henson again.

NICK:   Oh, that’s awesome! That’s such a compliment, thank you.

RYAN:   What was your favorite song?

NICK:   “I’ll Get You What You Want.” I love that song. It’s so funny. The torch song, the Celine Dion song, is amazing too. But “I’ll Get You What You Want” is so funny. God, Bret is such a good songwriter. But they all get stuck in your head.

RYAN:   One last question. Anything you would like to say to all of the huge Muppet fans that will see the movie?

NICK:   Aw, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve said everything. How about… Thank you so much for seeing the last one, now go see this one! Was that good? I’m so bad at this. I would say, as an ending thought, that this movie will change your life.

RYAN:   Well there ya go, Muppets Most Wanted will change your life.

NICK:   Hopefully for the better.

RYAN:   (laughs) Alright, Nick, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much.

NICK:   Thank you, it was nice chatting with you and nice seeing you on the red carpet. Talk to you soon!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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