I am going to say something extremely controversial, something that will probably get me sued for libel.
Here it goes: Joe the Legal Weasel is not a weasel.
Sure, he’s got brown fur and a long (sock-puppet-esque) body, but he lacks that sharp, pointy nose that all weasels have. Look at this diagram we whipped up at the ToughPigs Research Institute and you’ll see what I mean.
So where did Joe come from? Why do the Muppets trust this man who is clearly not a weasel? Well, despite seeming like a new character, Joe has actually been with the Muppets since the Muppet Show days.
I’m not joking. We’d never joke here at the ToughPigs Research Institute.
Y’see, Joe is another example of the common Muppet tradition of reusing background puppets in new contexts, something I’ve been fascinated with for years. We see this a lot in the 90s Muppet movies and in the entirety of the oft-forgotten Mopatop’s Shop. Sometimes, this works out memorably for the Muppets, like when Arnold the Munchos Monster got reused as a little guy known as the Cookie Monster. Other times, only I care when Mudwell the Mudbunny reappears in Muppet Treasure Island.
So Joe the Legal Weasel was on The Muppet Show, folks. And then in a couple VHS videos, and a YouTube video. And his species changed at least four times. Let’s take a look at this jack-of-all-trades the Muppets have been putting up with for longer than any of us realized.
Thanks as always to Muppet Wiki for providing the essential context and images here!!
THE PRAIRIE DOG YEARS: 1979-1980
Joe and his cohort first appeared in Season 3 of The Muppet Show, where they were identified as The Prairie Dog Glee Club. In the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans episode, they sing “Blue Skies,” a hilarious musical highlight where each prairie dog sings one word of the catchy song.
Later, the prairie dogs would appear prominently in the Crystal Gayle episode of the fourth season, where they’d be the centerpiece of the episode’s plot. Here, they run around stealing everything from the theater, up to and including Kermit’s collar, which I guess I hadn’t realized was detachable before this point.
Yes, that’s right: in his youth, Joe was a shameless criminal. I do not know how we can justify listening to his legal advice knowing this.
THE GOPHER YEARS: 1980-1988
The Muppet Show hadn’t even ended before Joe and his gang rebranded themselves as gophers. Gophers are similar to prairie dogs, but they’re not the same animal! In the Joan Baez episode, they explain that gophers are smarter than the man in every way.
This is debatable, because a gopher would not write an exhaustively-researched look at all the times the Muppet performers used this one brown puppet.
They then appear in the Hal Linden episode, although this time they do not identify as any animal. Their final appearance in what I’ve dubbed THE GOPHER YEARS is Muppet Family Christmas with all the other wildlife.
THE GROUNDHOG YEARS: 1988-1993
This was a fallow period for the Muppets, and as such, Joe and Co. only appeared in one production at this time. This is, of course, the underrated masterpiece Neat Stuff to Know and Do, an educational video that taught…well, you can probably guess.
Here, he briefly emerges from a hole to explain how groundhogs can predict the weather. Let me spoil it for you: he says they can’t.
A RETURN TO THE GOPHER YEARS: 1993-2019
There were a lot more Muppet productions in this period, but Joe’s team wasn’t around for most of them. Oddly enough, though, they returned to being gophers, specifically in your favorite Muppet movie, Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs. You remember this movie, right? Billy is looking for a new song to sing, and he stumbles upon Gopherville, and learns from the gophers that sometimes, animals can look the same but have different personalities. For instance, sometimes animals look identical but are prairie dogs, gophers, groundhogs, and weasels. Sometimes those animals are kleptomaniacs and sometimes they’re lawyers.
You can also spot the gophers in the more famous Bohemian Rhapsody video. Since they’re singing together, I thought about labelling them as the Prairie Dog Glee Club. However, they’re not identified explicitly and gophers also sing, so I’m gonna refer to them as gophers here too.
THE WEASEL YEARS: 2019-PRESENT
And now we’re here, pretending that Joe is a new character and also a weasel. He’s here, laughing awkwardly and speaking in a deadpan and definitely not being a weasel.
Now you know everything there is to know about Joe the Legal Weasel, and you are prepared to go into Muppets Now as an informed consumer.
But of course, if you’re like me, you’re still asking one question: why reuse this puppet? Weasels are mustelids, not rodents like the other animals Joe has been. Has there never been a weird background mustelid the Muppets could recycle as a Legal Weasel?
Folks, meet EUGENE, an oft-recycled weasel from Muppet Classic Theater and Muppets Tonight who lived in the studio’s control panel and never did anything notable.
You’ll notice Eugene has the right kind of nose to be a weasel. Why not recycle Eugene?
Look, some mysteries are too big even for the ToughPigs Research Institute.
Click here to weasel your way into the Tough Pigs forum!
by Evan G