Muppetology 101: Recasting of Sesame Street Characters, Part 2

Published: March 6, 2012
Categories: Muppet Mindset


Ryan Dosier – We’re back on the Street this week! Sesame Street has had its share of recasts for major characters on the show, and today we’re looking at various characters who have become extremely popular, but have also gone through numerous recasts throughout the years. Characters like Elmo, Telly Monster, and more did not start off as the characters we know and love today… so let’s take a look at where they began, shall we?

  • ELMO
    • Originally performed by BRIAN MUEHL (1980-1984)
    • Performed by RICHARD HUNT (1984-1985)
    • Currently performed by KEVIN CLASH (1985-present)
  • Elmo, arguably the most popular Muppet character of all time, was shockingly not originated by his current performer Kevin Clash. Brian Muehl, a talented puppeteer who worked on Sesame Street in the early 1980s. Brian used a gruff voice for Elmo when he performed him, a voice vastly different from the falsetto used today. Richard Hunt performed the character for a year after Muehl left the show to pursue a writing career. Richard just couldn’t get the character to work for him and he literally tossed the puppet to Kevin Clash and told him to see what he could do with it. The rest is history as Kevin defined the character with his falsetto voice, third person speaking, and loving attitude.
    • Brian Muehl first performed and originated the character of Elmo in Sesame Street Season 12. Brian would continue to perform the little-seen character until Season 15 in 1984, when he departed the show to pursue other career interests.
    • Richard Hunt first performed Elmo in Sesame Street Season 16 in 1984 after Brian Muehl left the show. Richard’s performance of the character only lasted for only that one season until 1985.
    • Kevin Clash first performed Elmo in Sesame Street Season 17 in 1985, when Richard Hunt literally threw the character at him in the green room. Kevin has performed Elmo since then, becoming the true Elmo performer and developing him into a real character. Kevin continues to perform Elmo in 2012 and will for the foreseeable future.

    • Originally performed by BOB PAYNE (1979)
    • Performed by BRIAN MUEHL (1979-1984)
    • Currently performed by MARTIN P. ROBINSON (1984-present)
  • Telly Monster is one of the most-seen characters on Sesame Street in recent years, but the first time Telly appeared he was vastly different than he is today. In 1979, when Bob Payne first performed him, Telly had antennae and swirly eyes and an obsession of television. Bob Payne and that aspect of the character lasted for only a few appearances, until Brian Muehl took over the character. Brian gave Telly a gruff voice, his neuroses, and more defining characteristics. These characteristics would be carried on by Martin P. Robinson when he took over the character. Margin P. Robinson is still performing the character to this day, truly shaping Telly and making him his own.
    • Bob Payne originated the character of Telly Monster for a few appearances in 1979 in Sesame Street Season 10, performing Telly as a television-obsessed monster. Payne’s performance as Telly wouldn’t last through the end of the year.
    • Brian Muehl first performed Telly Monster when he joined Sesame Street in Season 12 in 1970. He continued to perform Telly for five years until he left the show in Season 15 in 1984.
    • Martin P. Robinson first performed Telly Monster in Sesame Street Season 16 in 1984 after Brian Muehl left the show. Martin continued to develop the character Brian Muehl developed–a neurotic, worrying monster, as well as giving Telly some new personality traits as well. Martin continues to perform Telly in 2012 and will most likely continue to for years to come.

    • Originally performed by JERRY NELSON (1971-1978)
    • Performed by MICHAEL EARL (1978-1980)
    • Currently performed by MARTIN P. ROBINSON (1980-present) 
  • Aloysius Snuffleupagus, better known as Big Bird’s best friend Snuffy, was originally performed by Jerry Nelson. The original Snuffleupagus was horrifying, with truly frightening bright green eyes. Luckily this feature of the character was dropped, and he became the lovable Snuffleupagus we know today. Jerry performed the character for seven years until he developed back problems around Season 10 of Sesame Street. At this time, Michael Earl, a rookie puppeteer, came in to perform the front half of Snuffy as Jerry looped the dialogue. This lasted for a few seasons until Martin P. Robinson was chosen as the permanent voice and front half of Snuffy. Martin continues to perform Snuffy’s voice and front half in every appearance to this day.
    • Jerry Nelson originated the character of Mr. Snuffleupagus in Sesame Street Season 3 in 1971. Jerry would continue to perform the massive character for the next seven years until Season 9 in 1978, when he gave up performing the character due to back problems.
    • Michael Earl performed the front-half of Mr. Snuffleupagus starting in Sesame Street Season 10 in 1978 while Jerry Nelson looped the dialogue. Michael performed the character until Season 12 in 1980.
    • Martin P. Robinsion began performing Mr. Snuffleupagus starting in Season 12 of Sesame Street in 1980. Martin continues to perform Mr. Snuffleupagus in 2012 and will most likely continue to perform him for many years.
    • Originally performed by JERRY NELSON and RICHARD HUNT (1980-1991)
    • Performed by JERRY NELSON and DAVID RUDMAN (1992-2000)
    • Currently performed by DAVID RUDMAN and JOEY MAZZARINO (2001-present)
    • Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt first performed the Two Headed Monster in Sesame Street Season 12 in 1980. They continued to perform the character together until Richard Hunt’s untimely death in 1991.
    • Jerry Nelson began performing the Two Headed Monster with David Rudman in 1992 in Sesame Street Season 24. The duo performed the character in a few appearances on the show until Jerry’s retirement around Season 31 in 2000.
    • David Rudman and Joey Mazzarino began performing the Two Headed Monster in Sesame Street Season 32 in 2001. They have continued to perform the monster for over a decade, including the appearance in Season 42 in 2012.

    • Currently performed by CAROLL SPINNEY (1969-present)
    • Performed occasionally by MATT VOGEL (2000-present)
  • Big Bird is one of the more difficult recasts to define. Although Matt Vogel is the official understudy for the character, and has been since the year 2000, Caroll Spinney is still the main performer of Big Bird in nearly every appearance on Sesame Street and some appearances off the show. Mostly, however, Matt Vogel is responsible for appearances with Big Bird in live settings because Caroll can’t deal with the strain of the puppet for such extended periods of time. However, until he retires and even beyond that, Caroll Spinney will be the heart and soul of Big Bird.
    • Caroll Spinney originated the character of Big Bird in the first episode of Sesame Street Season 1 in 1969. Caroll performs Big Bird in nearly every appearance currently, but live appearances and green screen appearances, which require an extended performance time from Caroll, are taken over by Matt Vogel with the dialogue usually looped later.
    • Matt Vogel first began performing Big Bird in Sesame Street Season 31 in 2000 as the understudy for Caroll Spinney. Matt has performed Big Bird in various appearances throughout the past decade and more, most notably in “Journey To Ernie” and live appearances where he is under the strain of the performance for a longer time.

And there you have it, class… that’s class! We’ll see you all next week for… an undetermined lecture about Muppets (probably).

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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