Muppetology 101: Recasting of Sesame Street Characters, Pt. 1

Published: February 28, 2012
Categories: Muppet Mindset


Ryan Dosier – Another week, another class lecture about the wonder of the Muppets! Today we’re starting our first gear shift from the world of The Muppet Show and into the sunniest place on earth: Sesame Street. We’re back again looking at the wonderful characters performed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. All but two of the characters on this list are performed by Eric Jacobson, the others are performed by Steve Whitmire and David Rudman. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

    • Originally performed by JIM HENSON (1969-1990)
    • Currently performed by STEVE WHITMIRE (1993-present)
  • Ernie was Jim Henson’s main Muppet character on Sesame Street. In fact, Ernie was one of only two popular recurring characters that Jim Henson performed exclusively for the show. After Jim Henson’s death in 1990, Ernie remained silent, almost as an homage to his creator. However, starting in 1993, Steve Whitmire, who had previously taken over the similar-sounding Kermit the Frog, was cast permanently as Ernie. For years, Steve worked with Frank Oz as Bert, just as Jim Henson had, but currently he works with Eric Jacobson as Bert, and the duo’s chemistry is still great.
    • Jim Henson first performed Ernie in the pilot for Sesame Street in 1969. Ernie, along with his best pal Bert, were the first ever Muppets to appear on Sesame Street, even before Big Bird. Jim Henson’s final performance as Ernie was in the Sesame Street song “Don’t Throw That Trash on the Ground” which debuted on the show in 1990.
    • Steve Whitmire first performed Ernie in 1993 in a Sesame Street sketch called “Ernie Catches All the Fish,” which is fairly self explanatory. Steve Whitmire continues to perform Ernie on Sesame Street, providing Ernie’s voice for “Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures” and appearances of the character as a puppet throughout the show in Season 42 in 2011/2012.
  • 3c11f-bertfrownBERT
    • Originally performed by FRANK OZ (1969-present)
    • Currently performed by ERIC JACOBSON (1997-present)
  • Frank Oz’s first character on Sesame Street was Bert, Ernie’s best friend and roommate. The chemistry between Frank Oz as Bert and Jim Henson as Ernie have been ranked among some of the best comedy duos of all time. Since Frank’s retirement from Muppet performing around 1997, Eric Jacobson slowly transitioned into the role of Bert. It was around 2002 with the premiere of Play With Me Sesame on Noggin that Eric Jacobson became the permanent performer of Bert. Eric continues to perform Bert in nearly every appearance, and Frank Oz has not returned to perform the character in a few years.
    • Frank Oz first performed Bert in the Sesame Street pilot in 1969 alongside Jim Henson’s Ernie. Starting around 1997, Frank Oz stopped performing Bert as often. On rare occasions, Frank Oz will return to perform Bert on the show.
    • Eric Jacobson first started performing Bert in 1997. The first moment he performed Bert is not certain or documented. Eric Jacobson continues to perform Bert regularly in almost every appearance on Sesame Street.
    • Originally performed by FRANK OZ (1970-present)
    • Currently performed by ERIC JACOBSON (1998-present)
  • Grover, one of the most popular characters on Sesame Street, has been perhaps the most successful recast of any Muppet character. Grover is also one of the few characters that Frank Oz continually returns to perform. On Play With Me Sesame, Eric Jacobson permanently took on Grover with almost perfect voice and mannerisms. However, on a few occasions in recent years, Frank Oz has returned to perform Grover in sketches such as “Outrageous Makeover: Home Addition” and, most recently, “Spider-Monster: The Musical” in Season 42 in 2011. Eric Jacobson’s Grover is spot-on wonderful and he can be credited for saving the character from fading into obscurity.
    • Frank Oz first performed Grover in Sesame Street Season 2 in 1970 when the puppet was initially named Grover and turned blue. Frank Oz continues to come to Sesame Street periodically to perform Grover, most recently in the “Spider-Monster: The Musical” sketch in Sesame Street Season 42 in 2011.
    • Eric Jacobson first began performing Grover around 1998. He became an official recast of the character starting in Play with Me Sesame on Noggin in 2002. Eric Jacobson continues to perform Grover in nearly ever appearance of the character both on and off Sesame Street.

    • Originally performed by FRANK OZ (1969-present)
    • Currently performed by DAVID RUDMAN (2001-present)
  • Cookie Monster is another wonderful recast in the Sesame Street world. Cookie Monster was continually performed by Frank Oz even in the late 1990s when he had mostly retired from other characters. It wasn’t until 2001 that the talented David Rudman began performing Cookie Monster permanently in nearly every appearance on and off the show. Frank Oz’s performances of Cookie Monster have been less and less in recent years, and David Rudman’s performance is continually magnificent and tends to simultaneously breathe new life and keep around old life in the incredibly popular monster.
    • Frank Oz first performed Cookie Monster in Sesame Street Season 1 in 1969. Frank Oz continues to return to perform Cookie Monster on rare occasions–occasions which have gotten fewer and more far between in recent years. Cookie Monster appears to be the character that Frank Oz returns to perform the least nowadays.
    • David Rudman first performed Cookie Monster starting in 2001. He has continued to preform Cookie Monster in almost every appearance of the character for the past decade, including Cookie Monster’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2010 and the character’s numerous appearances on Sesame Street in Season 42.
  • Guy Smiley fullGUY SMILEY
    • Originally performed by JIM HENSON (1969-1990)
    • Currently performed by ERIC JACOBSON (2005-present)
  • Guy Smiley, the over-excited game show host on Sesame Street, was the only other prominent character performed by Jim Henson on the show. After Jim Henson’s death, Guy Smiley mostly disappeared, only to reemerge nearly 15 years later performed by Eric Jacobson in a commercial for PBS’s “Ready to Learn” initiative. Guy Smiley has not returned completely and is still seldom seen, however a 2008 episode of Sesame Street featured Guy Smiley fairly prominently in a street story on the show, still performed by Eric Jacobson.
    • Jim Henson first performed Guy Smiley in Sesame Street Season 1 in 1969. Jim Henson’s final performance as Guy Smiley was in Sesame Street Season 21 in 1990, perhaps in the song “Air.”
    • Eric Jacobson first performed Guy Smiley in 2005 in the touring exhibit “Sesame Street Presents: The Body.” His first on-camera appearance as Guy Smiley was in 2006 for a PBS commercial for “Ready to Learn.” Eric continues to perform Guy Smiley whenever he appears, including his most recent on-screen appearance in Season 39 in 2008.

Well, there it is… Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s characters on Sesame Street and their wonderful recasts. Class will be back again next week with even more Sesame recasts! Also… could someone bring me an apple? Then I’ll feel like a real teacher.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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