The final panel of the day is Creating the Classic Muppets, where the Muppeteers talk about how some of their characters came to be. The Henson folks are all getting more comfortable talking on stage, and they start saying the most lovely, passionate, revealing things…
Brian, on Sal: “We all fell in love with this stupid monkey.”
Dave, on Gonzo: “Over the years, he sort of evolved along with me… I was an impostor in show business. In the first season, Gonzo is always self-effacing and embarrassed. But he knows he has something special.”
Steve, on Rizzo: “Rizzo was the character who grew out of my desperation to do something on The Muppet Show… As I get older and more crotchety myself, so does Rizzo!”
Jerry: “My wife will tell you that I’m the laziest man on earth… I may be lazy, but I’m loud.”
A mention of Muppets Tonight gets a hand from the audience. Brian responds, “Yeah, it was a good show!”
Amy van Gilder, from the Muppet Workshop: “There is no thrill like building a puppet and having one of these guys put their hand in it, and have it turn around and say something to you. I’d recommend it to all of you.”
It’s obvious that they just love doing Muppets, and they’re starting to love playing on stage, too.
At one point, puppet-builder Jane Gootnick is describing building Johnny Fiama, so Johnny gets up to visit her. Johnny talks to Jane and Floyd, and then suddenly notices Bill: “Good God, there’s a man under me!” He calls to his monkey across the stage: “Sal! There’s a man directly under me. Could you help me out?” Sal comes over to help. “All right! You! Get outta Johnny Fiama!” Sal starts to pull Johnny off of Bill’s arm, but it’s hurting Johnny: “Ow! Oo! Ow! It’s not gonna work. Leave him alone, it’s better this way.” Sal warns Bill: “Okay — you just be very, very careful.”
Finally, Gonzo gets the last word, which turns out to be one of the most beautiful moments of the whole day. He describes the puppet-making process: “Y’know, when you’re a new Gonzo, and you’re a block of foam, and you’re in the middle of it… They’re just rolling you around on the table. And then you hear some snipping, and you know you’re in there, but they haven’t gotten to you yet. And then you see a little bit of light… and then Jane nicks you! Ow! A little off the tip of your nose. You can see it getting lighter and lighter, and then she’s doing the nose — and you can see it, it’s right in front of your eyes… And then you’re born.”
Awww. They start organizing the autograph session, and first they call up to the line anybody who has special needs. And I can’t help thinking: Special needs? We’re Muppet fans. We all have special needs, kid. And everything I’ve seen today — the passion, the energy, the wit, the spirit — it’s fulfilled my own special needs more than I even expected.
And tomorrow we get to come back and do this all over again.
by Danny Horn