Transcription provided by Katilyn Miller.
The Muppets Mayhem: Backstage Pass – Track 5: Break on Through
JOE HENNES: Hello and welcome to The Muppets Mayhem: Backstage Pass, the unofficial companion podcast to The Muppets Mayhem presented by Toughpigs.com. This is the podcast where we tour through every episode of The Muppets Mayhem to uncover behind the scenes stories, Easter eggs and more with the talented cast and crew, who helped put the series together. I’m your host, dedicated Mayhead, Joe Hennes.
JOE: Today, we are talking about Track Five: Break On Through in which the band gets writer’s block and goes on one heck of a trip. This week, we have a few return guests and one newbie. First up, he’s co-creator and executive producer of The Muppets Mayhem. Please welcome Jeff Yorkes back to the podcast. Hey, Jeff.
JEFF YORKES: Thank you for having me. Oh, thank you, Bill. I see you back there. And Peter. If there was a video you would see that everyone is applauding and possibly standing up. Thank you. I’m glad to be back.
JOE: Wow, huge, huge reaction for Jeff. Next up, he’s another co-creator and executive producer as well as Dr. Teeth’s number one pal. Please welcome Bill Barretta back to the podcast. Hey, Bill!
BILL BARRETTA: Applaud for myself. Hi. [claps]
JOE: Hi Bill.
BILL: Applaud for myself.
JOE: We’re all clapping everyone. Everyone at home is clapping as well. Our final guest is lending his puppet wiggling skills to the most misunderstood member of the Electric Mayhem. Please welcome Peter Linz to the podcast. Hey, Peter!
PETER LINZ: Oh thank you. Oh wow. No, guys please, you’re embarrassing me.
BILL: Peter! Peter! Peter!
PETER: Oh, Bill. Come on.
JOE: So kind.
PETER: Guys, you can sit down now guys. Come on. Oh look, your families are coming out too. This is too much.
JOE: [laughs] Such a joy to have you here, Peter. Can’t wait to talk about Lips with you. There’s so much to say. But before we do, I would love to know when you first heard about The Muppets Mayhem, that the project was happening. And if you had any first reactions, just hearing that there was going to be an Electric Mayhem series.
JOE: Hmm. Tell me more.
PETER: No, I mean things come up all the time. You don’t want to get your hopes up too high, you know. I know Jeff has said in many interviews this has been his dream to have a Mayhem series and have an album. Ditto. Since I was a little kid, huge ditto. I could never get enough.
You know, Riverbottom Nightmare Band was close. I wanted an album from those guys, too. They were amazing. Same guys! So yeah, for sure skepticism. And then I didn’t really hang my hat on this thing actually happening until we were there filming. On stage day one. It was so huge to me that I didn’t want to have my heart broken.
BILL: You had a big tall order to handle for the first time.
PETER: This was the other thing about this, is Bill said to me many months before, he just comes up in his sweet Billy way and says, [whispers] “Petey, what do you think? I’ve been thinking about it. What do you think if Lips is a mumbler?” [in normal voice] And I said, “What Bill? [whispers] What do you think of Lips as a mumbler?” [in normal voice] What Bill? I can’t.
JOE: As we all know, Bill is famously quiet.
PETER: Yeah. No. And so that was a whole new thing too. Because, you know, this character, the puppet’s been around for like 45 years, almost as long as the band and he has never had much of…well he has had a voice a couple of times in the past. Most notably in 2015. But this was something totally new and different. So it was exciting. I loved the idea. But then, you know, where do you go with that? There’s a lot of different ways to mumble. [laughs]
JEFF: It was funny, he’s probably most, Lips is most representative of doing this show. Where you know these characters a little bit, but you can truly flesh them out. He’s the extreme, I should say, of it. Where there really was just we could go anywhere with Lips.
JEFF: And we had a blast sort of talking about where he could be. “Ironically” talking about where it could go. And when we settled on this, other attributes I think we had come up with but those maybe fell by the wayside for now. But, yeah, it was just so much fun. And then I don’t think we heard you.
BILL: I remember us talking. I remember Peter and I were talking a little bit about how to approach this mumbler. And we have three gruffy, roughy voices in this group already.
BILL: And so we talked about maybe staying away from that. Should he be whispery? And then, Peter did this bass thing, you know? Because Peter has such an amazing bass/baritone voice.
PETER: It’s true.
BILL: And as soon as he did, the mum– [laughs] As soon as he did the mumbling with that, I was like, “Oh my god. That’s it. If you can play with that, if that feels good.”
PETER: I came to Bill with a few different options and, you know, I didn’t want it to be derivative of anything. There are characters out there in pop culture who are mumblers and I didn’t want it to sound like that. And it was a challenge. One of the first things early on, this is like a couple years ago, just the six of us were talking about the band and about what could have possibly happened with Lips. When I was a teenager, my first car I bought from this guy was a Toyota specialist. He used Toyota’s and this was in, of course, I grew up in Atlanta. And this wonderful, wonderful man named Sonny. And Sonny had a place called Sonny’s Service Center. And he would always answer the phone, [mumbles unintelligibly]. [in normal voice]“Oh, hi, Son–” [mumbles more]
PETER: So that was kind of the jumping off point for me.
JEFF: How often were you calling him?
PETER: [laughs] Well, it was my first car and I did bring it in for oil changes.
BILL: Sonny didn’t do just cars, by the way.
JEFF: Apparently. I would hope not.
JEFF: I remember Bill would come back to the writer’s room. He’s like, “Yeah, I spoke to Peter and he’s got this really great idea of what he’s doing for Lips.” And then just describe it. “It’s based on this guy that he knew growing up.” And we’re like, “Okay. Sounds great.” But I don’t think Adam and I heard it until you did it on the set, you performed him on the set.
BILL: Yeah, yeah. Right. Because we also then start talking about… well we had to read through of some kind, didn’t we?
JEFF: That’s true.
BILL: But I think we started talking in the writer’s room about the idea that he knows everyone wherever that came from. That he was their connection to the world, in a sense. That he was the only guy that probably has a phone and everybody loves Lips.
JEFF: Yeah, exactly.
BILL: Everybody has met him in some way. He’s the connection. And we thought that was kind of a fun thing to explore.
JEFF: Yeah, especially the irony of him being unintelligible and yet he would know and have this connection with everyone.
PETER: Some of my favorite humor that came out of that was how Lips knew everybody else. And it was never a musical. It was always good that it wasn’t musical, but there was a joke that got lost. “Oh I took elocution lessons from him.”
BILL: [laughs] Right.
PETER: That’s my personal favorite, I think. Anything that has to do with talking. Or if you ever come up with like, “Oh, he taught me a foreign language. He taught me Spanish.”
BILL: Were you Sofia Carson’s nanny?
JEFF: Her manny.
PETER: Manny. Sofia Carson’s manny. Oh, here’s a little tidbit. So when when Lips talks about about Sofia Carson, he calls her Bibo. He says, “Hey, guys.” Basically what he’s saying underneath the mumbling is, “Let’s give Bibo and Zedd the song.”
PETER: Let’s give Sofia Carson and I say, Bibo. Bibo is what I call my stepson.
PETER: When we watched it together, I said, “Bennett, that’s you. You’re Bibo.” [laughs]
JEFF: Now, I do want to talk about something else, because I guess one of the things that got a little screwy with our closed captioning was it gave Lips dialogue.
JEFF: Now as writers we never wrote Lips’s dialogue. It truly just had gibberish. We did painstakingly write out gibberish.
PETER: It was beautiful gibberish. Bill came to me, day one. He’s like, “Petey, we wrote in, we wrote this up. But you don’t have to say that. You just say whatever you want. But it’s just a placeholder.”
JEFF: Yeah. And so what was your take on how you made this dialogue your own? I mean, you knew the intention I would have assume.
PETER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the intention had to be there. And so, yeah, I just took that from the scene, you know, from whatever was happening.
PETER: And truthfully it evolved as we shot the series. And I know early on Matt Sohn, was our wonderful director, our first director, we were having dinner together a couple episodes in he said, “You know, Lips is getting like more and more understandable.” I was like, “Oh gosh, I didn’t realize I was doing that. That’s not good.” So I started curbing that and trying to be less intelligible. And actually Bill, I remember bringing that up to you and you’re like, no. I think it’s because you were watching the edits and you said, I think it’s a good balance.
BILL: And then we discovered that you…you actually ended up looping a couple things, right?
BILL: We went back and actually there were a couple that we ended up using that did feel a bit too understandable.
PETER: Too on the nose.
BILL: Yeah, a little bit, right? But for the most part. You just grew into this amazing character.
PETER: I definitely grew. And what I hope an unintentional consequence of this is, is that I hope that his people watch the series, hopefully more than once, that each time they see it, they’re going to glean a little bit more and a little more clarity about what it is exactly Lips is saying. Because there are some very specific things.
BILL: I wish we could share some great Lips outtakes. Some of his interpretations of dialogue are pretty amazing.
PETER: One in particular I remember because it just made the scene blow up. It was during “Get Back.” Is Get Back the documentary episode? Which we’re not talking about right now.
JEFF: Yeah. “Eight Days a Week.”
PETER: But everyone’s saying, “They call me flighty and something. Both true. They called me whatever. That’s true.” And then you go to Lips. And I think what ended up is, “They called me a chrysanthemum.” Which is a suggestion that Alice [Dinnean] made to me, based on classic literature. But anyway. But one that I came up with and just did on the spot, [in Lips voice] “They said I had a hand up inside me.”
PETER: [in normal voice] And, you know, Teeth has the next line. “Well, Lips, sometimes a man’s gotta.” And then Lips looks at him and then they just collapsed. And Bill was in fits of giggles. You can’t say that.
JOE: That’s amazing. Bill, did you have tips for Peter from your experience as the Swedish chef for how to do the right kind of like, well you get the intention, but also we don’t want anyone to actually understand what he says?
BILL: No, no. Peter knows. Peter knows exactly what to do. I don’t have to talk about any of that stuff.
JOE: Yeah. Alright. That’s fair.
BILL: We just talked about character.
PETER: Yeah we talked about character.
BILL: Just as far as getting him to a comfortable place where he felt good. That was it.
PETER: And vocal quality. Bill, you’ve been…you held my hand 13 years ago with Walter as well.
PETER: You were the wind beneath my legs, my friend. You just? Imean, what?
BILL: Oh, what? Who? Inside the puppet.
JOE: You’re like in the Marilyn Monroe dress and Bill was gust of wind between your legs.
PETER: Bill is the sewer grate.
BILL: That’s right, that’s right.
JOE: So kind.
BILL: In that instance, I don’t know if you want to just say it because when was coming up with Walter, he was playing around with things and I just kept hearing Peter as Walter. And I think that was probably a bigger challenge than coming up with another voice, right Peter?
PETER: Yes. That was one of my biggest character challenges I’ve ever had as a puppeteer was performing a character with this voice.
BILL: As yourself. Right?
PETER: Oh yeah. That was a big, big block to get over. Yeah.
BILL: Sorry about that.
JOE: Let’s get into the episode at hand. The cold open of this episode features the Mayhem in the van. They’re all wearing neck braces because they’ve been head banging too much. Doctor says they’re not allowed to head bang again until they’re healed. But Dr. Teeth says, “I said no such thing.” Which I thought was a funny joke.
BILL: I love the way Lilly plays that next line.
PETER: Aw, I love the way.
BILL: Which is the way she goes, “Uh, no, the doctor doctor.” You know, I can’t do it. But I just thought the way she plays that.
PETER: She plays it and she’s got like, kind of does this half eye roll.
BILL: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
PETER: She’s like, “I’ve given up trying to even talk to you idiots.”
BILL: Right. Yeah.
JOE: There’s hard rock music playing and everyone is shaking, almost vibrating trying to resist the urge to head bang. And then you all start head banging.
JEFF: Not just hard rock? It’s Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”
JOE: Oh is it?
BILL: See how everybody noticed, Jeff? See how everybody got it?
JEFF: Oh yeah.
PETER: Everybody got it.
BILL: He fought for that. [laughs]
JOE: I bet people got it. I am of the correct generation to get the reference, but I was so not a Metallica fan and I avoided Metallica growing up.
JEFF: It’s from the soundtrack of Stranger Things. But yeah, Metallica had to watch this. Metallica watched a cut. Or Metallica’s people. But I’d like to think it was Metallica.Yeah.
BILL: Yeah, they all sat around.
JEFF: And they approved it.
JEFF: And they thought it was great.
BILL: But again that’s another little Easter egg detail that Jeff and Adam [Goldberg]. You know, they would come up with such great ideas that, of course, that title, that song works perfect, you know?
JEFF: And if you know, you know.
JOE: If you know, you know. And if you don’t, like I didn’t know, then it’s still funny because they’re head banging to Metallica, going, “Ow, ow, ow, ow.”
JEFF: To be honest, up until like I think, maybe a few weeks before we locked, it was just rando-heavy metal song.
BILL: Yeah. It was just a temp.
JOE: Is it hard to perform characters who can’t move their necks?
PETER: They can move their necks.
JOE: Well, in this scene they’re all wearing neck braces.
BILL: Oh, I see.
PETER: Yeah, there’s enough give.
BILL: They still can move.
JOE: Fair enough.
BILL: It’s make-believe, Joe. It’s make believe, Joe.
JOE: It’s what?
BILL: They’re not really. Yeah, they’re not really.
JEFF: Peter, is it difficult to get into the Lips costume?
JOE: I don’t understand.
BILL: [laughs] It’s a soft kind of material.
PETER: How big of a trailer do you need to fit into…
JOE: The band? They’re not real. They’re not…
BILL No, no no.
PETER: Oh, they’re real.
BILL: I don’t mean the band. I don’t mean the band.
JOE: Okay, good. Okay, good.
JEFF: I had so many people ask me if this show was animated. Before they saw it. “Oh, you’re working on an animated show?”
JOE: That’s a little teaser for something that comes up later in this episode. The band has been workshopping some songs. They’ve got a few beginnings, a few middles, a few endings. I can’t even… I tried to like, transcribe this stuff because I wanted to relay it on the podcast and there’s no way I can imitate these because they’re all great. They’re all terrific beginnings, middles and ends. Who wrote these for you guys?
JEFF: I think it started with me and Adam.
JEFF: Just being sort of punch drunk in the writer’s room. Again this was during production, I think at this point.
JEFF: And we were busy rewriting. And yeah, I just have iphone voice memos of just us making up these things. And then we’d send it to Ed [Mitchell] and Steve [Morrell] to sweeten them up.
BILL: Well, they kind of made the tune, right?
JEFF: Yeah, we had little bits of tunes and stuff like that.
JEFF: But they definitely crystallized.
BILL: The melodies and stuff.
JOE: You’ve got voice memos where you’re just going like, [musically] “Bump-buh-bum-ba-bump?” [in normal voice] Like that kind of thing?
JEFF: [musically] “Bah, ba dey doo”
JEFF: Model of the song.
JOE: They should have put that on the soundtrack.
JEFF: You know, I’m hoping one day, they’ll release the basement tapes. Like Bob Dylan did and we would just have digital or even just like an EP of just all these little tracklets, if you will.
BILL: Yeah, like Ma’s Soup.
JEFF: Yeah. Soup-de-doop. Ma’s Soup. I mean, they’re fun. All these like little jingles and stuff like that.
JOE: Yeah, we want to hear them. Yeah.
JEFF: Beginnings, middles and ends.
JOE: Do you have a real answer for who is Johnny Ragsdale?
JEFF: I think we have several verses of.
JOE: Really? You started writing the story of Johnny Ragsdale?
JEFF: I don’t think it got that far. But it was always fun to sing while we were writing.
JOE: Great. Season two: we need an origin story for Johnny Ragsdale. So as the band is playing, none of these songs are really going together. Dr. Teeth can’t commit to anything. Floyd’s a perfectionist. He thinks it’s all a big old stinking pile of stink. Janice is busy helping everyone else but not helping with the songs. She starts a massage circle, which is a cute little visual.
So Nora asks them how they wrote “Can You Picture That.” Which, as we all know, is a classic. It’s the best known song from the Electric Mayhem. And they confirm that they did indeed write it. So my question is does Paul Williams not exist in this universe?
BILL: Well, they collaborated.
JOE: Oh, okay.
BILL: Years later, Paul made it a better song.
JOE: That’s fair. Yeah. Good.
BILL: Paul made it a better song. Yeah.
JOE: Great. So I guess he was with them when Dr. Teeth says, they wrote it under the stars in the great outdoors, many a moon ago.
BILL: That’s where the inspiration came from. Right? But you could say that the ultimate song eventually was a collaboration with Paul, I think.
BILL: Yeah, that’s fair. All right, we’re calling it. It’s canon.
JEFF: And then again, there’s no such thing as Muppets’ canon.
JOE: Unless Gonzo’s inside of it, then there’s a Muppet cannon.
JOE: Nora suggests that they go camping out in Joshua Tree to start to grease those creative gears. Animal flips out over the concept of a road trip. And we’re going on a road trip. That’s exciting! Just like the Muppets do in The Muppet Movie. We love a Muppet road trip.
JEFF: By the way, going back and forth, when Dr. Teeth says he can’t commit to anything. Let’s just move in and get a little a puppy, right? And we could name it…
PETER: Oh, yeah. Penelope. Pop-pop.
JEFF: That’s pure improvisation from the mad minds of Bill Barretta and Mr. Dave Goelz.
BILL: More Dave Goelz. He’s the sick one.
JEFF: And that was something that Adam and I just saw in dailies in the editing room. And we’re like, what? This is absolutely going in. And we want to extend it, and can you now ADR more?
BILL: [laughs] That’s why you hear in the background. That’s why you hear in the background.
JEFF: Cause it keeps going. You don’t want to have it stop and cut out. You want to have it still going as they’re like, “What’s going on here?”
BILL: Yeah. Dave got such a kick out of that. He wanted to just do that all day long. That was his thing for the day.
JOE: I love that. That is such a Dave Goelz thing. Especially because Zoot is so low energy and just to stand there and just name P names for dogs. Forever. Yeah. Terrific.
We got a great shot of the Mayhem’s van cruising down a desert highway, with Animal shouting out of the sunroof.
JEFF: Can I add one little thing to this bit.
JOE: Yeah. Yeah, go for it.
JEFF: You know, I would watch sound mixes or listen to sound mixes at home and I did not, I have two little kids and I never wanted to show them the show until it was complete. But this one they sort of walked in and so they checked it out and they see the van go by and my son, who’s 10 just says, “I think there should be tumbleweeds there.” And I was like, “That’s a great idea.” And so I guess in that moment, I sort of promised him tumbleweed and he would only ask about it for everyday forward. Show’s going really well. We’re working on– “But did you get the tumbleweed in there?” So anyway, I had to call, I was just like, “Hey, I would really love for there to be tumbleweed in this shot. Just going across the screen.” And yeah, we got a cut and there it was. Tumbleweed. And I never told them about it. And then when the show came out on May 10th and we binged the show, I was like, [clears throat]
JEFF: And he watched it and he just looked at me with wide eyes and just such joy that he was able to contribute to the show in some small way.
BILL: Aww. That’s great.
JOE: Aww. That’s great. Was that like a ten thousand dollar tumbleweed in the end? Digital effect.
JEFF: They did give us a price at some point.
BILL: But they did a great job. It looks real,
JEFF: They did.
JOE: Yeah. Absolutely.
JEFF: [laughs] And he’s like, “You know, I have a note?”
JOE: Too late.
JEFF: No notes. No notes.
JOE: Inside the van, Animal and Lips are both sleeping on Moog’s shoulders.
PETER: That was so fun to set up. We just tried to find the most awkward, just torment Tahj as much as we could for that shot. And Eric got in their first with his mouth right in his ear. [laughs]
JOE: This was one of the shots I was on set for.
BILL: Oh yeah?
JOE: So, I got to watch you guys filming this bit. And I just remember the two of you trying desperately to get Tahj to laugh from, like you said, just breathing in his ear, like snuggling up right in the crook of his arm. It was very funny. And Moog is just so happy to be tagging along. He’s got a big smile on his face. And also, he can’t feel his arms or body. Which also I love that line reading that he did. Tahj is good at his job.
JEFF: It’s great. And I think it’s an Adam absurdity. Like you would say, “I can’t feel my arms or my legs.” But Adam just takes it in this weird place. You know? My arms and body. It’s what makes him a great writer.
BILL: He plays it with painful joy, you know?
BILL: Which is just so good.
JOE: This is also what it’s like being a fanatic where like, sometimes we’re in an uncomfortable position, but I get to be here. Like how cool is that? He gets it.
JEFF: Good that you were there for that one thing that was actually shot on the stage because primarily the rest of the episode is shot on the volume. We went to a different studio entirely. And shot the whole thing on like one of those, you know, Mandalorian like digital spaces.
BILL: VR wall. Yeah.
JOE: Oh sure.
JEFF: Because it was going to be an entire night shoot, right? It’s a night in the life of and you certainly don’t want to be out in the middle of the desert for an all-nighter. So yeah.
BILL: We talked about a couple days out in Joshua Tree, what that might be like. But that didn’t last very long.
PETER: I was bummed too because I had never been to Joshua Tree. I still haven’t.
PETER: Oh, Joshua Tree, this would be so– I’ve been there virtually. It looks a lot like Santa Clarita.
JEFF: But it’s pretty cool. I walked in there and it’s just like I saw the back of just this digital wall and it just looks like a bunch of monitors from behind just stacked up and just plugs and blue lights. And then walking around and seeing, oh my god, they’re in the desert. And it’s a trip, literally. No pun intended. Just to see it, like you forget about it because you’re on there and for 180 degrees, you’re seeing this desert night. And you lose track of time.
PETER: And the ceiling too, like above the light matches. So all the reflections are true.
BILL: Yeah. The actual set and I don’t know if people know out there listening. But like we did it on Muppets Haunted Mansion, we also used an AR-wall for a lot of our sets. But they have to build a complete computer generated set, right? So first they build an entire desert 360 degrees. Where certain trees live and certain rocks live. And where’s the shack/metal thing going to be? And so that can be rotated and moved on this volume depending on which way you’re shooting. So cameras are always facing one way but the world can spin which is pretty amazing. Yeah. It’s fascinating.
JEFF: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I think the van is in the background of one the shots is digital.
BILL: Is digital.
PETER: At night. When they first arrived at the actual van, they had the van jacked up so it was up high.
PETER: But then when they’re camping at night it’s a virtual van in the background.
BILL: Yeah it’s a virtual van and the first shot when the van pulls up, is all created in the computer. That’s another Soapbox thing.
JEFF: That giant wide shot.
PETER: The other wild thing is when you’re in that volume and the camera– the camera is pointed at this video wall and so you can imagine the amount of video wall it sees is a rectangle on the back wall. And as the camera moves, you can see this rectangle on this giant wall moving around and rendering in real time. So it’s always there. So the camera points and it’s there but it’s tied into the camera so that… I don’t even know.
JEFF: It matches focal length.
BILL: The set moves with the camera.
PETER The focal length. That’s right. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So you see this rectangle moving across this giant void and that’s exactly the background that the camera is seeing as it moves.
BILL: And in real time, you can move, they could move that van to another spot.
PETER: Oh they could take the elements.
BILL: Move a bolder or they can move a tree and they can change it if we need, if this shot’s not going to work because we have this big tree here. Well, let’s move it over 15 feet. Nobody will be able to tell so it’s just amazing. It’s such an amazing thing to see.
JOE: I had so many notes to ask you about the trees that moved 15 feet over. It really bothered me actually that these tr– No, I didn’t notice any of that.
BILL: [laughs] Yeah.
JEFF: Yeah. And then the only thing that truly exists in front of the wall or just there are the ground is real and there’s some brush and some rocks and whatever the performers– er the characters are sitting on and it’s raised. So obviously the performers can perform.
JEFF: Pretty cool.
JOE: That’s great. Yeah, technology. Yeah. So the characters arrive at this desert oasis, but it’s just this tin shack in the middle of the deserts, but it’s really just a wall and a door because there are no walls. Janice finds a bag of marshmallows and a shovel. It is not a grave digging shovel. It’s a shovel for…
JOE: Poopa doomp boomps.
JOE: I can’t believe that got through the censors.
BILL: I’ll take credit for that word. That was my word.
JOE: Do you use that word a lot at home?
BILL: Oops. No, it was just for Lips.
JEFF: We had one note about the shovel. Do you remember the note, Bill?
BILL: Uh, no,
JEFF: It could not be dirty or crusty.
BILL: Oh, that’s right. Didn’t have anything on it.
BILL: That’s right.
JOE: A clean poopadumbums shovel.
JEFF: Relatively, yeah, clean.
JOE: Got it. The band builds a campfire. I got big “Gonna Go Back There Someday” vibes from this campfire at night scene, with all the Muppets sitting around. I assume that was not intentional because this is part of the story. Yeah.
BILL: No, yeah.
JOE: Worth asking.
BILL: I think it was a great way to get everybody sitting around and contemplating their…
BILL: …Struggles, yeah. And how to create and having their problems with the music. And it was great to see them full body. I think we were looking for a nice kind of establishing tableau of the desert where you see them sitting together and hanging out. So it was just really about that intention, I think.
JOE: Yeah. Especially the full body thing is cool when Janice suggests that everyone starts dancing. And we see Floyd and Lips are swaying around with arms in the air. And like, it’s such a small little puppet moment, but I appreciate that kind of stuff. You’ve matted out the puppeteers. You know, there’s obviously some choreography going on. It’s not a huge gag. It’s not a huge special effects thing, but it looks pretty.
BILL: Well, I mean at the big campfire it was quite a big effect thing because the whole… the characters whose backs are to camera are coming in from underneath, right? So you don’t see the puppeteers, but all the other characters on the other side that are facing camera, there were puppeteers in green suits behind everybody. So all of that had to be cleaned up and taken away. So it was quite a feat actually.
JEFF: No pun intended.
JOE: Sure, yeah. Yeah. Worth it because it looks gorgeous.
JOE: Nora thinks everyone should be opening up so that we can start getting creative again. Get over this writer’s block. So she starts off by listing off some of her hopes and fears. She says, “Is it too much to ask. Just want to spread my wings and fly. For I am a falconer like my father before me. His name was Parvesh and I am his daughter, Nora the falconer master of the air beasts.” I loved it. I loved that slow and steady incline toward insanity. Is Parvesh her father’s name or is this the falconer? That wasn’t improv, was it? Couldn’t have been.
JEFF: She is so good in this moment.
BILL: No, she went with Parvish, though.
JEFF: I wish almost that we had written more where she could just go crazy like this because she just, when you allow her to, she she goes there.
JEFF: I remember in our auditions she was just like not afraid to go to these places. And this is one of those where she’s just like, “How about if I do it like this? I mean, the outtakes themselves are just amazing.
JOE: Oh show us those outtakes.
JEFF: And she’s doing it half the time with a real falcon on her arm.
JOE: With a real falcon on her arm?!
JEFF: I’d be terrified and clam up.
PETER: I saw it too.
JOE: Was there like a training that she had to go through to be able to have a falcon on her arm safely?
BILL: That day, that morning they spent time, you know, making sure that she understood what she needed to do and not do. But she’s yelling. I mean I just kept thinking, “She’s yelling at this poor falcon.” It’s got to be freaking out. [laughs]
JEFF: It’s going to claw her eye out or something.
BILL: Yeah, but she handled it beautifully. It was great.
JOE: No, that’s terrific. Yeah. I would also be terrified having that thing on my arm. But Moog notices these marshmallows that everyone’s eating expired in 1992. He tosses them into the fire, burst into a big green flame. I assume that’s a digital effect. Not a practical one.
JEFF: Yeah, we wanted it to look a little otherworldly. Something’s definitely strange happening.
JOE: Yeah, yeah.
JEFF: I will point out, this was one of the ideas from the beginning. We wanted to do this episode where they trip in the desert, just like The Doors “Break on Through,” right? And they go on this dreamscape or whatever but we never got push back. A bunch of people asked like, “Disney was cool with this?” And they totally were. I think the thing was like they’re not taking these things voluntarily. Like this is purely an accident.
BILL: And it was food.
JEFF: And it’s food. But it wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s sit down and, you know…
JEFF: Eat these tainted marshmallows that are gonna take this on a journey.
JEFF: They’re just eating marshmallows, it just so happens. But I was ready to like argue, “What about The Good Dinosaur? He eats berries, and they trip.” But it never got there.
JOE: And Disney said, “What’s The Good Dinosaur?”
JEFF: That’s the worst evidence ever.
JOE: [laughs] And also, I appreciate, the 2015 Muppets sitcom the Mayhem has a lot of references to doing drugs, and of course, they’re all thinly veiled, but like, although there’s the bearest of reference to that in this series, we never cross that line. Like we never confirm.
PETER: I’m not a fan.
PETER: I’m not a fan of that at all. That is something Jim never, they never went there. Yeah, I’m kind of adamant about that. And I like that it’s marshmallows.
PETER: That’s it. End of story.
JEFF: Thank you, Bill.
BILL: Yeah, you’re welcome, Jeff. Thank you.
PETER: Great work. That’s your word, Jeff?
JEFF: That’s my word. I fought for it in so many drafts the characters were saying it. I was so proud of it. But some of our writers, their tolerance for my puns just diminished over time.
[Bill and Joe laugh]
JEFF: And so as we got to the…No, I will not. Because this episode is written by Julie Bean.
BILL: Julie. Yeah.
JEFF: And she’s so fantastic. But she was like, “I do not want that in my script. I will take my name off of it.” And yeah, so it never saw the light of day. Until now.
JOE: Well, it’s here in this podcast now. Yes. Now everyone knows.
JEFF: Marshmallucination. No one could say it. No one wanted to say it.
PETER: I think the [Mick and Michael] Giacchinos have it as a title of the music happening behind all of it.
JEFF: Yep. It’s one of the tracks. Yeah.
JOE: Oh, great.
PETER: Wonderful. Yeah, it’s in there.
JEFF: Yeah, Giacchino loves a good pun. So all his tracks on all his albums, Michael at least, are all puns.
JEFF: It’s just like the Batman movies, the most serious sounding soundtrack, but then like its tracks are just all these silly puns. And I think Rogue One was the only one where it came out, and they’re just like, it’s Star Wars, you can’t do it. Flip the insert of the album on the CD. So on one side, it’s like, “Jyn Erso’s quest.” But on the other side it’s just like, “From the be-Jyn-ing,” or whatever it is.
JOE [laughs] Great.
JEFF: We’ll save that for the commentary of Rogue One.
JOE: Yeah, that’ll be next month’s podcast. We’ll do that. Well, the first one, the first Mayhem member who really trips out here is Lips and his eyes go wide. We see his eyes for the first time since Great Muppet Caper. And he can see all of the cosmos. Planets and the stars and the space whale. And the Swinetrek.
JEFF: The Swinetrek.
PETER: And the Swinetrek.
JOE: What a great Easter egg. That was a great Easter egg.
BILL: My favorite moment, honestly, like I think about when you look for great puppetry moments or performance moments, and when he falls back and has that, he’s breathing. [breathes heavily] And his stomach is going. It’s so good. You know, there is a panic there. Like he saw what we just saw. And I’m so happy we used that take and that you did it that way. Because I know you tried different things but I just think it’s so good. So great.
PETER: Thanks, Billy.
JOE: Peter, do you want to say anything about this scene about Lips freaking out and looking into space?
PETER: Well, I just remember there was a lot of conversations and photos and options for what do his eyes look like.
PETER: There were a lot of different variations. I actually have some pictures on my phone of different ones that we tried out that did not look good. [laughs]
JOE: [laughs] I mean, no matter what even this one is going to look wrong.
PETER: It’s gonna look freaky no matter what. It’s gonna look freaky. But to what degree of freaky do we want for this guy?
PETER: I don’t have too much to say about this one except that I was, thank you for saying that, Bill. I was also proud of the way that I got up because he’s kind of slouched over a log and he has to stand up.
BILL: Yeah the way that he got up.
PETER: What are the mechanics of getting up from a squatting position in a hurry to see something cool or interesting or whatever. Yeah. Of course, I wasn’t actually seeing anything. So Bill was describing what it was.
BILL: But there’s no doubt he’s got legs. And he’s got hips. And he’s got weight to him. It’s all there.
BILL: So great.
JOE: Peter when you’re doing a scene like that and you’re worrying about a big performance, you’re controlling Lips and his two hands and you want them to breathe heavily, do you call in a second puppeteer to assist you for something like that?
PETER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I can’t remember on the day if Alice was doing the right hand. I’m sorry, we did so much. I don’t know.
JOE: Yeah. That’s okay.
PETER: I mean, I may have used my left hand to try to get that breathing going. Putting my left hand up underneath his shirt to make his belly go.
PETER: Honestly, I don’t really remember anyone else.
BILL: I don’t remember it, but it could have been two people helping you.
PETER It could’ve been.
B ILL: Because his arms are kind of like this.
PETER: Yeah, that’s splayed out. That’s right. That’s right.
BILL: So you may have had two helping or something.
PETER: Yeah absolutely. Yeah. I don’t ever hesitate to avail myself of the services of our other performers.
JOE: Yeah. yeah, no. You have a great support team with the rest of the Muppet performers there with you. Lips, also in the stars, see the stars spell out the words, “Save the world, Lips.” So now Lips has a task. He has a mission that’ll carry him through the end of the season. I can’t wait to see him save the world because that will surely happen in the next five episodes.
JOE: Right. Right guys, right?
JEFF: Feel like he does. Yeah.
PETER: Mission accomplished.
JOE: Great. Well, check out what Janice. She is looking at herself in the side mirror of the van saying that this person looks familiar and then suddenly finds herself in a white void, surrounded by hundreds of identical Janices who all tell her that she needs to love herself. How many Janices?
PETER: How many Janices? There were two Janices.
JOE: There were two Janices puppets.
PETER: And the main one was being puppeteered by Alice Dinnean because David Rudman, who performs Janice, was unavailable. And he wasn’t able to be there for that. So, David asked Alice if she would perform Janice for all of that and then David, of course, will come back and ADR and loop the voice. And for the second Janice, that would be me.
PETER: Of course, because they were full body, we also had a team of other puppeteers doing arms and legs and things.
PETER: So that was me and Alice doing a conversation.
BILL: They had to do the conversation between the two and then they also did all of the other ones behind. We doubled, tripled them in post but you guys did like five different variations or something.
PETER: Of “for sure” and “totally.”
BILL: And listening. Different positions listening. You know, so it felt a little varied.
JEFF: We got all the way to the sound mix, and we were sitting there both Bill and I were just like, “I think that’s Alice.”
BILL: I hear Alice.
JEFF: I can still hear the layer in there somewhere was Alice.
JEFF: And they were like, “No, no, we think we got it.” We’re like, “I don’t know.” And so then they would silence all these other tracks and then you just hear Alice clear as a bell.
BILL: There she is.
JEFF: [mimicking Janice] Totally.
PETER: Oh, that’s right. That was the other thing is when we first see her before and after that, she’s going around and I think in the version that’s there now it’s she looks in the mirror on the van’s rearview mirror. [imitating Janice] “You look so the familiar.” [in normal voice] And she’s saying a lot of different things, but on the day, it was just “totally” over and over again. She went, [imitating Janice] “Totally.”
PETER: [imitating Janice] Totally. [in normal voice] I think she was just walking around saying “totally.”
JEFF: The Janice one is one that we went through a lot.
JEFF: Just to try to keep it sort of on point story.
PETER: So you all put words in her mouth.
BILL: Can I just mention something? Maybe it’s a little early but I may forget. But there’s a phrase that she keeps saying over and over. That came much later, because we wanted to tie in the song Jeff and Adam were talking about. How do we tie in the song that they come up with in the van on the way home? “Gonna Get There.”
JEFF: For which Janice has the chorus.
BILL: Right, Janice does the chorus. She comes up with the chorus. And so in those moments, when she’s in her thing, there’s twice where she goes down the side of the bus, and says, “gonna get there.” And she falls down and out. It happens twice. So that little thing.
JEFF: By which she’s dancing.
PETER: And the other one is when her back… Oh, is it when her back is to the other Janice and you said, “You’re going to totally get there with your band?”
BILL: Yeah. That’s in there. Right? And then also when she’s in Dr. Teeth’s bit. And she’s kind of prancing by. And the camera pans over to her and she says…
JEFF: Before the timelapse.
BILL: [imitates Janice] “Gonna get there.” [in normal voice] You know. She’s humming.
JOE: Yeah, that’s one of those things. I noticed it, but only now on my third watch through. You know, now that I’m more familiar with the song. “And it’s like, “Ooooh, putting those little pieces together.”
BILL Oh, you got it. Oh, that’s great.
JOE: They’re building something. Yeah.
JEFF: The show makes sense on the fifth watch through.
JOE: [laughs] Yes, right. Yeah. Yeah. Once you get to like eight or nine, that’s when it really starts to pop.
BILL: It gets really good. Yeah.
JEFF: That’s good.
JOE: Next up on our trip list is Animal. He is sitting on top of a rock, hallucinating that he’s holding himself as a baby. This is great because the baby is speaking very proper fancy-like. Like, [imitates English accent] “Good find, my gents down in a jif.” I assume that was in the script that he speaks nothing like the real Animal in this?
BILL: Yeah. So the performance-wise. Peter you wanna?
PETER: The performance-wise that’s a big giant, I don’t know, fiberglass rock. Actually it’s not that big and giant because Eric Jacobson and myself were stuffed inside of that rock.
[Jeff and Joe laugh]
PETER: Eric is performing. Doing the voice and all of baby Animal and then I was performing Animal as we know it. And then Eric would give me a line read then, of course, he went back and dubbed it over with the proper voice. But yeah, we were all twisted up around each other inside that rock to make those two characters face each other with one on the lap and not have their faces too close. So it was very comfortable. [laughs]
BILL: Oh, it was terrible.
JOE: I’m picturing the two of you stuffed inside that rock hugging while you perform.
PETER: Basically, yeah.
JOE: A long hug.
PETER: We were kind of recreating with our own bodies what was happening on camera with the characters.
JOE: For sure. Yeah.
PETER: Again, something that hit the cutting room floor, I’m so sad was not in there, is there’s one point where Moog, I think, calls up, “Animal, you okay buddy?” And animal and baby Animal look down and then we see Animal’s point of view and we see the Jabberwocky from the Brooke Shields Muppet Show episode. The Jabberwock is there and you see Moog’s voice coming out of it. “Animal, you okay, buddy?” And it’s this amazing puppet, which is still functioning after all these years.
PETER: It’s been buried.
JEFF: Pulled out of the vault.
PETER: Yeah yeah. Deep cut from the vault.
JOE: Deep cut. Especially because that episode is not on Disney Plus. So newer fans might not recognize it.
PETER: Oh yeah.
JOE: But I would have recognized it and I would’ve thought that was really cool.
PETER: Alas that puppet, I mean we shot the scene and it didn’t air that way. What happened, fellas?
JEFF: I think it just got too crazy. I think it was just such a weird non-sequitur. I mean, people were confused what was going on. It was I guess a hallucination on top of the hallucination. People were a little thrown. Went a little too far.
BILL: I think the way it was shot too, didn’t read as well.
PETER: It might’ve
JEFF: That is also true.
BILL: And I think we also rearranged the order of things.
JEFF: Absolutely, we did.
BILL: So where Moog was, it just bumped and I think it was for time too. Like we had to get through all of these stories. [slaps hand to indicate number of stories]
PETER: But maybe if there’s some deep cut outtake that shows up one day. It was really fun because Tahj was there on set and I was lip-syncing to his voice live.
PETER: And I think Leslie was doing the Jabberwock’s claws, the hands and Alice was on the feet and we were all in green against this desert thing.
JEFF: And Animal jumps off and attacks him.
PETER: That’s right. That’s right.
BILL: Yeah. Yeah.
JOE: Release the Jabberwock cut, guys. Come on.
BILL: Yeah, because that’s right. Animal jumped onto Tahj, right?
PETER: That’s right.
JOE: Wow. I also have to ask, you know, this is something that’s come up in a lot of conversation of the darker palette of the show. And we’ve got a whole sequence here that’s taking place at night. So not only is it already darker than Muppet shows that we’re kind of used to, and it’s like, there’s no sun out to give us the natural light. This scene in particular with Animal and baby Animal was, like I kind of had to turn the brightness way up on my screen and squint a little bit.
JOE: Was that a concern for you guys in the edit? I mean, not that I couldn’t see it but like I wanted to see more of it. It was not 100% clear. Yeah. Was that a concern for you guys when you were editing?
BILL: I don’t know. Was it a concern in the edit for you guys.
JEFF: We did go through the color timing to brighten it up a bit.
JEFF: I know we put like a spotlight on Animal and baby Animal and brought it out the red, a little more on him. When we were watching it, it wasn’t…
BILL: Because I’ve seen people talk about some of that stuff or Cristina [Bill’s spouse] will mention it to me. And I’m watching it on my two TVs at home and it doesn’t seem to me that it’s overly dark. It feels real to me. It feels like you’re really there. And I think that was the hope is that it felt real. Although it, like Jeff said it, you know, there are certain things we’ve brightened up, right? And tried to help it some. But I don’t know. I mean I’m not sure. I don’t know. I like it.
JOE: Yeah, this isn’t a complaint. It’s just a question of…
BILL: Oh, I get it. No, I’m not suggesting. I’m just saying. Because I was thinking. Well, oh, wow, I’m looking at, I’m watching it at home and I’m thinking, what am I not seeing? Am I just…seemed okay to me but I don’t know.
JOE: Yeah, fair enough. Next up, we have Floyd. He sees a big vortex open up in the sky. And he says, “Doesn’t get any weirder than that, am I right?” And it does get weirder because it’s Weird Al Yankovic. The Weird Al. Finally, in a Muppet production. The only other time he’s ever worked with the Muppets before this was appearing in an issue of Muppet Magazine in the 80s, which barely counts. I don’t know why it took this long for him and the Muppets to cross paths but we are very grateful for it. How did this come about?
BILL: Because Adam didn’t work on anything. Oh that’s not true. I should say. He should have been in Muppets Wizard of Oz but we didn’t get it. If Adam had something to do with it.
JEFF: This was a crazy one. We knew we wanted someone who was iconic and prolific and so when we hit on Weird Al, we’re like, “It has to be. Right? It has to be Weird Al.” And he was on tour. Ideally we were going to have someone show up and be there with Floyd, but such was the problem with trying to make this show. The availability of so many of the cameos was a very difficult thing, but we really needed Weird Al. Is there any way? Okay, we’ll even do a green screen. It’s either going to be a force ghost, right? Like a spirit ghost. Right?
JEFF: Or it’ll be Mufasa from the Lion King. If he’s down to do it. So that way we can remotely set up a green screen and could do it. He was totally down. He was on tour. He was in, I think, upstate New York or something.
BILL: Yeah, I can’t remember. But thank goodness. Adam knew him and had worked with him.
JEFF: And one of our producers too.
BILL: Had him on the show, you know. So there was a good connection there and he was a great sport about it.
JEFF: Yeah, it was a day of a performance and he just gave us multiple takes. We’re like, “Look, we want it two ways when we did Mufasa.” We wanted all Mufasa. [in deep voice] So really serious and James Earl Jones-y. [in normal voice] And then one is Al, like, [in higher pitched voice] “What are you doing?” [in normal voice] And he just gave, for each of these, he gave multiple takes in multiple voices, essentially. And I just felt terrible for whoever was seeing him that night because he may not have had a voice.
JOE: So I actually saw him perform a couple days later. He was here in New York City where I live. And I was, coincidentally Kermit the Frog was performing at Lincoln Center. He was doing something with Choir! Choir! Choir! And I got invited to come backstage and say Hello to Matt and I’m like, “Okay. But I gotta run because I’m literally running to Carnegie Hall to see Weird Al right now.” And he was like, “Oh, interesting. Because we may have done a thing that I’m not allowed to tell you. And I’m going like, “Oh my god, you met him?” And he’s going, “I didn’t meet him.”
I’m like, “Okay, Matt. Wink, wink. You didn’t meet him.” He’s like, “No, I actually I’ve never met the man.” And I’m going, “Okay.” Like I don’t know if it’s true or not that he was gonna at that time. He was being so cagey. But now I know and I know all the secrets. Very cool.
JEFF: Weird Al was at our premiere and Matt was a little star struck, I think.
JOE: Yeah. I would be.
BILL: At the premiere? Yeah.
PETER: We all were. Mattie and I met him. Yeah, yeah.
JEFF: It’s crazy.
JOE: I hope that means that you all have him on speed dial now and we’ll get him in more Muppet projects.
PETER: Oh, Bill doesn’t.
JOE: No? Oh no. All right.
JEFF: Yeah, he’s on my phone, in a series of selfies I put there.
PETER: That he doesn’t know about.
JEFF: Hey, Mister Al. Mr. Weird.
BILL: I didn’t get that number.
JOE: So anyway, Floyd has this whole great exchange with Weird Al. It’s wonderful. It’s very Lion King-y. It’s great. And then, as he disappears, a Muppet cactus appears behind him. And notes that they did a Lion King thing and Floyd gives him a big hug. And this cactus has a name, which is rare for a cactus. I think any cactus. His name is Davis.
BILL: Really? Davis.
JOE: Where does the name Davis come from?
BILL: That’s what I call Dave Goelz.
JOE: You call him Davis?
JOE: Great. I have no follow-up questions.
BILL: [laughs] He calls me Willis.
BILL: He calls me Willis.
PETER: Willis and Davis.
BILL: And I call him Davis.
PETER: That’s a thing.
JOE: So did you come up with that on the day? Because you performed the cactus. Correct, Bill?
BILL: Yeah, yeah.
JOE: So were you just like I’m gonna…
BILL: I can’t remember? I don’t think it was in a script. Did we put the name in the script? I can’t remember.
PETER: No, no.
BILL So I did it on the day.
PETER: You just threw that in.
JOE: Yeah. Just to needle Dave a little bit. Great.
JEFF: I do remember a lot of discussion about what the cactus was going to be like with our production designer because it wasn’t an actual cactus found in Joshua tree.
JEFF: And we’re like, “It’s okay.”
BILL: Yeah. It’s in his mind.
JEFF: You got to love the attention to detail and the care.
PETER: This is why I hate this episode because it’s so unrealistic.
PETER: You would never have a talking cactus like that in Joshua Tree.
BILL: They really blew it.
JOE: [laughs] So is the cactus later when we see Floyd is hugging a cactus and it looks like a real cactus. Is that type of cactus found in?
JEFF: Saguaro. That’s where it was.
JOE: That’s not found in Joshua tree that type?
BILL: Oh, that one’s not?
JEFF: No, that was the discussion. I’m sorry. It wasn’t the puppet that was the problem. It was the cactus he was going to be hugging, but that’s not a real cactus that’s found in Joshua Tree.
BILL: Right. Right. I see. Right. But only because we only had the cactus puppet right?
JEFF: [laughing] It’s based on the puppet. Yeah.
BILL: Right. So we had to use a cactus that fit our puppet. Right.
JOE: The real life Davis. Yeah. That’s it.
PETER: This is all in the new book: So You Want to Make a Muppet Show.
BILL: The Davis Cactus biography.
JOE: Wonderful. I can’t wait.
JEFF: A cactus story.
JOE: Any day now. Floyd is covered in needles from the cactus. I don’t know anything about puppet building or puppet maintenance. But I would imagine that sticking a puppet full of needles is probably not a good thing for its longevity. Is that not a thing. You just like screw it we’ll just put a bunch of needles in him and take them out and he’ll be fine?
BILL: Peter, I don’t know, did you see him? Because I think what they did was, maybe I’m wrong, but I think the needles that actually go into him are very thin. And the thicker thing is an inch from… You know what I mean? It sticks in. It looks like they’re bigger than they are going into the foam. But I think they’re very pin needle.
JEFF: Peter knows cause Lips gets acupuncture in episode…two?
PETER: Episode the first or the second.
JOE: Two or three. Yeah.
BILL: Yeah. Right.
PETER: Yeah. Yeah. All those needles in the space. But I think those are actual acupuncture needles.
PETER: I think they were. Yeah.
BILL: They were really thin. Yeah. So it was that kind of thing. And then the cactus ones look thicker.
JOE: Sure. Yeah. That makes sense to me.
BILL: Doesn’t mess him up too much.
JOE: And then we check in with Dr. Teeth. His trip is taking the form of a completely different medium. He is stop motion animated. He can like take his head off and roll around his arms. He gets trapped inside of a cage of giant piano keys which turns out to be a big gold ring because he’s trapped by Penny who also shows up in stop motion animation. Picks him up and throws him down.
JEFF: The animation’s done by Stop Motion Studios, Stoopid Buddy. Which is run by a couple of friends of mine. And so, when we knew we were doing an animated sequence, we thought maybe we could go to them. I’ve cut their reels. I cut their Stoodio Reel Stoopid Buddy, Stoopid Reel 2: Dare to Be Stoopid. So it all comes to play.
JOE: Right back to where you are now.
BILL: Can you mention what they’ve done? So people know.
JEFF: Oh, sure. It’s Robot Chicken. They do Robot Chicken. They do a ton of commercials. They do, let’s see, SuperMansion. They’ve done The Lego Movie closing sequence.
JOE: Oh cool. Yeah.
JEFF: Closing credits. Yeah, they’re the kings of stop motion. And this was just amazing. We visited the studio while they were animating it.
JEFF: Literally just a trip just to see these puppets in a different puppet form, you know?
JEFF: These 12-inch, armatured puppets and just see people like laboring over them. It was amazing and their work was incredible.
JOE: That’s cool. It’s a great sequence.
JEFF: It’s a strange thing to give notes, you know? Like, A note isn’t an easy thing in the world to stop motion.
BILL: They gotta start over.
BILL: Yeah, it’s like, yeah.
PETER: Puppeteers are impatient animators. Like I don’t have the patience to be an animator. I want it now. I want it to happen now.
JEFF: You’re real-time animation.
PETER: Real time animators. Yeah. Those guys are so patient. I also have some very dear friends who I would argue have the best stop motion in Los Angeles.
PETER: Screen Novelties.
JEFF: Fight! Fight! I’m saying them, not us. Not us.
PETER: Yeah, yeah.
JOE: A very slow fight, one third of a second at a time.
BILL: Yeah. You’d have time to do each move.
JOE: Speaking of which, how long was the production process for just a few minutes of animation? Because I know you probably had to give it to them, give them months. I would guess. I don’t have any frame of reference but they can’t just do it and then give it to you a few days later. They got to do it every second at a time.
JEFF: Bill, would you say it was a month or so?
BILL: I’d say the first time we started to see pieces was probably, oh, maybe three weeks in. Right? I think, when we first started to see something and then it was probably six weeks or something maybe total.
JEFF: Then they got the script. We had written it all out in script form. Then they give us back storyboards. And I think they gave it to us as an animatic.
JEFF: So you see the drawing version of this scene. And that’s their game plan of how they’re going to animate it. And I think we had a few notes here and there and then–
BILL: Oh and then they sent the characters. So we could see what they looked like. And Muppets Studios looked at the different pieces and we all looked at those to get those approved.
BILL: Like he didn’t have his hunch, I remember. So we asked them if they could give Teeth his hunch. He was more straight up kind of thing. Just little things like that. But boy, they were amazing.
JEFF: Yeah. And then you would get these shots done and you sort of have to view them out of context.
BILL: Because we did, we also did all the dialogue first so they were animating to the voices.
JEFF: Pre-recorded dialogue.
JOE: Sure. Yeah. Interesting. Well, when we cut back to the real world, Dr. Teeth is now embedded up to his waist in the sand.
JOE: And Moog is pulling on his arms and they stretch way out which is a thing the old Dr. Teeth puppet used to do in the first season of The Muppet Show. And Moog, another great line reading, he’s like, “Are they supposed to do that?” That was great.
BILL: I’ll just say, this is probably the moment I lost my mind. One time. [laughs]
JOE: Why’s that? Tell me more.
PETER: Can’t believe you’re gonna go there, Bill.
BILL: Well why not? I mean, I won’t say what I said.
PETER: I have a meme of it if you’d like to see.
BILL: There is a meme that was created by the amazing Jurgen [Ferguson]. But I was underneath this table, as we all do all the time. But under the table, Dr. Teeth through there, waiting there’s sand dropping. I’m underneath there, we’re waiting, and there’s all kinds of things going on. Right? Cameras moving. Trying to line up a shot. People crossing in front of it. I’m thinking we’re ready to go. But there’s conversations. I can hear people over here talking, giggling happening. There’s all kinds of– [laughs]
And I’m waiting. I’m just thinking, “Okay, this isn’t gonna be long. I’m good. I’m good. I’m waiting there.” And finally, I just snapped. I thought, “Nothing is really happening.” We’re all just kind of, I think we’re all exhausted. People are trying to breathe for a minute and I just thought I’m still here. And I lost it and I screamed at the top of my lungs, and it went silent. [laughs] The stage went silent. Jurgen looked at me like I was gonna kill him. He was underneath with me. Who else was down there? I can’t remember. Maybe Leslie. And it just went quiet. Then all of a sudden it was like, [mumbles] Getting the cameras lined up and everybody got into place. Ross Novie, our first AD came over, “Okay. Okay, we’re gonna go now. Here we go. We’re gonna go.” [laughs]
PETER: Everyone was being extra nice to Bill after that.
BILL: I never lost. I don’t think I’ve lost it. Peter, have I lost it like that?
PETER: No. I’ve never seen you lose it like that, but it was deservedly so. It was late at night. You couldn’t hear a thing underneath there. It was super uncomfortable.
JOE: And did you have your arm up the whole time? Were you stuck with your arm up in the air?
PETER: Yeah, he was stuck. He couldn’t get out. So anything that was taking a long time was just infuriating. Yeah.
BILL: Because I didn’t want all the sand to come in. I was trying to keep it so we could… Because I had already said, “Can we just like, let’s get set and get ready? Because when I go in there, we don’t want all the sand to go. You just got to go for it. I’ll stay in there. We’ll get through it. We’ll do several takes.” And they were like, “Okay, here we go.” And then it was just like people having chats. [laughs]
PETER: Everybody felt terrible. Nobody blamed him for losing it.
JOE: I’m glad to hear it’s a rare occurrence, both for the annoyance and for the outburst and you were able to move on and get a great shot of Dr. Teeth stuck in the sands with stretchy arms.
BILL: Yeah. It worked.
JOE: Well done.
JOE: On the ride home the band are all also feeling tired and maybe a little frustrated and unaccomplished here. But Floyd starts fiddling around with his guitar. Dr. Teeth joins in.
BILL: Lilly, when she sits down with Moog, after everybody’s had their experience, and she comes over, and she sits down with Moog, and she’s supposed to be better and she sees JJ sitting there in place of Moog. And then she gets up and she starts to fly around.
[Bill and Joe laugh]
BILL: It was so good. She did those bird noises on her own.
BILL: These chirps and things. And also we had talked about like is there something she could do that you don’t recognize right away, but that you think she’s still kind of having her hallucinations or something’s going on but not too much. And so we tried it at different levels, but if you notice, she kind of licks her teeth, a little bit, like she has like something’s going on.
JEFF: Bill, how did you describe it to her?
BILL: Like hairy teeth or something.
JEFF: It was like, you have hair growing on your teeth.
BILL: Yeah. Something like you have hairy teeth. [laughs]
JEFF: That is so specific and so weird and she’s like, “Oh yeah, no, I got it.”
BILL: Yeah, she got it. But we didn’t use it that much but it’s just a hint there. You’ll see a little hint of her like,[makes lip smacking sound] You know, doing a little thing. But she’s so good. She’s amazing. So good.
JOE: She is, yeah. But yes, but the band back in the van, they just go ahead and on the fly, writes “Gonna Get There.” Their new song. They’ve broken through to the other side and they’re done with their writer’s block. And they can get back in the studio and record. While they’re singing the song, Zoot is going through all of his Polaroids that he shot in the desert. And we see he got shots of all this weird hallucinatory stuff. The multiple Janices, baby Animal, Weird Al. Was it real? Is it just Zoot’s reality? Who’s to say? We can just leave that up to the audience. You all are nodding. I assume that’s the correct answer. And yeah, it seems like everything’s going pretty well for them. And then the doorbell rings. Nora goes to answer it and who is it? It’s Dr. Teeth’s parents. They are here to take him home. Oh, it’s a cliffhanger. Disney Plus is gonna love this.
JEFF: My kids watched this episode. They got to this point and they freaked out. They’re like, “We have to watch it! We have to keep going! We have to see what they look like!” I was like, “Oh, that’s good.”
JOE: It worked.
PETER: Good test audience.
JOE: If only this show was released week to week, that would have been such a great conversation to have for like a full week of like, “What do you think? What are they gonna look like? Like did you recognize the voice performers? Who is it?”
JEFF: I want to go back for one second, and not to toot my own horn, but this was just such, one of the greatest moments of working on the show was that I was able to co-write that “Gonna Get There” song.
JEFF: Linda [Perry] was like, “Okay. I’m working on the song.” And I sort of listed what the songs were for each episode and sort of wrote out, here’s the idea. Here’s sort of the imagery from the episode. But for that one, I had sent over, “I just was futzing around. Here are some lyrics.”
JEFF: And she came back onto a call one day and she’s just like, “Okay, and then there’s this song, ‘Gonna Get There.’ Jeff, I loved your lyrics. So I used them.” And I remember being on a Zoom and one of our producers, Kris Eber’s just like exclamation points, private chat message to me.
JEFF: And it was amazing. It was just an amazing thing and she turned it into this, you know, my favorite song.
BILL: Well and then you guys collaborated off for that meaning too. Right? Didn’t you kind of a little bit of back and forth maybe.
JEFF: Yeah. There were back and forth. I think one of the lyrics you know don’t hit the brakes. It’s gonna be okay. And you’re gonna hit them.
JEFF: I like don’t hit the brakes. Again, it was just like it’s road trip imagery. It’s about being stuck. It’s beginnings, middles and ends. And writer’s block.
JEFF: So it sort of does encompass everything that’s going on in this episode.
JOE: And it sounds like an Electric Mayhem song. Like it’s not just a song that they’re singing.
JEFF: In a very weird way it does but it’s a country song.
JOE: Yeah, it works.
JEFF: Again, my wife loves country music and I don’t. I mean, I do but I’m not a huge country fan like she is. And she’s like, “You know you wrote a country music song for the Electric Mayhem.”
JEFF: And I’m like, “What? No, I didn’t… Oh my god.”
JOE: An Electric country song if that helps.
JEFF: Yeah, totally.
JOE: A little bit.
PETER: Since I only get to do one of these and you get these chuckleheads for all ten, can I give you a couple more Lips Easter eggs that I have not seen out in the world.
JOE: Yes! I was just going to ask for that. Yes, please.
PETER: Okay. Well there’s several with his wardrobe. The first one I’ll give you is he wears one t-shirt that says, Elden Elementary. And I don’t know if you ever get to see it. I haven’t actively looked for it but there’s an Elden Elementary School. That’s a reference to the street that the studio was on when they shot The Muppet Show. Is that, am I right? Am I making this up?
BILL: I don’t know, Peter. I don’t know that one.
JOE: Oh, that’s a good Easter egg if that’s true.
PETER: Oh, Elden. Elden. The Muppet Show’s Elden Avenue Studios. It is Elden. There’s one he wears, it’s a circular emblem and it says, “Dekalb County brass band festival 1967.” I grew up in Dekalb County, that’s why DeKalb county in ‘67 was the year I was born. So that’s a cute one.
And the big one that definitely you can see, and I think some folks have found it very recently, he has a t-shirt that says, “Tutter Street Trumpet Company.” Which is a nod to my character Tutter from Bear in the Big Blue House. And actually even on the t-shirt embedded if you take a freeze frame or take a picture of the screen and zoom in real close, you can see a little blue Tutter.
JOE: Yeah. We spotted the Tutter one just the other day and we are very tempted to make some of our own in human size. Not just Lips size. It’d be a real deep cut.
PETER: The incredibly talented Dani Iglesias and see if she would do something like that for us. She designed all of Lips’s t-shirts.
JEFF: I know we only have Peter for this one and I’ve said it to him before, but he just what he did with Lips is just amazing. It’s just such a delight and we couldn’t have been prepared for what you brought to this character.
JEFF: I hope we get a season 2, if only to just have more of Lips and this characterization. Just a blast and I could tell already fans love him as I think I was promising you, Peter.
PETER: You promised me, but I was nervous because this is kind of uncharted territory.
PETER: Taking a Muppet character that people kind of know. Not everybody, but the fans know, for sure. And how are they going to react to this kind of completely…?
BILL: They love him.
JEFF: There was just like a knee jerk response I remember. People were like, “What? I don’t know about this mumbling thing.”
PETER: I remember that from the D23 performance.
PETER: I don’t know about this.
JOE: Yeah. I will say like coming from the fan perspective, number one, we were afraid of change. Change is scary. Not that the Muppets don’t have a history of that. Janice, specifically, we’re talking about the Mayhem, went through a huge change in her first year. But the thing I was worried about was will mumbling get old? Like is it the same joke over and over again?
PETER: Yeah. That’s a good one.
JOE: Peter, you are a talented enough performer that you’ve never repeated the joke. Like every time you do it, it’s something completely different, which makes me, to Jeff’s point, really excited for a potential season two or whatever’s next for Lips, to see where’s he gonna take it next? What else is he going to do? What else is he going to say? How else can we play with this new toy of his mumbling? So yeah, I think you did a wonderful job.
JEFF: Gonna go back to another thing with Lips. I now judge all Muppet Mayhem merchandise, or just Electric Mayhem merchandise, by if they include Lips or not.
PETER: [laughs] Bless you.
JEFF: There’s a before Muppets Mayhem and after Muppets Mayhem.
PETER: Jeff, to your point, yeah, right, any Mayhem merch that doesn’t have Lips in the band.
JEFF: Yeah, there’s some amazing imagery and great t-shirts, but I’m just like, “Well, I’m only gonna buy something if it has Lips on it.” Part of the band.
JOE: We got into the backstories for a couple of the characters on this season, but we didn’t get into the backstory of Lips. I’m not going to ask Jeff and Bill what they have in mind. Obviously if we get a season two, we hope to see that. But for you, Peter, did you have a head canon of where Lips comes from or what he did before the band?
JOE: And you don’t have to tell me about it. I’m just curious if you have a backstory in your mind.
PETER: There is the dreadful honest answer.
JOE: That’s okay. Yeah, that’s all right. Lips is a cypher. He’s a blank slate.
PETER: Well yeah. He’s growing as I’m growing and he did, like these guys said as we were shooting the series, I learned more about him as we went along. I don’t have formal training as an actor. I mean, I make my living doing it but I didn’t– It’s–
BILL: You’re a natural.
JOE: That’s okay. That’s all right. Nobody’s perfect. It’s fine.
PETER: I don’t know how to do process. And what the steps are supposed to be. I’m sorry.
JEFF Peter just pacing before takes, just smelling lemons and stuff like that.
PETER: Yeah. Basically, I walk into a room and I am Lips. I prepare.
BILL: That’s it.
JOE: Right. You’re very method.
BILL: He becomes.
JOE: Peter, thank you so much for being here. It was such a treat to get to talk about Lips with you. And to really dive into this episode with you. And thank you for all the work you did for Muppets Mayhem. Everything came out so wonderfully and Lips is such a joy. So, great job.
PETER: Thank you. I had so much fun. This is one of my most favorite jobs in the history of me having a professional career in puppetry. 31 years. There wasn’t a day I wasn’t super excited to go to work on this show. I just absolutely loved every moment of it. And I’m thrilled with the final result and so grateful to Bill and Jeff and Adam and everyone who had a hand in creating the series.
JEFF: Thank you.
JOE: Fantastic. Yes. Well, and thank you Bill and Jeff, for being here, as well. We’ll see you again next week on Muppets Mayhem: Backstage Pass.
[outro music plays]
JOE: The Muppets Mayhem: Backstage Pass is brought to you by Toughpigs.com. Produced, written and hosted by Joe Hennes. Logo art by Dave Hulteen Jr. The Muppets Mayhem mark and logo, characters and elements are trademarks of The Muppets Studio. All rights reserved. Transcriptions provided by Katilyn Miller. The Muppets Mayhem end credits, written by Mick Giacchino, is used with permission. Special thanks to The Muppets Studio, Disney Plus and the entire Muppets Mayhem family.
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Thanks for listening and until next time, rock on!