New Details on the Documentary Behind Up Late with Miss Piggy, Why Gonzo Likes Chickens, and Muppetteers Making Themselves Laugh
Yesterday, the opening panel at D23 covered my favorite set of characters, The Muppets, and their new show on ABC. The panel, moderated by Mark Snetiker from Entertainment Weekly, featured muppetteers Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew), Steve Whitmire (Kermit, Pepe the Prawn, Bean Bunny), Bill Barretta (Rowfl, the Swedish Chef), Eric Jacobson (Fozzie the Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle), and Matt Voegl (Constantine, Floyd, Robin) discussing the show and their past experiences. A warning – yes, we know the pictures aren’t the best and were obviously taken on a phone with no flash. Given past years at D23, where phones and cameras were taken or sealed in bags, I was thrilled to get shots from the panel!
The show is, first a foremost, a documentary of The Muppets – their personal lives, their thoughts, and their homes This is a major break from previous shows and movies, where the characters portray themselves on film. Multiple panel members brought up the backstage elements of the original Muppet Show and how this show will explore that idea further. The show is set around Miss Piggy’s new talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy. In addition to scenes on stage of the show, the panel mentioned they work in an elaborate sound stage that includes “a warren of hallways and offices” behind the show, Kermit’s office, and Miss Piggy’s dressing room. The panel was happy to share some of the roles Muppets will play on the talk show. Many of these will come as no surprise to Muppet fans:
sidekick – Fozzie the Bear
band – The Electric Mayhem
producer – Kermit the Frog
writers – Gonzo, Rizzo, Pepe the King Prawn
stage manager – Bobo the Bear
props – Bunsen and Beaker
wardrobe – Uncle Deadly
standards and practices – Uncle Sam
In terms of the show, it will follow past Muppet projects, which Dave Goelz describes as,”Worked on an adult level but amused kids.” Both Bill Barretta and Eric Jacobson stated the scripts for these shows regularly make them laugh aloud.
Beyond discussing the show, the panel answered audience questions and allowed a few audience members to try their hand (literally) as Muppets. While most of the audience questions involved individuals expressing their love of The Muppets, others involved The Muppets dating. When Gonzo was asked his thoughts on chickens and pigs, his response was what he loves is, “Chicken legs.” Fozzie brought up that he can’t be too picky when it comes to dating, while Pepe likes “All the womenz.” The Muppets were asked if there were any Star Wars projects in the works, and there was a bit of discussion, during which Gonzo stated, “I love playing in a vacuum.” While the success of audience members was…mixed, Whitmire had no problem having Kermit “get naked” and show the hand motions that go behind making the Muppets talk.
One of the best parts of the panel, though, was seeing how much camaraderie and laughter there is among the muppetteers. Barretta and Rowlf best exemplified this. When Barretta attempted to get his left hand in to Rowlf’s, he found that the hand had been pinned to the costume. Rather than break character, Whitmire immediately offered to help Rowlf with what was hurting him. I was practically in tears as Whitmire found first one safety pin, then another, all while Rowlf was hanging his head, beating the desk with the other hand, and cursing phrases like, “Sweet lord of mercy!” Afterwords, Barretta found a glove placed inside the muppett. Rowlf expressed surprise, without missing a beat, “So that’s what was in there!” Rowlf went on to show his Donald Trump imitation (yep, it involves creatively placing one ear and yelling, “You’re fired!”) and spilled water over Whitmire and Barretta (“I’m fired!”) In the show coming out this fall, Rowlf will run a tavern that the characters go to hang out.
In addition to already having multiple episodes filmed, the panel announced that they’ve filmed new Pigs in Space segments, all of which will premiere as internet videos.
The panel concluded with the thought that they all feel this is the right time for The Muppets to come back on the air in this type of show, and I’d have to agree. The Muppets premiers September 22nd, 8 pm, on ABC. Will the cast members be watching the show? Whitmire, “No, I’m pretty sure we’re filming that day.”