1 The Muppet Mindset: Telly
Showing posts with label Telly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Telly. Show all posts

Apr 3, 2014

News Update: April 3, 2014

APRIL 3, 2014

The fine folks at Toyota have released an onslaught of hysterical new videos featuring the Muppets and Terry Crews in the Toyota Highlander in between takes. There a few videos and each of them is funnier than the last. Watch them all below!

Our friends at Threadless have announced the three winners of their Muppets Most Wanted themed t-shirt design contest. The three winning shirts feature Beaker, Sam Eagle, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Each shirt costs $25, but it's totally worth it. I already bought the Electric Mayhem shirt and it's seriously awesome. You can buy each of the shirts and see the winning designs on Threadless.

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge, the awesome new reality competition show from The Jim Henson Company and Syfy has aired two episodes so far, but if you don't have cable or weren't home to watch, you might've missed them. Well luckily for you, Syfy has both episodes on their website to watch right now! Head on over to the Syfy website to watch both episodes, because you really won't want to miss them--especially this week's incredible Skeksis-themed design challenge. If you are in Canada, check out the Space Channel's website for the episodes.

The Great Gonzo acted as grand marshall for NASCAR's Auto Club 400 on March 23rd. He got to shout at drivers to start their engines, and thanks to our friends at Muppet Stuff you can watch video footage of it! Check out the video below, and jump to two minutes in for the Gonzo parts.

Telly Monster teamed up with Mashable and our friend Annie Colbert for a fantastically fun new video all about microscopes! Dive in by watching the video below!

Abby Cadabby helped light the Empire State Building blue for Autism Awareness yesterday. Using her magic (and a special blue wand), Abby turned the building blue. Watch video of the lighting ceremony below!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Aug 16, 2013

A Salute to Telly Monster

Michael Wermuth - Telly Monster has been on Sesame Street since the 10th season and has been a main character since at least the twelfth. He has had major roles in both of the Sesame Street movies as well as many of the specials and direct-to-video projects. In an era when many longtime classic characters don't appear in as many episodes as they used to (even Big Bird tends to appear in just a few episodes per season), Telly is one of the few to be heavily featured in almost every episode, as well as one of the few to regularly be the focus of the street stories, and yet he's still underrated.

Actually, I never really noticed that Telly was underrated until pretty recently. There haven't been too many Telly Monster toys, Telly has never had his own spotlight video or album (though I can't think of too many Telly segments that I'd call "The Best of Telly"). He has been prominent in a handful of recurring segments like Ask Oscar, Sneak Peek Previews, and Monster on the Spot, but since the show started having various segments appear in every episode (or every other episode) he has never hosted his own daily segment.

Let's take a look back at Telly's history. He was originally conceived as a monster obsessed with watching television, hence the name Telly. He had spinning spiral eyes and antennae, and often watched television too close to the screen. He first appeared in episode 1257, and was originally performed by Bob Payne, but after only a handful of appearances he was temporarily dropped from the show, his eyes changed and antennae removed so he could be used as a generic monster. Then when Caroll Spinney was unable to make it to work on the day of shooting a Big Bird episode, it was decided to bring back Telly, keeping the name but changing the personality, and given to Brian Meehl (the only other performer at the studio that day). Meehl gave Telly the voice and personality he's known for, and when Meehl left in 1984, Marty Robinson took over, initially imitating the voice Meehl gave him for a few years, before making the voice a little more different.

A lot has happened with Telly over the years. Since Brian Meehl started the character, Telly has always been a worrywart. Over time he has become obsessed with triangles, had such hobbies as playing the tuba and jumping on his pogo stick, has gotten a doll named Freddy and a hamster named Chuckie Sue, and has been a reporter for Monster on the Spot. He also developed a one-sided friendship with Oscar. Later on he would become friends with Baby Bear, but he and Oscar have still had some great moments together since.

As I said earlier, it is hard for me to think of the best Telly Monster moments, regardless of whether it's the best of the character or the best of Sesame Street. Last years "Best of Friends" DVD did a good job of selecting Telly clips. But there are some good Telly segments, such as when he played the tuba accompanied by Itzhak Pearlman on violin, or when he sold Kermit a head warmer, or he and Elmo sang "Heavy and Light," or when Elmo slept over at Telly's but couldn't sleep due to his snoring.

I don't know why Telly is so underrated, but perhaps his reason for being on the show for so many years is because of his performer, Martin Robinson. Since becoming a Muppet performer, most of Robinson's work has been on Sesame Street, with very few performances in other Henson productions. So he hasn't been too busy with other productions, allowing him to stay on Sesame Street for the whole year. Even in recent years Marty is among the few Sesame Street Muppet performers who doesn't have to balance his schedule between performing for Sesame Workshop and Disney's Muppets.

 So let's all give a shout-out to Telly Monster!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Feb 15, 2013

News Update: February 15, 2013

NEWS UPDATE: February 15, 2013
Yesterday Sesame Street released a brand new video campaign asking for us, the fans, to help them get to over 1 billion views on their YouTube channel. The video, starring the always wonderful Telly Monster, is hysterical ("Gangnam Grannies," anyone?) and the campaign is fantastic. If they reach 1 billion views, Sesame will be the first non-profit and the first US children's company to reach that milestone. So watch the video, and watch a bunch of Sesame videos on YouTube to get them to 1 billion! Oh, and did I mention that once they hit 1 billion they'll release a new, secret video? Because they will and it's bound to be great.

In our News Update last week we reported that the 1978 Julie Andrews TV special, Julie Andrews: One Step Into Spring, which also stars the Muppets, would be coming to DVD on April 23rd. The DVD is being released by the same studio that brought A Special Sesame Street Christmas to DVD last fall. Unfortunately, said company has not gotten any better at designing covers for their DVDs. The image you see on the right is the actual, official DVD cover for the release. It is an amalgamation of hideous PhotoShop jobs from four different pictures... none of which were in the actual special. All I can say is... Sheesh.

In happier (and much better cover-design) DVD release news, Sesame Street Presents Elmo: The Musical, a DVD compilation of 5 episodes of the new (and fantastic) Elmo: The Musical segment, is coming on May 7th! You can see the cover art on the right, and based on that we'll be getting "Sea Captain: The Musical," "Circus: The Musical," "Athlete: The Musical," and two more segments on the DVD! If you haven't had the chance to see the great new Elmo: The Musical segments on Sesame Street this season, this DVD looks like the perfect opportunity to!

Last but not least this week is an interview with Brian Henson featured on the Disney D23 Website. Unfortunately, the interview mainly focuses on Brian's involvement in the Disney cult classic Return to Oz, where Brian portrayed the character Pumpkin Head. Thankfully there's still some good Muppet talk stuffed in the interview as well, but nothing too exciting. Still... it's good ol' Brian Henson!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Oct 27, 2012

Muppetology 101: Intro to Muppet Monster Cryptozoology, Pt. 2

Ryan Dosier - Welcome back to class, class! No quiz again this week, because my cousin's hamster took the papers... he didn't eat them, but instead started his own Muppetology course next door. Don't fall for it. He isn't licensed! ...And obviously I am, if anyone asks. Anyway, let's continue our lecture on Muppet Monster Cryptozoology, this week focusing on the magnificent monsters of Sesame Street!
    • Performed by FRANK OZ (1969-present) and ERIC JACOBSON (1998-present)
  • Grover is one of Sesame Street's numerous furry blue monsters. He debuted in the first season of Sesame Street and has been a consistently popular presence ever since. Grover is best known for the countless professions he has worked in over the years, most notably as a waiter and his superhero alter-ego, Super Grover. As far as monsters go, Grover is about as far away from scary as one can get. He is a self-proclaimed cute, adorable little monster and has no interest in scaring anyone. In fact, he scared himself at the prospect of a monster in the classic book, The Monster at the End of This Book. He even sang the song "I Whistle a Happy Tune" with Cookie Monster when they were afraid of the woods. Grover can currently be seen nearly everyday on Sesame Street in his recurring segment "Super Grover 2.0."
    • Performed by FRANK OZ (1969-present) and DAVID RUDMAN (2001-present)
  • Yet another of the furry blue monsters of Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is one of the most popular characters on the show, and one of the most popular and beloved television characters of all time. Cookie Monster, of course, ravenously devours cookies (and most everything else) anytime that he gets the opportunity. Of all the Sesame Street monsters, Cookie Monster has the most monster-like speech saying "me" instead of "I," as in "Me want cookies!" Again, however, Cookie Monster does not exhibit many scary traits. Yes, his penchant for eating anything and everything makes him rather over the top, he is never purposefully scary. Just hold on to your hat if it's near a plate of cookies. Cookie Monster recently made a big splash with his parody video of the song "Call Me Maybe" and can be seen in numerous episodes of Sesame Street Season 43.
  • ELMO 
    • Primarily performed by KEVIN CLASH (1985-present) 
  • Perhaps the most popular children's television character of the past decade, Elmo is the giggling, ticklish, imaginative furry red monster on Sesame Street--as if anyone doesn't know that already. Elmo is the least scary Muppet monster, right alongside Grover, and would never dream of trying to scare someone. Elmo himself has been scared many times, however. At age three-and-a-half, Elmo is one of the youngest denizens of Sesame Street and has gotten scared many times, especially when he had a close call with a fire in Hooper's Store. Mostly, though, Elmo is just happy and carefree. He inhabited "Elmo's World" on the show for many years until the segment was replaced in Season 43 by the entertaining new segment "Elmo: The Musical." Elmo can be seen consistently on every episode of Sesame Street.
    • Primarily performed by MARTIN P. ROBINSON (1984-present)
  • Telly Monster is one of the main characters on modern day Sesame Street and appears in numerous street stories every season. Telly is best friends with Baby Bear but loves to play with everyone else on Sesame Street too. Telly used to be highly neurotic and worried all the time, but has since mellowed out. In his first appearance, Telly had spinning eyes and antennae sticking out of his head, making it the only time Telly was legitimately scary. Since then, Telly has been the one getting scared, not doing the scaring. In his worrying state, Telly would scare incredibly easily, and sometimes that still shows through even though he has matured quite a bit over the years. Telly can be seen in most episodes of Sesame Street Season 43.
    • Performed by CARMEN OSBAHR
  • Another member of Sesame Street's furry blue monster family, Rosita is a smart, Spanish speaking female monster who loves to play her guitar and sing. She first appeared on Sesame Street in 1991 in Season 23. For quite awhile, Rosita appeared with wings, explaining her full name Rosita la Monstrua de las Cuevas, which translates to Rosita the Monster of the Caves, implying that she was conceived as fruit bat of some sort. Rosita lost her wings in Season 35. Although her full name sounds frightening, Rosita is anything but, as she is one of the sweetest characters on Sesame Street. Rosita remains a popular main character on Sesame Street to this day and can be seen in numerous Season 43 episodes.
  • ZOE 
    • Performed by FRAN BRILL
  • Zoe, who debuted in Season 25 in 1994, was conceived and developed to match Elmo in both appearance and popularity. It succeeded, as Zoe continues to delight children on Sesame Street to this day nearly 20 years later. Zoe has gone through many phases on the show, loving her Zoemobile, her bracelets, her tutu, her dancing, and her pet rock Rocco. Zoe is always seen wearing her pink ballet tutu these days and is usually seen with her friends Elmo, Rosita, and Abby Cadabby. Zoe has a delightful laugh that sets her apart from the other characters and a favorite of Muppet fans and children alike.
    • Performed by JERRY NELSON
  • Herry Monster is a classic Sesame Street character who debuted in Season 2 of the show and became a favorite character of the audience as well as his performer Jerry Nelson. Herry is perhaps best known for counting to 20 with John John early in the show's run and for being a part of a sort of trio with Cookie Monster and Grover. Herry is larger than most and much stronger as well. It seems that he is always accidentally breaking something, but he always feels terrible about it. Herry loves to play with his doll, Hercules, and remained popular on Sesame Street into the 1990s and early 2000s. He has since been phased into the background, but not before starring in his own recurring segment "Monster Day Care," performing alongside Garth Brooks and Maya Angelou, and becoming best friends with both Prairie Dawn and Rosita.
    • Performed by JOEY MAZZARRINO
  • Murray is the newest monster on this list, appearing first in Season 36 in 2005. Since then, Murray has grown into one of the most-used characters on Sesame Street, appearing daily in "tune-in" segments throughout the run of the episodes since Season 40 as well as introducing the daily "Word on the Street." Murray is also the first main character performed by veteran Sesame Street performer and writer Joey Mazzarrino. Murray is often seen with his Spanish-speaking little lamb friend Ovejita, and the two of them had their own segment called "Murray Has a Little Lamb." Currently, Murray and Ovejita co-host the interstitial moments in every episode of the show. Murray can be seen in every episode of Sesame Street Season 43.
    • Performed by JERRY NELSON
  • Frazzle is the only Sesame Street monster who could be considered legitimately scary. His appearance is frightening, with his large white teeth and angry eyes, and he speaks entirely in growls. However, Frazzle is really lovable and just wants to be loved back, he can't help it if he accidentally scares people. Frazzle has been around since Season 4 of Sesame Street and has performed now-classic songs like "Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange)" and "Frazzle," the latter performed with his band The Frazzletones. Frazzle rarely appears on the show these days, and if he does it's only in the background, but he has a consistent presence in Sesame Street books to this day.
    Well, that's all the material I have for class today. I hope you learned something. No scat, cats! Don't make me bring in the monsters to scare you away.

    The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com 

    Jun 3, 2012

    Grover, Telly Monster on FOX News

    Earlier this week, two of my favorite Muppets appeared on one of my least favorite channels. Grover and Telly Monster appeared on FOX News' Fox and Friends morning show. FOX News and the Muppets have an awkward history together, with their pundits proclaiming the Muppets as communist, flipping out over some innocent Sesame Street segments, and other such things. Anyway... Grover and Telly appeared on the morning show to talk about Sesame Workshop's new USO tour. The reporter interviewing them is fairly inept and they play "The Muppet Show Theme" at the end of the segment... but Grover and Telly handle it well. Enjoy.

    Videos retrieved by our good friends at ToughPigs.com

    The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

    May 11, 2012

    Interview with Muppeteer Martin P. Robinson, Part 2

    We're back again with Sesame Street Muppeteer Martin P. Robinson, performer of Snuffleupagus, Slimey the Worm, and Telly Monster. Be sure to check out Part 1 of our interview before reading on.
    Interview with Muppeteer Martin P. Robinson
    conducted by Ryan Dosier

    RYAN:   Let's move on to Telly. Telly is one of my very favorite characters.

    MARTY:   He is my favorite character. I mean, of all my characters.

    RYAN:   He sort of has to be.

    MARTY:   Well, I don't know, he doesn’t have to be, but he is. He's the most complex character

    He's evolved over the years. When I took him over he was a fairly depressive, psychotic character almost--really down. He has evolved into a much more complex character who can react in a much more complex way. He can still get just as depressed or just as worried, but he can also get just as elated or excited about things. When he changes from one to the other—which he can do on a dime—he does it honestly. There's no emotional subterfuge in him. He just really feels strongly about things and reacts very strongly and instantly to whatever's going on. It makes him very popular with the writers, which is great. He’s useful for a lot of different types of stories. A lot of the writers cite him as one of their favorites as well.

    RYAN:   One of my favorite recent episodes with Telly was “Texas Telly” when he searched for the Golden Triangle.

    MARTY:   Oh that was a good one. We had some fun with that. Joey Mazzarino, who actually wrote it and directed it, we had a bunch of the scenes [from Indiana Jones] on his iPhone. We’d look at the scenes before we shot it. He was trying to match some of the scenes shot for shot and I would see what was going on with the acting moments and try to get as much of that stuff in as we could. It was great fun.

    RYAN:   What about Telly’s relationship with Oscar? That used to be played up a lot more.

    MARTY:   Yeah, yeah, that was kind of old Telly. Telly used to kind of be Oscar’s whipping boy—his tool. It was a pretty sadomasochistic relationship if you look at it. Oscar got to torture him, and Telly somehow found being tortured useful. You know, he considered Oscar his best friend. There is of course a cautionary lesson there. We can all look back at friends we’ve had in our past and think, “Oh God, that really wasn’t a good friend at all, was it? That friend was abusive and did not have my best interest in mind, it was all about him.” I can think back to fifth grade, best friend I had back then—thought he was my best friend—but I’ve had best friends since then and I know what they’re like, and that wasn’t it.

    In the same way that I’ve learned about what a friend is and is not, Telly learned. Actually, one of my favorite things about Telly is his relationship with Baby Bear. Because it’s a really good buddy relationship, they have fun together, and they respect each other, and they learn from each other and they make mistakes, but they’re buddies in the best way. You know that buddy you had when you were 12? It’s that kind of buddy. And he looks back sometimes at his Oscar years and thinks, “What was I doing? Why did I put up with that?” And there have been a few scripts over the years, since Baby Bear, where Oscar has kind of tried to wind him up again, but Telly won’t wind that way. He’s immune to Oscar now.

    RYAN:   This is sort of an obscure reference/question, but there was one appearance you made with the most of the cast, I think, and Fran Brill brought Zoe—the teeny, tiny Zoe puppet. How did Telly react to that?

    MARTY:   You’re talking about the time we had that live thing on stage up at that university in New Jersey or someplace. You’ve seen the video then, the video that the Muppet Wiki people put up?

    RYAN:   Yes, that one. What did he call her? A homunculus?

    MARTY:   A little homunculus Zoe, yeah.

    RYAN:   That always cracks me up!

    MARTY:   When I do Telly, sometimes some pretty wild things pop out of my mouth. I go to my Telly place and I free associate, and you know Telly has some pretty unusual ideas about things, and I guess I do as well. Anyone who tells you that the puppet character is not the puppeteer’s character is just lying to you. Or they’ve just gone so far into the… I wouldn’t say up their backside, but you know what I mean. I just tap into my nutty part and Telly comes up with that stuff.

    When I go to Telly, which I can go to immediately, he has certain fears. When a friend of his—for whatever reason the producers decided to do that, and they’ve since undone it—but for whatever reasons, it wasn’t Telly’s reasons. And Telly can’t look at that and not comment on it because something happened and needs to be noticed, he can’t just brush it under the rug.

    For years—and there’s still a twinge of it left—Telly had a fear of the Count, because he thought that the Count was the undead and was going to suck his blood. He’d seen Dracula movies and so he wasn’t sure what was going on there. It colors his relationships with characters. I have a background story for Telly. What his childhood was like, what his parents are like, how he was treated and how he reacts to things and that flavors how he looks at the world.

    RYAN:   What does Sesame Street mean to you?

    MARTY:   Ah, that old one. The one that really has no answer. It’s kind of home, personally. It’s where I go to be with some of my best friends and laugh my butt off all day long—that’s my job. My wife is one of the writers there, so she comes in and we speak the same language as far as work goes. She has her side of it and I have my side of it. We’re entering into her busy season now, my busy season will be in the fall after she’s written what she’s going to write. It works out well that way. I’ve been very pleased and proud to have that kind of work consistency with something that’s profound and meaningful and has never gotten tiresome whatsoever. I love my work with Sesame International that I’ve done and all the traveling.

    There are those aspects of it—all those kind of practical, human aspects, what I think you’re really asking is what is the deeper meaning to me. As far as the show goes, it’s really great to have my job and my work be something that is of substantial meaning to humanity. There’s no question that I am influencing kids’ lives in a positive way, no question whatsoever. That’s not just my crazy opinion; it’s hundreds of millions of people’s crazy opinion. Likewise my work with Sesame International, and doing that all over the world… I have personally made huge differences in people’s lives, by the puppeteers that I’ve trained and hired and set loose upon the children of their countries.

    Sesame has given a really strong anchor of profundity and meaning to my life so that I don’t worry about that. We kind of worry, as humans, whether you’ve made a difference, whether what you’re doing really counts. Being involved with the show, I know what I’m doing counts, so I can kind of relax in a certain way; it’s kind of weird. I don’t worry about that stuff anymore so I’m kind of relaxed in my personal life, which means I’m a better husband, a much better father, a better human being than I would be otherwise if I was all bunged up with worrying about my dumb job. I think anyone could do that with any job that you really love and that you consider a useful, honorable thing. It doesn’t have to be wiggling dollies on Sesame Street, it just happens to be what I do and I really love what I do. The feedback, the positive feedback, is great.

    RYAN:   That’s just incredible. I think all of that makes so much sense because what you do does make such a difference to so many people. It’s mind boggling to think about. I think it’s just amazing.

    MARTY:   Yeah. God, we have fun! It’s such hard work. It is so hard. Anyone who thinks that they want to be a puppeteer, it’s so much fun... yeah, but it is just astoundingly difficult. It’s not for the faint of heart. When you’re in a studio that costs $20,000 a minute or whatever it costs to produce with a studio full of the best equipment in the world, and the most highly trained people in the world, and all the people who support the show that aren’t actually in the studio… When you’re in there and you’ve got a puppet on your hand and all the cameras are focused on you and the guy says 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and points at you, man, you’ve gotta deliver. You can’t be thinking about the weight of the world on your shoulders, or what it costs per second for production time, or everything that’s gone into it. You’ve got to think about what your intent is, who your character is, where you’re going with the scene, that you’ve done your homework, that you know what’s going on. When that finger points at you after 1, it’s a huge responsibility.

    RYAN:   I imagine that has to be some strange mix of freeing, very liberating, but also very serious, you have to get it done.

    MARTY:   Yeah, oh yeah. It’s the weight of the world, it’s very serious. What makes it crazy is that you take it seriously, but you can’t take it seriously. You gotta free your mind, take the serious things into consideration—as in you’ve done you’re homework and you know what you need to know to get the job done. To get the job done you’ve got to jump into joy, into this positive good zone. I say it to every puppeteer I’ve ever trained: If you’re not having a good time doing it, nobody’s gonna have a good time watching it.

    Watching those guys do Stuffed and Unstrung, that’s just astounding to watch. It’s everything I was talking about times a thousand for that type of thing when you don’t have a script and you don’t know what you’re partner’s gonna do, and you go ahead and jump into it with all you’re worth anyway.

    RYAN:   And in that case you don’t really even know your character that well.

    MARTY:   Right! You’ve gotta invent your character, it’s just amazing. I trained with them for awhile and it was some of the most difficult training I’ve ever done. It was just mind boggling how frightening that was, which probably kept me from the place where I was free with it. I was just too concerned. It’s just astoundingly difficult.
    Check back next Friday for our third and final installment of our interview with Martin P. Robinson where we discuss almost everyone he works with, share some stories, and a whole lot more.

    The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

    May 4, 2012

    Interview with Muppeteer Martin P. Robinson, Part 1

    Today we have the start of yet another wonderful interview here on The Muppet Mindset. Earlier this week I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down for a phone call with veteran Sesame Street Muppeteerr Martin P. Robinson, performer of Telly Monster, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Slimey the Worm, and many others. Marty was kind enough to chat with me at length about his career, his characters, and his co-workers. At Marty's request, the phone interview is being presented here transcribed for you to read. This the first of a three part interview, so be sure to check back next week and the following week for even more wonderful insights from the mind of Marty.

    Interview with Muppeteer Martin P. Robinson
    conducted by Ryan Dosier

    RYAN:      Greetings Muppet fans, it’s Ryan Dosier here once again for another interview. This time I’ve got one of the most talented and long-standing performers on Sesame Street: Martin P. Robinson. He performs Telly Monster and Mr. Snuffleupagus and Slimey the Worm and quite a few others, and we’ve got him here to ask him a few questions. Hi Marty!

    MARTY:    Thank you for that lovely introduction.

    RYAN:    Oh, you’re welcome! Let’s see... where should we start here?

    MARTY:    How can I serve you today?

    RYAN:    Um, do you have pizza? I’d love some.

    MARTY:    No, no I’ve raised three kids and I’ve got two more coming along and I’ve had my fill of pizza. If I never see another pizza for the rest of my life, I’d be okay. Plus, after all the work on Ninja Turtles we had pizza coming out of our ears.

    RYAN:    (laughs) I can imagine! Well I guess first we should start off by finding out a little bit about how you got started with Sesame Street and with Jim Henson and the Muppets all together.

    MARTY:    I had been in puppetry before that. I graduated from acting school and got some jobs with a puppet company. I was qualified because it was a touring company and I had a driver’s license so I was their man! I learned puppetry... you know, you go out on tour and you learn the puppetry or you go mad.

    I started off with marionettes and then worked for Bill Baird’s marionettes after that. He always does a lot of different styles in his shows. He always mixed up marionettes with rod puppets, with handpuppets, with shadow puppets, blacklight puppets... whatever it took to tell the story. I had had some experience with hand puppetry by then and by the time I was asked to audition for the Muppets... I had sent them a picture and a resume. Back in the days when you actually had an 8x10 photo with a resume stapled onto the back! That was the extent of our electronic resumes.

    And I sent it in, got a call about a year later. They were putting together kind of a cattle call just to see what was out there. And I got invited to a big audition for... I don’t know, a couple hundred people at the audition. Every day that you were invited back, there were fewer and fewer people until there were about ten of us and then there were five of us and it turned out that they were casting for Snuffleupagus. Jerry Nelson had hurt his back doing the character so they had somebody in the front of the character that wasn’t doing the voice and Jerry was doing it remotely, which isn’t the best way to do puppetry. The key to Muppets is you’re performing the little guy as you’re saying the lines, as you’re feeding the character, as you’re interacting with whoever you’re with. You know, it’s on the spot stuff. Plus, that way they had three people if they hired someone to go in, they only had to hire two people! So it made sense in a lot of ways.

    So anyway, I was hired to do Snuffy in ’81 and then worked into a bunch of other characters from there. It was actually kind of lucky the way I did it because most folks, when they start at Sesame or, you know, at most jobs... they do right hands and background characters for years. Richard Hunt used to say... if anyone complained about not getting any characters, he would remind them that he did right hands for eight years before he was allowed to touch a main character.

    While I was doing Snuffy I did Telly’s right hand for about three or four years until I took over the character. I did background character stuff, the way it was normally done, but I had this lead character too which was really nice.

    But it worked out. As I told you before, I can’t look at anything I did in my first eight years. I was just competent enough to not get myself fired. (laughs) Which is sometimes all it takes until you really do learn the job. I finally kind of got the key to performing, which is no big secret. The key to performing is you just don’t worry about what you look like or how you’re coming across or what people might think of you. You just go for it, go for it one hundred percent. There’s all kinds of things that are available to you that were bumming you out and you think, “Oh, geez! Is that gonna look crazy? Is that gonna go too far?” No. There’s no such thing as too far. I’ve proved that over and over again in my life--in my professional and personal life. (laughs) And so it worked out! I took over Telly and some other characters when Brian Muehl quit and I’ve got a nice little stable of characters now. I’m very happy with that.

    That’s how it worked out in a nutshell.

    RYAN:    Could you talk a little bit about working with Jim Henson and Jim Henson in general?

    MARTY:    You know... it’s a lovely, kind of tough subject. You know we still miss him, it’s still like, “Oh, God what if, what if?” Working with him was always great. Whenever he came in it was something special. He was there at the auditions and it was great. Just great having Jim be the one that saw my work and invited me to come be a part of the company. It didn’t matter what project he was working on, what film, what big huge deals... when he came to Sesame Street he was like--I mean, I didn’t know Jim in the old days, but I got a feeling that that’s what it was. People who knew him in the old days refer to it that way. He was just another one of the guys, one of the grunt puppeteers just having a ball, doing what he did when he started it all.

    The people he surrounded himself with, as Jon Stone said at Jim’s funeral--Jon Stone was one of the great movers and shakers and creative forces behind Sesame... one of my personal favorite people in the entire world, so anything he said meant something to me. But he said that the people that Jim surrounded himself with... it was no accident that we were there, that were there because he wanted us to be there because he had chosen us in one way or another. It was a bunch of crazy people with somewhat the same mindset as him and he was certainly iconoclastic in the way that he was and crazy and nutty and irreverent in that way.

    You had to be on your game when he was there. You absolutely had to be on your game! But one the whole points of being on your game is have fun. Not being tense, just being free. Free to react to something new and throw something new back and to come up with something a little better, perhaps, then it was intended to. Jim always told us that if you only do a script the way it’s written, the way it’s presented to you, then we haven’t done our job. That our job was to make it better, make it more, certainly make it physically funny and translate the written word into physical comedy, physical communication of useful... type. (laughs)

    It was great working with him. He was a man of very few words. It’s kind of legendary the way he would look at bits afterwards. He’d nod a little bit and if he said, “Hmmm...” that means you were doing it again. If he nodded a little bit more and said, “Mmmm! Nice.” then we might keep that one. And if he said, “Mmm! Lovely!” then you were movin’ on! He taught by example in a lot of ways to young ones that had a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of experience.

    RYAN:    Well... sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum--not the opposite really, just another spectrum entirely--

    MARTY:    Who was the worst person I worked with?! Let me see...

    RYAN:    (laughs) Well I was going to ask about Richard Hunt, so...

    MARTY:    Oh! He was... I wouldn’t say on the other side of the spectrum, but he was definitely on another spectrum! Again, one of my favorite people in the entire world. Really influential. Richard, on the other hand, was there all the time. He was rough on new puppeteers. Strangely enough, he didn’t have a huge amount of respect for puppetry. He kind of wanted to do other things himself, and you really had to prove yourself to him. Anyone who was a real Muppet enthusiast and wanted to be there to meet “Mr. Henson” and “work Muppets,” he wouldn’t give you the time of day if you were that kid. If you showed any whiff of ego around him, that’s it, he would knock you down. Certainly with the things he said and ‘cause he was a big powerful man, he would stick an elbow in your eye just as soon as look at you.

    If you passed muster with him then you were golden, then you were part of the fun. He was great. It was Little Shop of Horrors, I think, that got him to actually speak to me. He kind of realized that I had something going besides being a little Muppet fan. I was always a big fan of the Muppets. I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was a kid... but I wasn’t a huge Muppet fan. I was really honored to have an audition with them and I was really honored to be hired by them, but it wasn’t a life-long ambition. When Richard came backstage after he saw Little Shop of Horrors, he just loved the show and saw that it was something very much involved in puppetry but not Muppet style.

    RYAN:    I want to talk a little bit about Snuffy now, because he’s one of my favorites and I’m sure he’s one of yours.

    MARTY:    Well sure.

    RYAN:    There have to be some physical challenges with that massive costume, puppet going on over all the time. Could you talk a little bit about that?

    MARTY:    Yeah... it’s big and heavy and dark. And dangerous to a certain extent, when I started it Jerry Nelson had hurt his back doing it. I knew this and didn’t want to hurt my back doing it, so I readjusted the weight so that it was on my hips and legs. It has a metal frame backpack/harness inside... I think it’s like a steady-cam harness that they put in there. I adjusted it so that the belt was around my hips, on my pelvis, so that most of the weight was from there down, not on my spine at all. Maybe twenty-five, thirty percent of the weight was on my shoulders and back, just enough to steer it and move it and to focus the head.

    As long as you respect the creature, he’ll do good by you. I always warm up before I go inside so that I’m stretched out and warmed up. I don’t mind working hot. Working hot is much better than working cold, it’s much safer. Once I heat up in a scene, as soon as I come out I bundle up with a thick warm up jacket to stay warm so that I don’t get cooled off before I go back inside again. We’re in and out. You do a rehearsal, you’re out. Sometimes we’ll do a rehearsal then shoot it and then come out. My record for being inside is five and a half hours... that was during the Follow That Bird film. Which was on a film schedule and it was in a really difficult position. It’s not a record I intend to beat ever. Generally we don’t stay in more than twenty minutes to half an hour, forty five minutes sometimes. Usually it’s fifteen minutes or less, then we hang it up.

    Even though I have more of the weight in front, I can stand up straight and I’m in a stronger position to carry it. Bryant Young, who does the back, has less weight, but he has to do it with rounded shoulders and a curved back. He has to really be careful. But he’s an accomplished dancer and choreographer, so he’s never had any injuries in there either. Actually, he’s been doing it longer than I have. He did it the season before I started. He’s a great guy, he’s the unsung hero of the whole creature. He’s got to know when I’m gonna go and know which foot I’m gonna start with, keep the pull going to the back, and I kind of keep the pull going to the front... Anyway, it’s a tough job, but we really enjoy each others company.

    We have monitors inside of course so we can see what the camera see. I also can see out the mouth for when we get off camera. Because, of course, once you get off camera you’d be blind to keep from trampling children or tripping over wires.

    RYAN:    That would be a good thing not to do.

    MARTY:    Yeah... “Child Trampled by Snuffleupagus.”

    RYAN:    I can see the headlines now! What’s your favorite aspect of Snuffy’s character and his personality?

    MARTY:    Oh, he’s very sweet, very unassuming. He doesn’t have a lot of subterfuge going on. He’s just kind of a simple character. He doesn’t see a lot of cruelty, he just doesn’t understand it, doesn’t see it, doesn’t experience it. So like Oscar, is cruel as he wants to Snuffy and Snuffy does not get it. And you know, it’s naïve to a certain extent, I wouldn’t say stupid, but one might. He’s just young and very naïve.

    I love his relationship with Bird, of course. The two of them... Jon Stone used to call them “Dumb and Dumber.” Bird would say something just patently useless and Snuffy would go, (Snuffy voice) “Hmm, sounds like a good idea to me, Bird!” And they’d go off following this bad train of thought. That’s the kind of stuff I like.

    But Snuff kind of has what I typify as tunnel vision. He’s kind of straight forward and things are a certain way and there’s a lot of things that he just doesn’t see.

    RYAN:    How about your favorite Snuffy moments on the show? I know there are so many, but...

    MARTY:    Snuffy moments... wow. Goodness. You know, they put Snuffy in a lot of crazy situations--bounce him on trampolines, and making believe he’s a cloud and flying off, and doing all kinds of nutty things to him. My favorite stuff is the really good character stuff with Bird, when he and Bird are going off on flights of fancy sometimes. We did a show where they were kind of making believe they were explorers and they were just going down the street and they would look at the trees and they saw a fancy tree, or they’d look at a bug and oh! It’s this great incredible bug. And every person that they’d meet they’d look at them in a whole new way. Very sweet, very typical of that age type of show.

    RYAN:    What about Slimey? Because here we’ve got you performing the largest the character and the very smallest.

    MARTY:    The largest Muppet and the smallest! It’s a fun range to do, especially when you do it all in one day. Although there have been some scripts with Slimey and Snuffy together then I have to give up Slimey. I can’t ask anyone else, of course, to climb in the Snuffleupagus.

    Slimey’s a very sweet character I really enjoy. It’s the simplest little thing, just those two tiny little wires on the bottom with a little mouth trigger. And he’s essentially silent, with little squeaks and pops and stuff that he does. The fun of him is getting all that character out of a puppet that is the simplest thing in the world--and then with no voice. So he’s really kind of eloquent in his silence, but his moves have to be very clearly, very specific. Just spot-on with the tiniest little twitches in your fingers to convey his thought process. It’s quite a challenge going from a whole-body experience with Snuff--two people’s whole body--to just the tiniest little twitch of a wire, just a millimeter up and a millimeter twist to the left, look to the camera with the tiniest little mouth twitch just means a whole lot. You have to be very specific, very clear, very clean with the movements.

    But character-wise, the best thing he does on the show, I think, is reveal Oscar. He reveals Oscar’s golden heart. ‘Cause Oscar just loves him, he’s devoted to him. Sometimes he treats him off-handedly kind of like a pet, but he’s not, he’s a child. In reality, Oscar is sometimes almost Slimey’s child, because Slimey’s sophisticated in his own way, but Oscar treats him like a little kid, reads for him, tucks him in. He just cares for him more than anything. It really reveals Oscar’s inner warmth, which is great. It’s the best service he can provide pretty much.

    In years past they would always do big, huge Slimey episodes--whole series of episodes. The whole going to the moon thing was a whole series of episodes, at least ten shows in that season were devoted to that. The whole process of being chosen, and the whole training process, and being shot up, then going there, and Tony Bennett singing “Slimey to the Moon” on the rooftop of the building to the kids, and then the whole thing of them being there, then the splashdown coming back--those were all separate shows. We did the big rock concert with worms, we did the big worm World Cup match, we did the winter Olympics, we did... God, so many worm things. Oh! Stock-car racing--just major, major worm shows. We haven’t done so many recently. In the last couple of years there haven’t been too many Slimey shows--certainly none of that magnitude.
     Check back next week for Part 2 of our interview with Martin P. Robinson where he discusses Telly at length and a whole lot more.

    This interview would not have been possible if not for the kindness of Patrick Cotnoir, to whom I owe immeasurable thanks. Thank you, Patrick! Hope you're enjoying it.

    The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com