1 The Muppet Mindset: March 2010

Mar 31, 2010

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Gladys the Cow

Written by Ryan Dosier.


Performed by...
Richard Hunt (1973-1992)
Jennifer Barnhart (2003-present)

First known appearance...
Sesame Street - Sesame Street Newsflash: Hickory Dickory Dock (1975)

Most recent known appearance...
Sesame Street Season 36 Episode 4085 "Healthy Foods Game Show" (2006)

Famous quote...
"I'm proud, proud, proud to be a cow!"

Good friend...
Old MacDonald (They're udderly inseparable!)

Gladys is a bovine diva who could compete with the great Ethel Merman herself. (No, Miss Merman, that isn't a crack at your weight. Please don't call me Mickey Mouse.) Gladys' forte is her vocal prowess and ability to carry a truly moo-ving tune (last "moo" pun, promise). She fancies herself a grand opera singer but has never appeared on the operatic stage (although she does already have the horns for the part).

Gladys' most famous moment is her performance of the song "I'm Proud to Be a Cow." In the song, she illustrates numerous reasons why she has pride in her species. This includes her pride of her utter like her father (no, her mother) along with her rich and creamy butter.

In her prime, Gladys was a part of the large ensemble cast of Sesame Street throughout the '70s and '80s. She would occasionally appear in street stories, but more often than not she appeared in various inserts such as Kermit the Frog's lectures, Guy Smiley's game shows, and Prairie Dawn's pageants.

After Richard Hunt's death, Gladys was retired until 2003 when she began to reappear more frequently as part of the ensemble cast once again, this time performed by Jeniffer Barnhart. One of her notable roles in this period was in the premiere episode of Season 34 where she tried to sing her karaoke rendition of "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." Unfortunately, the rest of the cast took up too much time and poor Gladys never got a chance to shine.

Well, aside from being a huge Richard Hunt presence on the show (which some would argue is part of what the show has been missing), Gladys is also a huge presence in and of herself. It doesn't get more in-your-face than a pushy, loud, opera singing cow diva.

Gladys also adds another strong female character to the mix. Gladys is right up there with Maria as a strong female character (albeit strong for different reasons). Besides, is there anything better than opening up the Pandora's Box of cow puns?

Quite frankly, I just love Gladys as a character and she deserves to be moo-ved back into the forefront and milked for the udderly uncowardly performer she is! (What? Too cheesy?)

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

Mar 30, 2010

The Muppet Madness Tournament: The Elite 8

As you all know by now thanks to my weekly reminding, The Muppet Madness Tournament is in full-swing. From the minds who bring you The MuppetCast and ToughPigs, this tournament is proving to be one of the most-visited and successful Muppet fan-made ventures in years.

This week brings us The Elite 8--the semi-semi-finals for those of you who have never existed near a television that gets ESPN in the month of March. The final eight Muppets on the bracket are Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Wembley Fraggle, Sprocket, Skeeter, and Bear (from the Big Blue House, don't ya know). How's your bracket doing?

But this week there's also a special twist: The Resurrection Round. This week only, you can vote for any one Muppet who has already been eliminated. So if you're still reeling over the loss of Hoggle, or think that Telly Monster deserves a second shot at the title, or you have sense and know that Gonzo deserves a better seeding than he got... now is your chance to prove it!

So what are you sitting here reading this for? Go vote! (Unless you've already voted in the past 12 hours... In which case, wait 12 hours and then go vote!)

Special thanks to Steve Swanson of The MuppetCast, and Ryan Roe and Joe Henes of ToughPigs for organizing this fantastic tournament!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

Mar 29, 2010

Muppet Comic Mondays: On the Road #3

The Muppet Show Comic Book
On the Road #3
Comic Book Review

James Gannon - So it comes to this. The Muppet’s grand road tour comes to an end as the theater gets rebuilt in about 2-3 months or so (comic book time). On the Road #3 actually isn’t, as you’ll see shortly. 

The story starts with a large, mysterious crate gets delivered to the Muppet Theater (in a Pops cold opening worthy of the show). That box winds up greeting the gang as soon as they get back, roughly in the 5th page in.  In other words, On the Road 3 takes place in the theater. Anyway, the box is addressed to Fozzie, and everyone is dying to crack it open to find out what’s inside. Rizzo especially, he’s the one that starts it.  And you can expect the same great sketches we’ve seen in issues past - Pigs in Space, Veterinarian’s Hospital, at the Dance – breaking up the action.

There are two major highlights in this issue to point out. Gonzo decides not to return to the theater by the Muppet bus, but rather a marathon of his own crazy, stunt obsessed design. Hosted by Louis Kazagger to boot. I’ve always liked the idea of taking the action out of the theater in issues that take place there, ever since Miss Piggy’s Story. And of course, if you miss Gonzo’s wacky stunts, then you’ll be very happy with his role in the issue. The second highlight is a Muppet Labs sketch focusing on the Schroedinger’s Cat theorem (basically if you put something in a box unobserved, it creates two possibilities that can exist inside). Rather than demonstrating one of their new gizmos that doesn’t work properly, we have Dr. Honeydew ponder this quantum theory that goes no less awry. I find that a complete step up from the original Muppet Show sketch, taking everything to the next level. Makes you wish the show actually had sketches like that.

Not that this isn’t another great issue, but somehow it feels that they arrived back at the studio too soon. The story arc is only 3 issues long (as opposed to the normal 4 issues) due to the fact that it was just easier to publish 3 issues and the Pigs in Space issue 0 in one graphic novel. Otherwise, they’d have to omit issue zero completely from the reprint, get through an amazing amount of complicated red tape to get a special 5 issue novel in, or have and uneven flow of 3 parts of one arc, and one part of another. Even considering that, it seems that everyone should have got to the theater at the end of this issue, or the start of the next arc. It really seemed to do the Muppets good to go on tour, giving each issue a different feel from the usual series. And I especially liked (as I said last time) the non-traditional rebus and alphabet type comics about Fozzie going solo. I really hope we can see that change of pace in future arcs.

Mar 28, 2010

Interview with Muppeteer Matt Vogel, Part 2

We're back once again with the wonderful Matt Vogel. Today we discuss the Muppets! Don't forget to read part 1 if you haven't already.

Matt Vogel Interview

Part 2

RYAN:   We’re back with the incredible Matt Vogel! Welcome back, Matt. Did you remember to bring your punch card? Only eight more visits and you get a free smoothie!

MATT:   I’m not sure if this is actually a deal or a rip-off, but I carry my card with me everywhere—just in case.

RYAN:   Since we covered Sesame Street in part one, I thought we could dedicate part two to your work with the Muppet gang. Most recently you’ve taken on the roles of Jerry Nelson’s Muppet characters, correct?

MATT:   That’s true. 

RYAN:   What was the recast process for these characters like? Was Jerry involved at all? Who were the big decision makers?

MATT:   The Muppets Studio asked me to meet with Jerry and talk about his characters.  David Rudman was also there to hear Jerry talk about Richard Hunt.  It was very cool being in the room for that—kind of like a master class in character.  He talked about Floyd’s roots and his take on The Electric Mayhem along with some insight about Robin and some of his other characters.  He talked about The Muppet Show days and the genesis of both his and Richard’s characters.  It think it was handled in the right way, since Jerry wasn’t performing those characters anymore, but Muppets wanted to start using them again with consistent performers.

RYAN:   Which of Jerry’s characters is the most difficult for you to perform? Which one comes most naturally?

MATT:   Well, for some reason I’m comfortable with Floyd.  I am in no way a hip and cool dude, but I connect with him.  I see a lot of Jerry in Floyd and I adore Jerry so I try to emulate him as Floyd, I suppose.  Crazy Harry’s a blast to perform—get it?  Lew Zealand is rough because of where it’s placed vocally, but it’s still fun.  However, the most difficult for me is Robin.  It’s such a delicate balance between the kid that he is and not making him too kiddie.  Plus, the voice is so much like Jerry’s that it makes it nearly impossible to get there.  Sometimes the more “character voice” it is, the easier it is to do.  But like anything that you strive to be really good at, you have to practice and work on it, which I do with all of the voices…but mostly Robin.

RYAN:   I’ve been consistently impressed by your performance of Floyd since Studio DC. In fact, for awhile, a lot of fans thought it was Jerry performing him. Will we be seeing Floyd return more as part of the main gang like he was back on The Muppet Show?

MATT:   Well, the Electric Mayhem, in general, has recently gotten out a lot—which is great.  I love those characters and as a band they can play any style of music that’s put in front of them.

RYAN:   As their performer, do you feel that there’s been a conscious decision within The Muppets Studio to bring back fan-favorites like Robin, the Electric Mayhem, and others?

MATT:   I do think that it’s conscious decision for The Muppets Studio to bring back Jerry and Richard’s  characters and finding someone logical to take care of those characters so they have consistency of character like they once did.

RYAN:   Can you talk to us a little bit about “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Did the Electric Mayhem get paid that night?

  Do they ever get paid?  Shooting “Bohemian Rhapsody” was cool because we got to sing to the actual Queen backing tracks!  I love how the video we shot tries to replicate the original Queen video.   

RYAN:   Bill Barretta revealed that you performed Lew Zealand in the video. How many takes did you spend trying to hit Beauregard in the eye with Lew’s fish?

MATT:   I never had to actually hit Beauregard while I was puppeteering Lew, but I did have to hit Beau with the fish on his shot.  We did it a couple of different ways where I’d hit him in the face at a couple of different times, but the schedule was pretty fast paced, so there wasn’t a lot of time to mess up or elaborate on what was happening in each shot.

RYAN:   As the new performer of Jerry Nelson’s characters, did you perform Dr. Strangepork in the video? Do you know why he was so randomly included? (Not that that’s a bad thing.)

  I did perform Dr. Strangepork in the video.  He was one of the ones that Jerry talked about in the meeting I had with him.  I think he was in the video because they were trying to get as many recognizable characters to the fans in there somewhere but I’m looking forward to doing something with him some day.

RYAN:   What about Robin? Have you done much performing with him other than what we’ve seen? Have you and Steve tried playing around with Robin and Kermit?

MATT:   Steve and I got to play as Kermit and Robin for a couple of shots in the “Give a Day Get a Disney Day” commercials outside Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and we shot a piece in the Pirates of the Caribbean with Kermit and Robin in a boat looking at rat pirates.

   One of the very great Muppet appearances in years was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in December. You, of course, played Robin as he sat atop Jimmy’s shoulder. Did Jimmy specifically request that? Do they keep in touch?

MATT:   I think they were trying to recreate the feel of the John Denver & The Muppets bit and Robin was on John Denver’s shoulder so that’s where I ended up putting him.  Jimmy didn’t request it, but he was a good sport letting me put a puppet on his shoulder for so long.  As for keeping in touch, Jimmy and Robin have tried to iChat but since Robin spends most of his time inside a plastic bag in a box it makes it kind of difficult.

RYAN:   Another great, recent appearance was on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Did Crazy Harry mess up Ty’s hair when he blew up the house?

MATT:   I’m not sure about Ty’s hair, but it was cool shooting that scene.  We were actually right there when the explosives went off—it was very cool.  The whole experience was very moving…seeing a family that’s loved by the community get a brand new place to live.  And I was amazed at how the cast and crew on the show could completely demolish and build a brand new home in that small amount of time and then be off to the next city for the next one.

RYAN:   What about the impromptu Muppet performance for the volunteers and the family? How did that come about and how much planning and rehearsal time did you have beforehand?

MATT:   I think it was a last minute decision that Extreme Makeover wanted to do for the people of the community who’d volunteered.  We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time and we were learning the song in the van on the way over.  Paul DiMeo from the show learned the piano part about an hour before showtime.

RYAN:   Talk to us a little bit about filming for the “Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.” promotions. Were the people in the Disney Parks in awe of you guys, or did they just push past you to get to “it’s a small world”?

MATT:   It was great shooting in the park—we were right in the middle of Main Street USA in a firetruck and people were genuinely surprised and happy to see the Muppets.  I was in Sweetums so I got a good look at the crowds that were gathering and it was pretty amazing.  The best part about shooting at Disneyland was shooting after hours.  We ended up shooting in the belly of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at 4AM—it’s unusual to see motionless animatronic pirates under work lights.  We also shot on the Dumbo ride before the park opened and I had to take some Dramamine to keep from throwing up on the chickens I was performing.  I get a little motion sickness now and again.

   The Muppets also recently appeared on America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the Electric Mayhem finally got a gig. How did they score that?

MATT:   Zoot knows a guy who met a guy who’s friends with someone who knows a lady in production who’s been to the set once.  Or something like that.

RYAN:   Did the Mayhem get to watch the videos on the show? If so, which one was Floyd’s favorite?

  Floyd would probably just say, “It’s a gig, man.  Let’s play!”

RYAN:   I’ve always wondered if the Muppeteers collect any Muppet merchandise. Do you?

MATT:   I used to be a huge collector of Muppet stuff before I was a Muppeteer.  I am not kidding, I had an entire bedroom chock full of anything and everything I could get my hands on back when I was younger.  I’ve since parted with a lot of those things, but I still have a few items I really love.

RYAN:   Aside from Muppet work, you’re also a very accomplished musician. Can you tell us a little bit about your work in music?

MATT:   I wouldn’t say I’m an accomplished musician, but I do write songs and play in a band called The Mighty Weaklings.  We started out playing in bars around New York City back in 2000 and recorded two independent recordings, including a kid’s CD called You Can’t Rock Sittin’ Down (available on iTunes) which I’m very proud of.  We had some special guests on the record including Jerry Nelson on a track called “The Grumpy Song”.  The most recent thing the band has done is record the theme song to an hilarious internet interview show called Side By Side by Susan Blackwell on Broadway.com.

RYAN:   You also performed an Anything Muppet on one of my favorite shows, 30 Rock, awhile ago. What was it like to get to work on that show?

  That was a really fun shoot.  I got to work with my friends Joey Mazzarino and Carmen Osbahr and we had as much time as we wanted, which was nice.  It was cool to be on the set of a show that I watch every week—and more than that—to actually be performing on that show.

RYAN:   How do you feel about how Disney is currently handling the Muppets? Do you feel that they’re finally on the right track with them?

  I’m excited about where Muppets is heading.  I think they’re in a good place now at Disney and that there are legitimate plans to push the Muppets in all different mediums.  I’d like to think that it will mean a lot more Muppet stuff happening soon.

RYAN:   And, finally, what can Muppet fans expect from The Muppets Studio in 2010?

  Well, I can tell you what I hope from The Muppets Studio in 2010…I hope we’ll get to do some more Muppets.com videos and YouTube shorts and of course, I hope we’ll be shooting a movie for a 2011 release. 

RYAN:   Matt, thank you so much for doing this interview with me. It’s been a true honor for me to have this opportunity. I guess I should ask if you have any questions for me since I’ve been grilling you for so long. I’ll answer whatever you may ask! (Unless it’s about that penguin incident in the diner three years ago… I’m not permitted to speak of that.)

  Where’d you get that shirt?

RYAN:   I got it from my tailor. Don't you just love this outfit? I really can’t thank you enough, Matt! It’s been a great pleasure getting to interview you. Take care! Congratulations on 40 years of Sesame Street and the Muppet Revolution! If there is ever anything The Muppet Mindset can do for you, we’re always here to accommodate!

MATT:   Likewise, Ryan.  Thanks for having me.

Thanks again to Matt Vogel for this wonderful interview! Remember, for more information on Matt, be sure to check out http://www.mattvogel.com!

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

Mar 27, 2010

Sesame Street Saturdays: A SU-Per Sandwich

Well, it's Sesame Street Saturday again. Shockingly, until last night I had absolutely nothing for an article today. So, what did I do? I did what all great journalists do: I opened up my pictures folder and just started looking at all of the random pictures I have. While I was doing so I came across one picture that I absolutely had to share with my readers:

Are you still laughing? Okay, I'll wait...

You good? Oh good. Now! I have NO idea where this picture is from, nor do I have any idea where I found it. (Don't you just love Google searches?) But a quick Muppet Wiki search tells me that it was taken at the Stage Deli  in New York City. I guess they named the hero sandwich after Super Grover way back in 2002 so he and Maria went to check it out. (And make the most amazing faces ever.)

I guess the where and why aren't as important as the laughter that ensues from seeing this picture. And really, that's the magic of Sesame Street.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

Mar 26, 2010

Interview with Muppeteer Matt Vogel, Part 1

Today on The Muppet Mindset, I'm proud to debut my interview with Muppeteer Matt Vogel. Matt is a principal puppeteer on Sesame Street and has recently started working with The Muppets as a principal puppeteer as well. For more information on Matt, be sure to check out http://www.mattvogel.com Now enough about Matt, let's find out more about Matt!

Matt Vogel Interview

Part 1

RYAN:   First of all, Matt, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview with me. Second, welcome to The Muppet Mindset. Make yourself at home! Can I offer you anything? Coffee? Scones? Barbecue ribs?

Thanks, but I never eat and interview.  You go right ahead and dig in, though.

RYAN:   So, before we really get into it, would you mind telling some of the less-obsessed fans out there what they would know you best for? (Of course, I already know what you’re famous for, Mark.)

I’m a principle Muppeteer on Sesame Street (so I do a lot of one-time characters) and I’m Caroll Spinney’s apprentice for Big Bird.  I’m also the assistant puppet captain and a director on the show.  For Muppets, I’ve been taking care of Jerry Nelson’s characters (Floyd, Crazy Harry, Lew Zealand, Robin, Dr. Strangepork, etc.) and I’ve performed Sweetums quite a bit.

RYAN:   How did you first get involved with Sesame Street? Did it take you a while to figure out how to get there?

The funny thing is, I didn’t know that I could actually go there.  I never considered puppeteering something a person could do as a job.  I’d done it as a kid for years as something I loved, but then I got more interested in acting, so puppetry moved to the side for me.  I went to school for acting and made my living as an actor for a little while in Kansas City—where I’m from—but once I moved to New York, the opportunity came my way very early on to be seen by the Muppets as a puppeteer.

RYAN:   It seems that a lot of Muppeteers started out watching the show themselves as kids. Were you a Sesame seed?

Yes I was.  But what really inspired me to be a puppeteer as a kid was The Muppet Show.  Not only did I love watching it and seeing these characters every week, but I was fascinated by what was going on underneath.  Anytime I could see someone’s head or an arm sleeve it intrigued me and got me interested in what was going on.  It inspired me to make my own puppets and do shows for kids in the neighborhood.

RYAN:   Your big claim to fame on Sesame Street is the biggest there is—as Caroll Spinney’s understudy for Big Bird. How did you get that job? Did you have to spell ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ?

I didn’t have to spell it, but I did have to sing a bit of it for the audition.  They were trying to find someone who could do live appearances so that Caroll wouldn’t have to do every one of them.  When I was introduced to Caroll he stopped and said, “Vogel?  Did you know your name means “bird” in German?  This could be the job for you!”  That was a little daunting.  At the audition, he talked a lot about the Bird and his take on him and how Jim Henson had seen him perform at a puppetry festival and asked him to come to New York to talk about the Muppets.  Then I put the puppet on—which was awkward and strange.  I did a little of my “Big Bird impression”—which is all it was at that point.  After that I met with Caroll a few more times and he coached me along—and still does to this day.

   What is it like to perform Big Bird? We’ve all heard Caroll discuss being inside the bird, but I don’t think Muppet fans have heard your perspective yet.

Being inside a puppet is a lot different than just having your arm in one.  You’re performing with your whole body instead of from the elbow up.  It’s hard to get an idea of where you are in the space physically, because the only thing you can rely on is the monitor on your chest that shows the camera cuts.  Not only that, but there’s a disconnect with everyone around you.  No one sees your face, just Big Bird, which can make it difficult to communicate with anyone or know what’s happening on set that I can’t see on the monitor.  I’ve done the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for years now and it’s odd to sit there on the float and not see the crowd.  I hear them and I can look out of the scrim tie Big Bird wears to catch a glimpse, but it’s mostly me looking around inside the puppet trying to keep my arm up for an hour or so with a yellow glow everywhere, while thousands of people are yelling for Big Bird to wave at them.

RYAN:   Big Bird is definitely one of the most famous characters on Sesame Street and arguably one of the most recognizable television characters of all-time. What is it like to take on such an influential character?

Well, now you’ve just freaked me out.  I’ve never thought of it that way before.  I take the responsibility very seriously.  Not only is Big Bird an icon of children’s television but also, I have a huge amount of respect for the work that Caroll has done for over forty years on Sesame Street.  I want to do the best I can to honor that.  Caroll, as you know, plans on performing Big Bird for as long as he can—and he should—he’s the original and to me, he is Big Bird—not just in voice but in heart.  He’s the Bird I grew up with.

RYAN:   Taking on such an iconic character like Big Bird certainly can’t be easy. Not only do you have to match the voice, but the character and heart are equally, if not more important. How difficult is this process for you?

Any time you are taking care of a character for someone else it’s a daunting task.  It’s an ongoing process to keep the character consistent with how everyone knows him.  It’s important to me to keep the character true to what Caroll has taught me from his perspective as the Bird, as well as what I remember from when I watched Sesame Street as a kid.  One thing I have on my side is that the puppet looks exactly like Big Bird—so that helps a little.  But that’s where it stops being easy.  But no matter how diligent you are about remaining faithful to the original performance, bits and pieces of who you are inevitably make their way into your version of the character.

RYAN:   What do you think the most important aspect of Big Bird’s character is?

I think one of the most important aspects of Big Bird is his sense of childlike wonder.  He’s an Everychild.  A very large, yellow Everychild with a penchant for birdseed milkshakes.

  When was your first performance as Big Bird?

My first performance as Big Bird was for a Kmart manager’s convention.  It was a live event and Big Bird appeared in front of a huge letter “K” that slowly spun into position from offstage.  I don’t remember much about it…but I think it may have had something to do with Sesame Street diapers.

RYAN:   One of your first and biggest forays as the Bird was in the “Journey to Ernie” segments. What was the process of filming these like, since green screens were so heavily used?

“Journey to Ernie” was very physical. We did it on blue screen with very little of the cartoon artwork completed when we shot it, so most of the time I had to imagine where the cartoon characters would eventually be and what they would be doing.  Sometimes they would build ramps for me to walk across like a trapeze or different sized panels for me to interact with and move.  It was very challenging, but I had fun.

RYAN:   Sometimes on the show you’re the one inside the Bird puppet and Caroll loops the dialogue later. What is the process of filming these scenes like? Is it more difficult than doing it without a loop?

There are a lot of times when a performer is playing more than one character in a scene and someone else has to puppeteer to pre-recorded lines or do the lines to be replaced later.  If we’re doing a scene where both Big Bird and Oscar are present, Caroll performs the character with the most lines and I puppeteer the other to either Caroll’s pre-recorded line or Caroll throwing the line live on set.

RYAN:   What are some of your favorite Big Bird moments? (They don’t have to be moments you performed.)

I love Caroll’s performance in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  I think it’s a great example of how Big Bird is an Everychild.  He’s curious and thoughtful and a little scared of the unknown and I just think Caroll does a fantastic job.  I was also at the opening of the New Victory Theatre in New York City and Big Bird made an appearance.  I remember at dress rehearsal, he came out and it really looked like Big Bird was looking right at me.  Very cool moment.  For my own work, I’m proud of what we did on “Journey to Ernie” because of the physicality we were able to achieve with a giant yellow puppet.  Also, I did a telethon in Vancouver with Bob McGrath many years ago.  I remember doing a song with Bob and then we had a moment with one of the children at the telethon named Janeece.  It was one of my favorite moments. 

RYAN:   What about your favorite Caroll Spinney moments?

MATT:   I remember working on the floor (as the puppeteers do most of the time on Sesame) and Caroll was sitting in his chair in his orange Big Bird pants.  I’d only been on the show for a couple of seasons and it was very surreal.  I just remember thinking, “I’m here on Sesame Street and that guy is Big Bird!” I’ve  also had the pleasure of directing Caroll for a couple of Street shows in season 39, 40 and 41 and he’s just great to work with and very collaborative.

RYAN:   Have you performed Big Bird off the Street in live performances?

I’ve done lots of live appearances with Big Bird.  We used to do the Lincoln Center Tree Lighting (not the big Rockefeller Tree Lighting but the one up the street).  A lot of times Big Bird would get to sing with a children’s choir or a prominent musician.  The most recent was for the street naming in New York City for the 40th Season of Sesame Street.  (Caroll was there too, but he was standing with Oscar.)

RYAN:   What are the differences between a live performance and a performance on the set?

Apart from the fact that in the live performances there’s an audience…there’s a sense that there are no retakes, which I like.  It raises the stakes a little and keeps you on edge…in a good way.

   You have also performed tons of Anything Muppets on the Street. Do you have any favorites?

MATT:   I loved David Letterguy and Herb the dinosaur.  Hansel is a fun character to play around with.  I did something for next season that I loved so much—it was an ape in an angel outfit singing about acorns (guess what the letter of the day is for that episode).  I did the voice like a child singing the song in falsetto.  It’s kind of odd but I loved it.

RYAN:   You directed the “Murray Has a Little Lamb” segments in recent seasons. What is the process of filming these like?

Joey Mazzarino and I directed “Murray Has a Little Lamb”—as well as the “tune-ins” we did for Season 40.  I love the Murray segments because we got to shoot outside.  Muppets look amazing in sunlight and out in real world surroundings.  It also brings a kind of reality to the characters—like you could go up and touch them.  We’d shoot the scripted “clues” (which were cut for Season 40) on location in the middle of a park or on the street to help launch into the documentary about a school (like baseball school).  For the “doc”, we’d go to the school and film kids doing an activity (playing catch, batting).  We’d come up with a few ideas based on what we’d just shot (batting, running bases, pitching) then  Joey would talk to kids and teachers which played a big part in shaping what the docs would eventually look like.  Sometimes we’d come up with something physical for Murray to do (like run the bases) and figure out on the spot how to do it.  I’m very proud of those.

RYAN:   How well do kids respond to Murray in these segments? They seem to treat him like their best friend.

MATT:   Both kids and adults love Murray when we’re out shooting those.  The first time we were out with Murray not a lot of people knew who he was, but when we shot the “tune-ins” for Season 40, a lot of people and kids knew who Murray was and would come right up to him.  Joey does a great job with Murray and makes him very funny and approachable.

RYAN:   You’ve also directed episodes of the show. What is it like to direct all of these people who you perform with on a daily basis?

I have directed some street stories on Sesame and I love it.  While there is a kind of self-imposed pressure for me to do everything right, there’s huge support from the cast, crew and production.  We all want everyone to do well.  We all have the same goal, which is to create a great story for the show.  I’m pretty easy-going and I like collaboration, so directing my fellow performers is comfortable and conversational.

RYAN:   What is it like to work with great TV icons such as Roscoe Orman, Bob McGrath, Sonia Manzanno, and so on?

MATT:   The human cast of Sesame Street are the unsung heroes of the show.  They’re as much television icons as Big Bird or Elmo.  They’re the anchor for the audience in a lot of ways and they have to put up with the craziness that the Muppets bring.

RYAN:   Are there any Muppet characters that you enjoy performing with more than others? I’m sure Grover is always a thrill to play around with.

I’m a huge Telly/Baby Bear fan.  I think the shows that they are in are always funny and sharp.  But, back to bringing who a performer is to a character—the puppeteers make the characters who they are (not to mention great writing and beautifully built puppets).  When two performers work well together (as in the case of Marty Robinson and David Rudman) that shows through their characters.  And when a script is smart or funny, it raises the bar for everyone and the show shines.

RYAN:   How has Sesame Street changed during your time on the show?

Since I’ve been on Sesame Street, I have seen it change.  But throughout all the changes—condensing the street story, the magazine format, utilizing computer animation—it’s still a show for pre-schoolers learning their ABCs, 123’s and basic concepts of friendship, cooperation and honesty. We have to remember that this show is an experiment.  And in the experiment we teach the same things we did forty years ago, but it’s how we teach those things that has changed to reflect the way kids learn today.

RYAN:   Obviously, tons of celebrities visit Sesame Street every season. Do you have any favorite memories with celebs?

MATT:   The one that I think of right off the bat is the way Garth Brooks was when he came to the Street.  He didn’t have any entourage or a manager with him, it was just Garth Brooks.  He walked in, said hello, shook hands with everyone and was so polite, it was as if he was everyone’s colleague.  When he met my mom who was visiting the set that day, he took off his cowboy hat, shook her hand very respectfully and said, “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”  It was so awesome.

RYAN:   What do you think is the most important message that Sesame Street can give to the next generation?

Respect your elders, darn it—or face the wrath of Elmo!

RYAN:   People are probably always asking you your favorite letter and number and so on… so instead, we thought we’d ask you who your favorite Star Wars character is.

MATT:   It’s so easy to go for Han Solo or Darth Vader so I’m going to say Momaw Nadon…also known as…Hammerhead.  That dude’s weird lookin’.  Um, just to be clear, I had to look up that one.

   And to close off part one of our interview with the fantastic Matt Vogel… Matt, can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

MATT:   I can, but I’d have to kill you.

Photos number 2, 8, and 14 taken by Paul McGinnis.

My immense thanks to Matt Vogel for this fantastic interview! Check out more about Matt at http://www.mattvogel.com/ And be sure to check back at The Muppet Mindset on Sunday for Part 2 of my interview with Matt Vogel when we talk Muppets!

Read Part 2 of our interview with Matt Vogel!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com
The Muppet Whatnot Workshop-Only Available at FAO.com
The Muppet Whatnot Workshop-Only Available at FAO.combanner