THE MUPPETS Comic Con Panel Reveals the Surprisingly Mature Humor of the New Show

     July 13, 2015

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The Muppets are back with a fresh, more grown-up, and modernized take on Muppet humor. If you loved The Muppets as a child, you’re going to love them more as an adult in this new series.

In 1976, Jim Henson’s dream of providing entertainment for both children and adults through his creative passion came true in the airing of The Muppet Show. Hilarious skits and intriguing musical numbers with pigs and frogs and bears and chickens and whatevers (Gonzo reference) filled the screen back to back. Celebrities such as Mark Hamill, John Cleese, Roger Moore, Elton John, Diana Ross, and too many others to mention would guest star on the show to act and sing in the skits as well and might even show themselves in a humorous light the public had not seen. Pretty intriguing for a puppet show.

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Image via Disney

Flash forward to 2015 – almost 40 years. The show has stayed alive in the hearts of many through reruns on several programs and stations over the last few decades. Fans of various age groups have watched the muppets in their movies, shows, or specials at some point in their lives whether they were a kid in the 70’s or 80’s or maybe a college student during the early 2000s – everybody knows the muppets and has developed a nostalgia for the characters. Like many franchises of the “Age of the Reboot,” the time is now ripe for the muppets to come back to the airwaves (and the internet) to tap into that nostalgia that fans have developed over the last four decades.

The lovable characters are coming back in a new show simply called The Muppets which will be aired on ABC.  The series is said to be done in a mockumentary style focusing on the personal lives of characters and also using more modern/adult humor which should prove intriguing to mature audiences.

Collider attended the Comic Con Panel to get a better sense of the show’s new style for the muppets.

Footage

Executive producer Bill Prady showed us an exclusive 10 minute clip explaining that it is not footage from the official show but it is the material they used to convince ABC to do the series. Here are the highlights of footage from that clip:


The scene opens with numerous muppets crowded into a meeting room making a bunch of noise. Enter Kermit the Frog. Kermit tries to get the other muppets’ attention but they don’t acknowledge him. At that point, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew walks up to Kermit to offer his assistance. Kermit accepts and so Honeydew then takes out a freaking taser and tases Beaker. Beaker lets out an elongated scream, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH!” which lasts 5 seconds and then he collapses with Kermit asking, “Is that safe?” All the muppets quiet down and turn their focus to Kermit. Kermit then announces that ABC wants to do a new prime time series starring the muppets.

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Image via Disney

Kermit says, “The show is going to be all about our personal lives, ya know, behind the scenes, at home, our relationships, sort of an adult puppet show.”

All the other muppets love the idea stating they can do documentary style and cut to interviews. But then we hear Gonzo’s voice over the footage, “Cut to interviews?” We then cut to Gonzo being interviewed and criticizing the idea of cutting to interviews. Hi-larious, the crowd roared with laughter.

Then all of the sudden Elizabeth Banks is on screen back at the meeting…it looks like she is braiding one of the muppets’ hair or something and she says, “Uh excuse me, Kermit, what about famous celebrities? Are you planning to have those in the show too?” To which Kermit replies, “Well that’s a good suggestion, do you know anybody?”  Banks, disappointed, says, “…maybe at parties I can ask around.” Kermit responds optimistically, “That would be great!” The audience is rolling in the aisles at this point and we are not even a quarter of the way into the clip yet.

Fozzie Bear breaks the news to Kermit that Miss Piggy is not planning on doing the show. Gonzo says, “Oh she’s just getting back at you for dating Denise.” Cut to Denise, another female pig muppet. Cut back to Kermit and Gonzo. Kermit says, “…I’m attracted to pigs.”


We then see Piggy on a set doing a Civil War genre film with Topher Grace; however Piggy uses a French accent. Kermit and Gonzo come to the set and Piggy does not recognize Gonzo…not because he looks different in any way but because she thinks she is too famous to remember anyone now. So Piggy guesses, “Garry?” to which Gonzo unenthusiastically replies, “Sure let’s go with Garry.” Topher Grace walks up and says he is, “really looking forward to tonight.” Piggy looks at Topher and seductively says, “take a long nap big boy, you need your strength!” Piggy leans Topher back and kisses him and then looks up at Kermit as if to brag about it. The audience is in stiches. Piggy still says she is not going to do the show.

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Image via Disney

Cut to Fozzie with his human girlfriend and her human parents. The dad says, “Your mother and I don’t see how it’s ever going to work out if you and a…” the daughter chimes in, “You can say it Dad, he’s a bear…I do not understand you two. You’re both Sierra Club people. You’re all about saving the wildlife.” The mom responds, “Saving the wildlife, not being intimate with it.”

Cut to Kermit sitting in his car in traffic and he says, “I hate the 405.” The Comic Con San Diego audience starts applauding for this as most of them more than likely have to travel on the California 405 Freeway regularly and can totally relate to the frog at this moment.

Fozzie gets on the phone with Kermit only to overhear his girlfriend’s father say, “If you have children, how will you raise them? Where will they go to the bathroom, in the woods?” Fozzie swings around angrily and says, “Okay that is an offensive stereotype!” Brilliant humor.

Cut to Kermit coming into the studio to where the other muppets, including Pepe the King Prawn and  Rowlf the Dog in an Elizabethan collar (apparently he is not feeling well), are gathering to do some work. Kermit tells them the bad news that Piggy will not be doing the show and without her, the show will be unsuccessful.  Miss piggy not going to be in show. However, Piggy shows up just at that moment, proclaiming her desire to do the show, only to walk smack into a plane of glass being carried by. As she gets up, Kermit asks her what changed her mind to which Piggy responds, “…This is my family, you know…Garry, Tooth Guy, the one over there.” Cut to Zoot looking perplexed by Piggy’s words. We are all rolling in the audience.


Piggy then calls to the other girl muppets to take a selfie. Another modern dose of humor for this franchise.

The clip ends. The crowd went wild with applause.

Panel Highlights

The Panel began with executive producers Bill Prady and Bob Kushell , director Randall Einhorn, and executive producer and Muppet performer Bill Barretta (Pepe and Rowlf).

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Image via Disney

Prady was the first to speak on the panel saying, “I got my start writing for Jim Henson… and a few years ago… I started thinking about putting the Muppets back on television and what Jim would do and I decided if Jim were looking at television today, he’d see the kind of shows that are on like The Office and things like that, and that’s what he’d want to make fun of…it has taken ten years to convince people to do it and now we’re going to do it.”

Kushell started off by telling us about what the characters will be doing on the show. It takes place behind the scenes of Piggy’s talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy. Kermit is the executive producer, Gonzo, Pepe, and Rizzo the Rat are the head writers, Scooter is the talent coordinator, Fozzie is Piggy’s sidekick on air much like Andy Richter is sidekick to Conan O’Brien, Bobo the Bear is the stage manager, and Sam Eagle is the head of broadcast standards for the network.

Einhorn, who is both director and executive producer, is jokingly described as the documentarian of the series. When watching this show, you may recognize some of his style because he also worked on The Office.


SURPRISE – special guests were invited to join the panel. Muppet performers Dave Goelz (Gonzo), Steve Whitmire (Kermit, Rizzo), and Eric Jacobson (Piggy, Fozzie) all walk out on stage. The audience applauds excitedly.

Before any questions can be addressed to the additional panelists, Barretta pulls out his little friend, Pepe, and starts to converse with the moderator. “I can ‘slpain,” Pepe says in his thick Latin dialect. Pepe chastises the producers on stage explaining that “they [the producers] are very bossy…and make it difficult for me to say my lines.” The crowd loves it; they are so excited they are seeing a muppet interacting live and in person. Kushell starts to talk again and Pepe looks around at the audience as if insulted. More laughs.

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Image via Disney

The panel discusses how the sets are different from what the puppeteers usually perform on. The sets are in regular locations such as office buildings and houses but the main sets have removable sections to accommodate the puppeteers’ needs for certain shots. Whitmire says the main set is all one building.

Einhorn explains that in order to maintain the documentary feel with the shots, it can be difficult to still get the right timing to make things funny. One example being that a muppet cannot open a door so they have to figure out how to open it and make the opening look the way they want it to look and at what speed and make sure that it looks like the muppet is opening the door.

Pepe then asks the moderator if he has any questions for him specifically and so he asks him if they can be best friends. Pepe responds, “Ehhhh…ju gonna have to call my agent.”

The puppeteers are then asked which muppet is the most difficult to perform with. One says, “Bobo,” because you have to use a harness, “It’s like having to carry around your fat uncle.” When asked about Piggy, Jacobson replies, “Ehhhh…she’s…not…exactly light.” The audience reacts; offended that a comment has been made about Piggy’s weight, “OOOOHHHHH!” To which Jacobson responds, “Hey, I can say that, okay.” The offended “ooooh’s” of the audience turn into laughter again. It’s all in good fun. Jacobson also explains that it isn’t just how heavy a muppet is that affects the difficulty in performing, it can be how they are built too. “Miss Piggy is a big block of foam, she’s dense…I can say that too!” Jacobson then points to the audience, “But you can’t say that!”


Prady tells us more about the plot: Fozzie dates a Cuban woman, Gonzo does online dating, etc. The topic of Gonzo online dating is amusing because as someone said, “You have to state what you are.” Prady reacts defensively, “You don’t, I don’t think it says species on there,” referring to a dating profile. Then Goelz pulls out Gonzo from under the table. The crowd goes wild with excitement. Gonzo says, “Are you talking about me and something about a date?” And all of the sudden Whitmire has Rizzo out, “Yeah that’s where you stand in line at the supermarket and ya pick people up.” Gonzo and Rizzo banter; everybody loves it. Pepe chimes in, “Ju never get them in line.” Rizzo shoots back, “Did you say, ‘JEW never get them in line?’” Rizzo looks over at Kushell who evidently has Jewish heritage and says, “I think he’s talking to you Bob.” The audience roars with laughter. This is just the type of adult humor that we will be seeing in the series.

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Image via Disney

Gonzo then asks Pepe to open his mouth and Pepe is apprehensive. Rizzo says, “OPEN YOUR MOUTH!” Gonzo sticks his finger in Pepe’s mouth and he gags. Gonzo says, “I love to do that.” Rizzo adds, “It’s an old gag.” This is killing me and everyone else around me; it’s so funny.

The moderator points out that these three characters are the writing staff of Piggy’s show within a show and then asks, “You know you guys aren’t the stars of the show right?” To which Rizzo responds, “Of course! Writers aren’t stars…just ask Bob!” He motions to Kushell. Rizzo continues, “The best part is, we write the material, but we got Fozzie Bear to tell the jokes.” Suddenly we hear Fozzie say his signature, “Ahhhh!” Jacobson has Fozzie out on the other side of the table. “You guys didn’t write me a joke for dis,” Fozzie says. Gonzo, Pepe, and Rizzo all tell Fozzie to tell a joke and refuse to write one for him on the spot. Fozzie says, “Uhhhhhh…what was the,” Jacobson is starting to crack. The audience is loving it. Gonzo says, “Fozzie can’t remember jokes.” Jacobson finally remembers one; Fozzie says, “Why won’t bicycles stand up on their own?…Because they’re two tired!” Applause.

The moderator askes what’s changed since the last time the muppets did a show on television. Rizzo answers, “Well the picture got bigger.” Pepe chimes in, “More picksas.” Fozzie, Gonzo, and Rizzo are all confused by Pepe’s statement. “Pixels?” “Picksas.” “Pixels?” “Picksas!” “Pixels???” “PISCKSAS!!! How many times I gotta say?” Fozzie asks, “Does anyone here speak crustacean?”

The Moderator asks how Kermit is as a boss and Rizzo responds, “Oh he’s in a box up here.” Gonzo says, “I probably shouldn’t say this but Kermit is half in the bag right now.” Laughter and applause.


Whitmire then puts Rizzo away and pulls out Kermit. The crowd cheers. The frog says, “Thank you all…I was in a box.”

The moderator then says, “I’d like to welcome the muppets to their first-ever comic con.” Everyone claps and cheers.

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Image via Disney

Kermit then talks about the show and having to convince Piggy to which the moderator says he thinks it’s unfair to talk about Piggy without her there. The rest of the muppets on stage express a desire not to have Piggy on stage and Fozzie says, “Why do you make ME do this?” Just a reminder; Jacobson performs as both Piggy and Fozzie so he is the one to take her out.

The moderator asks how Piggy is dealing with her and Kermit’s breakup and she says, “I’m fine! He and I have both moved on.” Gonzo says to Piggy, “Kermit has a girlfriend, Denise. Who are you dating?” Piggy answers, “Who am I not dating?” The audience loves it.

The moderator continues, “Well everyone has a skeleton in their closet so…” and Gonzo says, “I got one right inside my body.” Gonzo moves his around to demonstrate. Pepe says, “I got an exoskeleton in my closet.” Gonzo shoots back at Pepe, “I think that’s out of the closet.” Pepe did not comment on his sexual orientation.

The moderator then asks, “How is Kermit as the executive producer on Piggy’s show?” Prady starts to answer, “I think on one hand…” Kermit interrupts, “I’m only on one hand!” Applause. Prady responds, “You had your turn frog.”

Audience Q&A

First question, the woman says, “I’m star-struck.” Pepe says, “Hi Star-struck, I’m Pepe.” The audience member then asks if there will be more women in the muppets. Kermit says, “I’d love to!” Piggy says, “Aren’t I enough for vu?” This is particularly funny because all the panelists on stage are males save Piggy who is performed by Jacobson who is a man. Pepe says, “Thank you Star-struck.” Kermit follows up, “I love your coffee!”


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Image via Disney

A young girl then comes up and asks to give a bottle of tabasco to Goelz. Gonzo and Kermit gave the girl a hug. Goelz then tells us that for 15 years, Whitmire has been giving him bottles of tabasco as a running joke. “Hundreds of bottles…part of muppet culture has always been that we have these gags that go back and forth…years ago Jerry, Jule, and Frank Oz passed a cherry Danish back and forth for several years…it was a real cherry Danish that just dried out.” The audience laughed. It was very special for Goelz and Whitmire to share this aspect of the inner muppet circle.

The next question is about Denise and her origins. Kushell tells us that the Denise muppet seen in the clip is not the one they are using and the new one is being built. But he also tells us they tried to incorporate into the story that sometimes people go through different relationships in their lives. Kermit says, “Sometimes different species.” Denise will be the head of marketing in the show within a show. “Kermit has a thing for pigs.”

The next question went to Pepe: besides Piggy, who are you most afraid of? “Thas a good question, eh my girlfriend Christina.”

What do you guys think of Comic Con? Kermit says, “It’s dangerous; we’re quite small.” That’s why they keep us in boxes.” Pepe says.

Pepe is asked what happened to Seymour the Elephant. Kermit says “sad story,” Pepe asked what happened. Kermit  says, “I haven’t thought of it yet.” Whitmire cracks a little. Pepe flirts with the girl asking the question.

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Image via Disney

Piggy is asked if she were to get married, who would she like to get married to. Kermit crouches down in fear. Piggy of course mentions a green frog but that she does not know what the future holds but it is, “Her life.”


The next audience member comes up and says her name is Feral. Kermit says, “Hi, we could make you domestic if you join us.” She asks about the stamina of muppet performers and how long they can last while working. The panelists explained that it depends on the set. The table on stage seemed to be an easier set to deal with. Whitmire said he did 3 hours and 20 minutes at the rose bowl and they all agreed that must have been the record.

Barretta then pulls Rowlf the dog out. The crowd cheers. “Thank you very much, it’s nice to be here.” Rowlf owns a bar in the show.

The next question was whether we would see Walter or Robin in the new show? The producers said we could see any muppet that is part of the universe.

The next audience member asked about them feeling Jim Henson’s presence on set. Goelz said, “We have a cast of seven performers and several of them have never even met Jim…But what I’m always amazed by is how somehow the essence of what Jim did seeped through the screen and affects them and how it guides them. And they’re so dedicated to preserving Jim’s work…it’s remarkable.” This was a bit of an emotional moment and everyone applauded Goelz’s words.

The next audience member who came up said she loves everything the muppets do and her dream is to work with them. Gonzo said, “You call this working?” Rowlf then invited the woman on stage saying, “Come here, come here, let’s work come on.” Everyone applauded but the woman did not go up. Then we heard Rowlf say, “They won’t let ya?” Apparently the Comic Con staff person handling the audience microphone would not allow the woman on stage. The woman said, “Yeah, my question is, how can I get there?” Gonzo then answered saying, “First of all, you gotta deck her,” motioning to the staff person. The audience roared with laughter. Rowlf said, “You just push right through em.” The staff person then took the mic and said, “Really? I grew up with you guys you really gonna hate on me?” Rowlf said, “Just trying to give her a little advice.” Laughter. Staff person says, “Everyone wants the advice too.” Rowlf then addresses the audience, “Alright everybody you just push through these people.” Gonzo then says, “I have an idea, this may be a good idea, it may not be, but why don’t all of you come up here?” The whole scene is hilarious. Prady then asks the woman what she does. She responds that she is going to school to become a screen writer. Prady then gives an eloquent speech about working hard and getting better at what you do and then deciding what medium to work in and doing it. But of course Rowlf just again adds at the end, “And then just push right through em.” The audience applauds. The moderator thanks the panelists for being there. The audience gives a standing ovation.

The Muppets premieres on Tuesday, September 22nd on ABC.

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