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Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Muppet Wiki's Muppets' Panel Report from D23 Expo 2015

The Muppet Wiki (Danny Horn) has posted to their Facebook Page a fantastic 'loose' transcript of The Muppets Panel held on August 14, 2015 at Disney's D23 Expo.

CLICK HERE to read original Facebook Post or continue reading below.

Panel starts with the Muppets trailer -- a slightly different cut that includes Elizabeth Banks and Topher Grace. 

Muppeteers introduced in order of the year they joined the Muppets: Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson, Matt Vogel. 

How does it feel to be back on TV?

Dave: It feels the same as it always does when I'm anywhere. It's fun to have the Muppets back on TV. It's a grueling thing to make a TV series, a lot of work -- but we have the perfect wave this time. The right people writing, the right people in the crew. It feels like there's the right people in the room. I haven't had this feeling since Fraggle Rock. (applause)

What's new about the show?

Bill: It has a mockumentary style, as you saw. It explores the Muppets' lives and relationships behind the scenes on Miss Piggy's talk show. Kermit is the producer, Fozzie's the sidekick. The Electric Mayhem is the band on the show. It's a style that we haven't explored much. We're used to a frame for a shot that we can play to, something a little more formal. We try to work ourselves into a composition for the shot. In the documentary style, they find the Muppets. 

Dave: It's fun to work this way. 

Eric: The style gives you a different view on the characters and their personalities. You're getting to see them in candid moments. They're exposing their vulnerabilities, fears and anxieties as you've never seen them before. 

Are you learning new things about the characters?

Steve: Always. 

Dave: Yeah, that's what we do. We're there with the characters all day. 

Bill: We're pushing the characters in new ways. We keep them true to who they are, but we're pushing. 

Is the show edgier?

Steve: It's real life. You see them in unscripted moments. 

Matt: But nothing in it is bad; it'll be appropriate for the Muppets and TV. 

Dave: We've always been riffing with each other; it gets boring on set, and you play in character between takes. It was like that on Sesame Street too, with Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. We amuse ourselves. That's what the new show is like, we're amusing ourselves, but we don't go too far for kids. 

Steve: I don't usually laugh at our scripts. I'll usually think, oh, that's going to be funny. But this one, I laugh out loud, sitting there alone reading the script. It's not like what you saw in the trailer, all quick cuts. You get real dramatic moments for the characters; you get to see real experiences. 

Bill: The characters, even after we cut, they stay alive. Just to amuse ourselves. This is what happens after they say cut. 

What's it like to be working together again? 

Dave: Well, we're together quite frequently. We've been working together the whole time. We all live in different places, we have our own lives, and we don't necessarily see each other between shoots, but when we get together, it's always a reunion. We love each other.

Matt: We'll go to dinner together.

Bill: I've never gone to dinner with you. 

The show takes place backstage in "Up Late with Miss Piggy". How different is this from other Muppet shows? 

Steve: We're doing two shows at the same time. You probably won't be able to find "Up Late with Miss Piggy" on the air... Kermit claims he's trying to get it on. 

What about the other characters? 

Bill: Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe are writers. The Swedish Chef runs craft services. Sam the Eagle is very happy in Standards and Practices. Bobo is the stage manager, I don't know why. Uncle Deadly is wardrobe. Bunsen and Beaker are props.

Dave: Kermit's putting the show together, and he's only made one mistake -- hiring his friends. The band's back together -- the whole band. 

Eric: It takes the template from The Muppet Show, and makes it what's on TV today. This is what variety shows have turned into. 

Dave: If you think about, a show is just as much about what you hide as what you show. Performers are always hiding, back behind some black cloth. You could have anyone coming onto the stage, and they'd be hiding. What are they hiding from? They're big stars. So this show is about not just the show, it's the hiding. 

Eric: It's like backstage on The Muppet Show; people always talk about how much they love the backstage. On this show, 90% is backstage. 

Steve: And beyond that, going home with the characters. 

Dave: We always wondered where they live -- like, where does Lew Zealand live? That's got to be a weird residence. (panel laughs) I bet that's the top of their list. 

Steve: The set is an entire soundstage, the whole floor of a building. You'll see them moving through hallways. It's things we've never done before. 

Eric: We've only been shooting for a week, and we've already done a handful of shots that I don't remember us ever doing for another project. 

Dave: It's like if the camera followed us backstage -- you'd see Kermit's office, Piggy's office, the bullpen, the writers' room -- you get to see the geography in a single shot. 

Bill: Randall Einhorn -- he's really designing these shows with all of that in mind. 

Dave: He's great fun to work with. 

Steve: Canadian, right? 

Bill: No.

Steve: He should be. 

They set up the mic for audience questions. 

Audc: I have two questions. Fozzie with his human girlfriend -- will that be an ongoing story? And for Dave, when Gonzo says that he also likes pigs -- is that pigs along with chickens? Is he empathizing with Kermit? Or is he just being a weirdo?

Dave: That's a great question. I think you should ask Gonzo. 

(Dave brings Gonzo up, Steve has Rizzo, Bill has Pepe, Eric has Fozzie, Matt has Floyd.) 

Gonzo: What was the question? 

Are you just a weirdo?

Gonzo: Yes. 

Pepe: But do you like chickens or pork? 

Gonzo: It's different. We change it up. 

Fozzie: I think the first part of the question was about me... What was it?

Is the girlfriend story ongoing? 

Fozzie: I don't know, I hope so. You never know where a relationship is going to go. She's a lovely girl. 

Pepe: She's hot. 

Rizzo: Yeah, she's hot because he's got a lot of fur.

Fozzie: I don't know if you saw this, but it's been hard with her parents. Well, not hard, but -- 

Floyd: They don't like him! 

Fozzie looks at Floyd. 

Floyd: Sorry to speak the truth, man!

Gonzo: I don't think I've ever seen you -- have you ever dated before? 

Fozzie: Well, I mean... no. I've gone out with people. I don't know if they were dates, technically. 

Gonzo: With ladies, or animals? What's been going on that we don't know about? 

Fozzie: Look, I'm a guy who, I don't say no when someone asks me out. You know?

Gonzo: This is getting uncomfortable. 

Pepe: Yeah, next question. 

Audc: My question is for the puppeteers -- no offense to the others -- 

Floyd: Man! And I've been sitting in a box all morning!

Pepe: Yeah, they should put windows in those boxes. 

Floyd: Air holes, too!

Audc: I really loved Tale of the Bunny Picnic, it meant a lot to me. 

Steve: Yeah, Bean Bunny. Maybe he'll come back someday. 

Rizzo: But he sounds just like me, so it's not gonna work. 

Audc: With this new style, what's it like for the performers when you see the characters this way? 

Eric: We have a unique point of view, because we're watching ourselves on the monitors. We get to be entirely objective about the performance as we're performing. So we're lining the shot up, making sure you're looking at the other character. We're self-directing, basically, giving ourselves notes and making adjustments. When you watch the playback after, it's kind of the same thing. 

Bill: There's a bit of separation from the performance. When it plays back, I try to take myself out of the equation. Are the characters looking at each other? Is it funny?

Matt: You're thinking about puppeteering, about what you're supposed to say, about what you're going to have for lunch -- 

Steve: There's a place that you get to sometimes, where you forget what you're doing while you're doing it. 

A woman comes to the mic.

Pepe: Hola! I think maybe she has a question for me, I hope!

The woman starts giggling, gets nervous. She says "I think I need to come back!" and walks back from the mic. 

Gonzo: Come back! You can't get off that easy!

Pepe: Please come back to the mic, my love. 

She comes back. Her question: Have you ever seen the Muppet skits on Robot Chicken? 

Gonzo: I don't think so. I don't have a computer. 

Pepe: What does Robot Chicken taste like? 

Gonzo: I haven't seen it, but I'm open to dating it. 

Rizzo: These are blowup chickens. (Gonzo looks shocked.) It's okay, you've gotta go there sometimes. 

Audc: Which celebrities have you enjoyed working with, and are there 2015 celebrities you're hoping to get? 

Pepe: Michelle Pfeiffers... Sofia Vergara, Cindy Crawford, Renee Witherspoons... 

Floyd: With or without her spoons!

Pepe: Anne Hathaways... all the womens. 

Steve: I loved working with Alice Cooper, because that was my first show. 

Bill: Jeffrey Tambor was great. 

Steve: Yeah, it's hard to pick favorites. 

Gonzo: You put us in a really bad spot. Nice question. 

Audc (young woman with British accent): Pepe, would you be interested in dating a British girl?

Rizzo: He'd date any girl. 

Pepe: Of course! My peoples has to talk to your peoples. We'll work something out. 

British woman (BW): How's Animal?

Fozzie: He was here, but I don't see him now. 

Rizzo: Fozzie, can you go find Animal?

Fozzie: Why me? Oh, all right. 

(Fozzie goes under the table.) 

Floyd: Animal's here, you'll see him in about 12 seconds. 

Animal: (still under the table) Twelve... Eleven... Ten... Nine... Eight... 

Floyd: Three, two, one. Come on up!

(Eric brings Animal up. Random note: I don't think I've ever seen Animal in one of these live appearances, it's really cool.) 

BW: I love you!

Animal: Awwww.... (He looks bashful, and rolls around on the table.) What your name? 

BW: Emily. 

Animal: Em - i - ly.....

Pepe: Hey, I saw her first, okay.

Floyd: Emily said she loved me.

Pepe: Are there more British women? 

BW: Thank you!

Rizzo: Thank you for coming to see us. 

Gonzo: I was free tonight, but never mind. 

BW: Oh, you were one of my favorites as a kid! I love you too. 

Gonzo: Is that a date? It's a foursome!

Pepe: Hold on a minute... (shrugs) Okay. 

Audc: With the Star Wars spinoff movies coming, is it time for the Muppets to go into space? 

Rizzo: You know, except for Gonzo's family, we never went. We could do Muppets In Space. 

Gonzo: I'm open, I'd love to. 

Steve: Actually, we just shot four or five Pigs in Space videos -- not for the show, they'll be released online. 

Rizzo: Ya know, with all the Star Wars stuff this year, it should be RD23. 

They segue into the next part of the presentation -- picking six people from the audience to show how being a Muppeteer really works. 

This segment is mostly run by Steve and Kermit. Two audience members at a time pick up puppets -- a bunny, a Whatnot man, a Whatnot girl, a monster. 

Steve raises his arm to normal performing height, and a camera is set up to keep Kermit in that frame. The audience puppeteers try to keep their puppets in shot. 

The technique that Steve/Kermit focuses on the most is keeping your arm up high enough -- all of the guest puppeteers have a tendency to slip down out of the frame. Steve says that people tend to bend their arms and hold the puppet out -- it's actually easier on your shoulder and arm if you go straight up. 

Kermit also teaches the guests about how to make the puppet talk -- don't make the top of the head wiggle, use your thumb to push down, and push the words out of the mouth. 

After messing around for a while -- keeping in shot, looking at each other, talking -- they play a song and lip-sync/dance. 

There are three rounds of guests, two at a time. 

While the second group is coming up, Uncle Deadly talks to Kermit.

Kermit: What did you think of them? 

Uncle D: They were so-so... but I think some other people are coming up, I'm sure they'll be marvelous. 

Kermit: While they're coming up -- can someone get a breath mint for this guy? 

In the second group, there's a two-hander monster puppet [Pokey] -- the guest puppeteers are stretching and keeping both hands up while Kermit is talking to them. 

Uncle D: You can relax, you're not under arrest. You can put your hands down. 

The second song is "Single Ladies". The guest with the female Whatnot does the lip-sync, with Kermit, Uncle D, Gonzo and Animal dancing. As the song ends, Animal says, "Are you single lady? I'm a single guy!" Kermit puts a stop to it. 

Pepe joins for the final group of two guests -- a male Whatnot and a bunny. The Whatnot has trouble staying in frame. He introduces himself as Morty. 

Pepe: I think he's been drinking. Oh, here comes my girlfriend -- (the bunny comes into frame) -- isn't she beautiful? What's your name? 

Bunny: Hippity Hophop!

Pepe: Okay, Hippity Hophop, do you know what our favorite song is? 

The third song is "Sexual Healing." 

Kermit: Are we sure we can do this song? 

Pepe does the lip-sync, then starts kissing the bunny. 

Fozzie joins the dance. 

The Whatnot dances up on the bunny. 

Pepe: Go, Morty, go! We just started dating, it's okay. 

Fozzie shields his eyes. 

Uncle D: What's the matter, Fozzie, don't you like to watch? 

Gonzo and Uncle D start dancing, and it turns into a slow dance with Gonzo resting his head against Uncle D's chest. 

The song ends. 

Gonzo: Can I call you? 

Uncle D: Sure. 

How many different things do you have to think about while you're puppeteering? 

Dave: Somewhere between eight and twenty-three. You have to think about where you are, where the camera is, where the monitor is, if you're looking at someone. The character has to be listening to the person you're going to respond to. Oh, and you have to remember what your line was, which I have a hard time with. 

Steve: You're multi-tasking. 

Bill: You have to think about the person you're working with, and what they're thinking about. 
Dave: It takes years to build up a team like this, who work together fluidly, and can anticipate what the other person might do. 

To demonstrate how a two-handed puppet works, Bill brings up Rowlf, and performs the mouth and left hand. Steve performs Rowlf's right hand. Rowlf notices that his hand is pinned to his chest. Steve takes the pins out. 

Rowlf: Oh! It's painful, I had no idea. 

Steve: There's another one. 

Rowlf: (pounds the table) Sweet Mary!

Steve: We might have to get a proctologist.

Rowlf: Wait, there's something in there. 

Steve pulls out an orange puppet hand that was wedged inside Rowlf. 

Rowlf: Good lord! I had no idea that was in me. 

To demonstrate the two-handed puppet, they decide to open a bottle of water that's on the table in front of them. Rowlf unscrews the bottle perfectly, then places it down on the table and instantly knocks it over. Water spills onto Rowlf, Bill and Steve. 

Rowlf shouts "Oh god!" and they all jump to their feet. Steve tries to clean up with his free hand. 

Bill: We've been doing this for years!

Rowlf: It's okay, I'm used to being wet. (He shakes his head back and forth, a wet dog drying off.) 

Moderator: In the show, we're going to see your tavern? 

Rowlf: Yes, I hope so. We haven't filmed in the tavern yet. I'm looking forward to it. 

Steve: He will NOT be opening bottles. 

Rowlf: I want to do an impression. I will now do my impression of an up-and-coming Republican nominee. 

(He flips one ear over the top of his head, a perfect impression of Donald Trump's hairpiece.)

Rowlf: It's a visual impression, I don't have any dialogue. (He points.) You're fired!

Are you excited about the show? 

Rowlf: I'm so excited, I wet the table!

Do you guys have anything planned for the premiere? What's happening on September 22nd?

Steve: I don't know, I think we'll still be shooting!

What's the excitement level among the team? 

Steve: Dave touched on this before... I don't think we could have done what we're doing now, even if we had the opportunity. To develop this team, including the newer guys -- (indicates Eric and Matt) -- getting to know the characters the way that they do. We used to think it would be completely impossible. I don't think we could have done this five years ago.

Eric: It feels like the right time. We've been doing viral videos, movies, and there's a real appetite for the Muppets. And now we've got this amazing team, writers and creators. This material is so incredible. I'm really jazzed about this, in a way that -- I don't know that I've ever worked on a project like this before. I read the script, and I'm laughing out loud. 

Steve: It's amazing to go into that world, of their off-stage lives. 

Dave: There's 150 people every time you do any project. It seems like the right people are in the right places here. 

Steve: To me, it feels like -- with great love and respect for the fans -- we've always done it for ourselves. We're not really doing it for you guys. 

Bill: (talks about Bill Prady, Big Bang Theory)

Dave: Bill Prady would do this -- he was working at Radio Shack when Jim Henson hired him to write -- we have a huge history with Bill. In the early to mid 90s, he started working on sitcoms. Now that he's in the place where he is, he can do what he wants, and what he wants is to come back to the Muppets. It's kind of a thank you to Jim Henson. And we're having a fun time working with Bill. 

What about Kermit and Piggy's breakup? It was all over the internet. 

Eric: Yeah, it's rough. It's no mistake that Miss Piggy isn't here today. It would be tense. 

Matt: But she has spies out there. I'll say this, it's probably good that we mentioned her. 

Eric: It's funny, people are upset because they've broken up, but they never had that stable of a relationship. 

Steve: Yeah, way back, I was talking with Frank Oz, and we thought we were done with it. Kermit and Miss Piggy -- how many times can we go around it? So this is good for the frog, good for the pig, to see them try new things. 

Eric: It creates tension for them in the working environment. They have history, seeing each other date and still have to work with each other. 

Steve: But even casual fans treated it like a real Hollywood couple breaking up. It's remarkable. 

Close the presentation -- thank you!


  1. Hey Brian...said nervous girl was ME!
    I wasn't nervous I was just in hysterics over what was happening! I even lost the question I really wanted to ask but instead asked the Robot Chicken thing.
    I would've asked "Are you looking for any human talents?" My career needs a huge boost!

  2. That's so awesome Shannon. Sounds like it was a lot of fun!

  3. Emily WhittinghamAugust 22, 2015 11:17 pm

    I was the British woman here! I very nearly cried with happiness after the talk.