Have you been binging the classic Muppets show now that it’s available on Disney +? Instant mood boost! To celebrate the arrival of the beloved series on Disney’s streaming platform, Gizmodo hopped on a video call to speak to Big Gonzo himself – in the form of his veteran performer, Dave Goelz.
Goelz has been with the Muppets since the early 1970s, with his first starring role with Gonzo when The puppet show made his debut in 1976. He also played many other Muppet characters (including Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Waldorf) and worked on other projects adjacent to Muppet such as Sesame Street, Fragile rock, The black crystal, and Labyrinth. In our interview below, we asked him why the Muppets (and Gonzo in particular) are still so popular after all these years, with a detour through A Christmas Carol from the Muppets because we could not resist.
Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: The Muppets have never really been out of public sight for over 40, almost 50 years at this point. But have it all The puppet show the episodes available for streaming seem to be a particularly important step. What do you think the series is now reaching a whole new generation of fans?
Dave Goelz: I am so delighted. I must tell you that I am more than happy for at least two reasons. One is it’s gonna be so easy to watch now that I’m going even watch it. When it was on DVD and VHS I never really cared, so now I’m going to be able to do it and I can’t wait to relive some of those moments. I’m sure when I watch the shows I’ll remember all kinds of little things that happened when we shot them. So I’m excited about it.
The other reason that comes to my mind is that it’s really about inclusion. It’s that group of misfit characters that find out that they can function together and that they can play in this show, and it kind of creates a home for them. And then, of course, we find that we really appreciate all of these aspects of these misfits. I think the world right now really needs more tolerance – we really need more celebration of the differences between us. And diversity. This is what enriches life… we enrich each other in so many ways, and I am excited by The puppet show to be up there and show this band doing that – and also show human performers from all over the world, and [in some cases] dead human interpreters that can be rediscovered or that the youngest can discover for the first time.
Gizmodo: Looking back, did you have a favorite guest star?
Goelz: I often get this question, and I can’t say exactly what I do. Peter Sellers meant a lot to me because I idolized his work. I’d been watching him since high school, I guess, so I couldn’t wait to work with him. One of the most satisfying things of my life was when our writers called him a few weeks in advance he said, “I love your show, you know what you’re doing, write it down. and I will play it. – I am pleased to do so. But if I could work with Gonzo that would be great, because he reminds me of Inspector Clouseau. And so the writers immediately told me that, and I fell into a frozen state – I said, “Peter Sellers wants to work with ME? I want to work with Peter Sellers! So it was an unusually exciting time. But really all the guests were masters of everything they did. And it was a pleasure to see them come every week and do it.
Gizmodo: Gonzo has definitely evolved over the years as a character. You just mentioned the writers, but what contribution do you have in that?
Goelz: I have had a few comments on Gonzo. The puppet was originally built by Jim [Henson] for something else a few years ago – Santa’s big switch with Art Carney and the Muppets. Jim took it out of a box and said “Let’s make this guy the Big Gonzo.” [The Muppet Show head writer] Jerry Juhl had thought about the character and Jim said, “Dave, why don’t you try to be him?” And that’s how I set myself up with this puppet and this character.
But the process is always collaborative. People say, “Oh, you made such a good character. And I will always say, “Well, I did part of it.” But the [Muppet] Workshop created the puppet, and someone made a costume for it, and one of the writers wrote these lines. And this is how all of our work evolves and develops. They get better because we all contribute.
Gizmodo: What is your fondest memory of working with Jim Henson?
Goelz: Well, it would be impossible to answer. Probably every minute, you know? All minute. There is a picture over there on my wall that illustrates it [points to a photo of himself with Henson hanging behind him]. It was [taken] in the Hollywood Hills in 1989, I think. We were filming a Miss Piggy special in LA, and that was an example of what it looked like; we were always playing silly, playing, having fun and smiling, and inventing silly things for the characters to do.
Gizmodo: The Muppets have also made tons of movies over the years. What is your preference for performances, movies or television?
Goelz: I always thought that TV is like Swedish gymnastics: you get back in shape [because] you shoot a lot a day. We used to turn around 15 pages a day. A movie is like using these skills; you might be turning one or two pages a day, just because a movie is single camera and it’s one setup at a time, and each setup is turned back on. All of this gives you a lot more time to perfect yourself. So you develop skills with television and you hone them on film. It was like that then; the two have converged a bit since then, but it’s still kind of like that. If you have to do a lot of material, you just develop a lot of skills that way because you have to – and then when you make a movie, you can really express those skills and hone them.
Gizmodo: One specific movie that means a lot to people is The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, with Gonzo front and center as Charles Dickens. I think this is my favorite Gonzo performance, but do you have a favorite personal performance?
Goelz: I consider them to be my favorite Muppet projects rather than Gonzo projects. But I love this movie because it was this wonderful piece of literature, and despite the fact that our characters are made up of rats, pigs, chickens and dogs, I think we really serve the sense of the story. . I say this in interviews and hope it is true, but I have read that the staff at the Charles Dickens Museum in London consider The Muppets’ Christmas Carol be their favorite movie version of this property. I know I can’t get out of this with dry eyes. I always break up because I think it’s so powerful, and probably the humor catches you off guard and releases a lot of emotions. It acts as an emotion trigger.
Gizmodo: A lot of that humor comes when Gonzo breaks the fourth wall to speak to the public.
Goelz: Again, I have to give credit to Jerry Juhl; he’s our head writer and he wrote this movie, and he’s the one who thought about using Gonzo for that. It was based on our friendship. I was going through things, doing therapy and learning a lot during that time, and Jerry, in his very active right brain, was like, “Oh, that would be a good choice. It would work. I bet Dave could do it. So it worked out really well, and of course adding Rizzo as a sidekick was awesome because it’s both funny and deep, and that’s kind of how life is.
Gizmodo: What do you think makes Gonzo a fan favorite?
Goelz: I can only start from what the fans have told me. I’ve seen so many people say he gives you permission to be different, which is a serious answer, but that’s what I hear from people – these are people who felt like strangers, they didn’t feel out of place, and I think that’s pretty common. We all have some degree of that probably, but somehow it gave them the right to accept themselves. And boy, it always feels good to hear.
Gizmodo: Who is your favorite non-Gonzo character?
Goelz: I don’t know what my total number of characters is – it’s more than 20 characters among the different [Muppets] Properties. They are all kind of a specific part of our personality that we isolate and amplify and try to make lovable. And it has a therapeutic purpose in that regard because you can kind of laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. But to answer your question which others I mean love to do [Dr.] Bunsen [Honeydew] because it’s so specific and completely lacks the big picture. I have done this several times in my life! I love Zoot because he’s right out there in space, he’s in another world, just he loves his sax. And of course, I love all the other characters that I don’t play. I love Johnny Fiama, I love Pepe the King Prawn because he’s so self-centered. I don’t even know how to stop answering the question.
Gizmodo: I have always been a huge fan of Miss Piggy.
Goelz: Yes! And so many people are. But you know… how often you are with her? You can’t stand it. [Laughs]
Gizmodo: OK, another Disney + specific question, since everyone will be going there to watch Muppets show episodes. If Gonzo had to choose, would he prefer Marvel or Star wars?
Goelz: It probably is Star wars. I think it’s because he played Darth Vader in one of the Muppet Show episodes, so that would probably be Star wars. Go with the classic.
The puppet show is now streaming on Disney +.