Comic Con 2015: The Muppets panel was truly magical
What’s it like when The Muppets take Comic-Con? Absolute hilarious madness, which should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity of Kermit and his gang.
Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Pepe, Rizzo, and Rowlf took the stage at San Diego Comic-Con to a huge crowd of Muppet fans eager to get the scoop before the group heads back to television in this fall’s sitcom The Muppets (premiering Sept. 22 on ABC). Between bickering and berating — largely thanks to the still-tense break-up between Kermit and Piggy — the group’s rapidfire banter was an audience delight and resulted in more than a few irreverent storms of applause. The panel even got a standing ovation at the very end.
But at the start, Gonzo, Pepe, and Rizzo opined freely about their not-yet-inked deals working on Up Late with Miss Piggy, the new late-night talker which will serve as the new show-within-the-show (EW already revealed your first look here). “We’re the writers — writers aren’t stars,” joked Gonzo. “Pigs are the stars.” (To which Rizzo added: “And the stars are pigs.”) Fozzie arrived shortly thereafter, and was immediately tasked with coming up with a joke on the spot: “Why don’t bicycles stand up on their own? Because they’re two-tired!” he declared to the roaring crowd.
Kermit appeared and recounted the story of how he convinced Piggy to return to work, and soon enough, Miss Piggy arrived on the scene to thunderous applause from the audience. “It’s wonderful,” said Piggy on returning to television. “I’m hoping we can do another show in the show. Three shows.” “How about we film you when you go to the cosmetic surgeon?” asked Pepe. “Or craft services,” added Gonzo. The gang-up on Piggy continued throughout the panel, particularly from Gonzo when asked about her new role as late-night host: “You try any new job, you can’t screw it up forever.”
There were plenty more fun details about The Muppets spilled during the panel, which featured co-creators and executive producers Bill Prady and Bob Kushell, executive producer and director Randall Einhorn, executive producer and performer Bill Barretta, and Muppeteers Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Eric Jacobson.
—After showing the 10-minute presentation that convinced ABC to pull the trigger, Prady explained some of the Muppets’ roles behind the scenes on Up Late with Miss Piggy: Kermit is executive producer, naturally; Gonzo’s the head writer, with Pepe and Rizzo on his staff; Fozzie plays Piggy’s on-air sidekick, a la Andy Richter; Scooter is the talent coordinator, who will book contemporary musicians for the show (Prady promises a lot of music and even the occasional human-Muppet duet); Bobo the Bear is the stage manager; Sam the Eagle will act as the head of broadcast standards for the network; and Kermit’s new pig girlfriend Denise is the network’s head of marketing. Rowlf the Dog owns the tavern across the street from the set, where the gang will do karaoke and relax after work. Best of all, the Swedish Chef will run craft services. (“That’s not a good thing!” Miss Piggy warned from the panel.)
—For the first time in the history of the Muppets, they’ll be free to roam one giant set instead of a series of stages and platforms, says Whitmire (who plays Kermit and Rizzo). Prady says “the trick to the show, if it works, is to make it feel for the first time that you’re seeing the Muppets in our world.” He cited careful camera choreography — particularly during walk-and-talks through hallways and corridors — that will pose a creative challenge to director Randall Einhorn, who served as documentarian for The Office (of which the new Muppets show will imitate the style).
—Plot-wise, the show will go deeper into the personal lives of the Muppets, following them home and seeing them interact with humans like they never have before. “Fozzie dating a human woman is going to continue,” says Prady. “Gonzo’s going to do some online dating.”
—Anyone from the Muppets universe is fair game to appear, including characters from the past two films.
—The hardest Muppets to perform? Bobo the Bear poses a challenge (“It’s like carrying your fat uncle around,” said Barretta), but all the performers agreed that Miss Piggy has her own set of difficulties. “She’s not exactly light,” said her performer, Eric Jacobson, to a wave of ohhhhs from the audience. “I can say that, okay!?” He continued: “It’s more than just weight. Sometimes it’s how the puppet is actually built, and Miss Piggy, she’s a big block of foam. She’s dense… I can say that, too.”
—The spirit of Jim Henson is very much represented in the show, and Muppeteer Dave Goelz put Kermit aside to touch on the subject. “We have a cast of seven performers, and several of them have never even met Jim. Some of them have come along and taken over characters. What I’m always amazed by is how somehow the essence of what Jim did seeps through the screen and it guides them. They’re so dedicated to preserving Jim’s work as faithfully and as reverently as they can. It’s remarkable.” Earlier in the panel, Prady remarked, “If Jim were looking at television today, he’d see the kind of shows like The Office and that’s what he would want to make fun of.”
—During the audience question portion, one fan asked about Piggy’s representation as the first female late-night talk show host, and Kermit agreed that he’d like to see more women in the Muppets. A child went on stage to give a bottle of tabasco sauce to Goelz, who explained that for the past 15 years, Whitmire has made it a running joke to plant a small bottle of sauce in Goelz’s shoes, car, or hotel room wherever they go. One fan approached the microphone to ask for advice on how to work for the Muppets, but when she was invited onto the stage, a Comic-Con staffer blocked her from going. “Deck her,” advised Rowlf.
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