The Muppets are making their streaming debut in a new variety show. Muppets Now, an unscripted series from The Muppets Studio and Soapbox Films, premiered on Disney Plus on July 31. It’s the first original series to launch on Disney Plus since the network began streaming in November 2019.
Who are the voices behind the famous Muppets? Here’s what you need to know about the lead performers:
Matt Vogel: Kermit the Frog, Camilla, Floyd Pepper, Sweetums, Uncle Deadly
Matt Vogel is the puppeteer bringing Kermit the Frog to life for Muppets Now. Vogel has been portraying Muppets characters for more than 20 years. He’s one of the principal performers for Sesame Street and the Disney Muppets, according to his professional website.
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Vogel replaced longtime Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire in 2017. Vogel’s debut as the famous frog was in a “Thought of the Week” video for YouTube. In a review in Fatherly magazine, Vogel was credited for making Kermit’s voice shakier and more “cartoonish,” which was seen as a return to how creator Jim Henson always intended Kermit to sound. Vogel paid homage to Henson on Instagram back in May, writing, “Jim, thank you for the inspiration that you bring so many like myself. I am so grateful to you.”
In addition to Kermit, Vogel has also lent his voice to major characters such as Big Bird and the Count. His other characters, in Muppets performances and on Sesame Street, have included Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Uncle Deadly, Camilla, Constantine the World’s Most Dangerous Frog, Herb the Dinosaur, Forgetful Jones and the pink Yip-Yip Martian.
Eric Jacobson: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal
The world’s favorite diva, Miss Piggy, is played by longtime Muppets actor Eric Jacobson. According to his IMDB profile, Jacobson has been voicing Miss Piggy since at least 2002, when he portrayed her in the TV movie It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.
Jacobson’s other regular characters include Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam Eagle, Grover and Bert. In more recent years, Jacobson has also taken on Oscar the Grouch. For example, he played Oscar on the June 13 CNN/Sesame Street town hall special discussing the coronavirus.
Jacobson spoke with the New York Times about how Muppets Now allowed the characters to shine in their original sketch comedy format. “The Muppets have always flown by the seat of their pants. Our aim was to produce these segments as though they were held together by spit and glue.” Jacobson added, “There was a real conscious effort to go back to the Muppets’ roots, to play up the personalities and that sense of abandon that people really respond to.”
David Rudman: Scooter, Beaker, Janice
David Rudman lends his voice to Scooter, a Muppet with the very important job of ensuring the audience gets to enjoy the variety show at all! According to Disney, “Scooter rushes to make his delivery deadlines and upload the brand-new Muppet series for streaming. They are due now, and he’ll need to navigate whatever obstacles, distractions, and complications the rest of the Muppet gang throws at him.” Rudman also plays Beaker and Janice in the new streaming show.
Rudman has been playing Muppets since the 1980s. He’s also been part of the Sesame Street team for more than 200 episodes, playing a wide assortment of characters. Rudman has been playing the iconic Cookie Monster for nearly two decades, as well as Baby Bear.
He explained to PBS station WTTW in 2017 that his fascination with puppets began in elementary school. “I made a sculpture for an art class out of a tin can. And I thought, ‘It would be so fun if this could move. I wonder if I can make its mouth move and the wings flap.’ I had so much fun turning it into a puppet and cracking people up with it that I just kept building them.”
In addition to his job as a puppeteer, Rudman co-founded a production company called Spiffy Pictures, which focuses on creating content for children and families. According to its website, Spiffy Pictures has created the show Nature Cat on PBS Kids, a Scooby-Doo puppet movie and Disney’s Bunnytown.
Bill Barretta: Pepe the King Prawn, The Swedish Chef, Big Mean Carl, Bobo, Dr. Teeth, Howard Tubman, Rowlf
Puppeteer Bill Barretta wears several hats on the Muppets Now set. His characters include Pepe the King Prawn, The Swedish Chef, Rowlf the Dog, Big Mean Carl, Bobo the Bear, Dr. Teeth and Howard Tubman. He’s also one of the show’s executive producers.
Barretta has been part of the Muppet family for about 30 years as a performer, director and producer. He explained to NPR in 2011 that his wife’s aunt, who was Spanish, served as the inspiration for Pepe. Barretta said Pepe came to life after he described his relative during a Muppets planning session. “She was a little bit selfish in a way, and I said, you know, ‘She’s very fun but a little shellfish,’ by mistake. And one of the writer-directors said, ‘Wait a minute, OK, maybe it’s a lobster or it’s a crab or a shrimp — no wait, it’s a king prawn, ’cause maybe he has a problem with size.”
In an interview for Puppet Tears in 2019, Barretta explained that at the beginning of his career, he was pursuing acting and had never planned on becoming a puppeteer. Barretta said he was working as a carpenter and as a waiter when he got the opportunity to work on the new TV series Dinosaurs, which involved actors in suits and animatronic heads. Barretta was ultimately cast as the lead character, Earl Sinclair. (Barreta performed in the bodysuit but different actors provided the voice and controlled the head).
Dave Goelz: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Chip the I.T. Guy, Zoot
Dave Goelz is among the cast that has been with the Muppets the longest. He worked alongside creator Jim Henson to design and build the various characters during the 1970s, according to Goelz’s IMDB profile. Goelz developed Gonzo and has been portraying the blue muppet ever since The Muppet Show debuted in 1976.
Goelz explained in a 2019 interview that his work with Henson started because of a vacation to New York City. Goelz met puppeteer Frank Oz, who worked on Sesame Street, and asked if he could visit the set at the Children’s Television Workshop. Goelz showed people his own puppet creations and this ultimately led to a full-time job with the workshop.
Goelz has said that of the characters he plays, Gonzo is the one he connects with the most. “I can ad-lib the easiest with him. But I don’t know if it’s because he’s most like me. It’s because he’s untethered. There aren’t a lot of rules about Gonzo.”
Goelz explained in a separate interview that Gonzo’s feeling of being different from everyone else was similar to Goelz’s own “outsider” mentality when he started working in the entertainment industry, especially since he had never intended to become an actor. “I was just beginning as a puppeteer, and I found myself in the thick of Hollywood working with legends. My colleagues were also legends to me, and I was like, ‘I don’t even have a right to be here. What am I doing in the middle of this crowd?'” He added, “I think it’s true for all performers that each character comes from a part of yourself.”
Peter Linz: Joe the Legal Weasel, Statler, Walter, Link Hogthrob
Peter Linz has been puppeteering since he was a small child. He explained to the Saporta Report, an Atlanta-based outlet, in 2012 that he was “insecure” as a teen and used puppets as a way to flirt with girls.
Linz said he grew up watching the original Muppets and always dreamed of joining the cast. He told the outlet that when the dream came true, he found it ironic that he was cast as Walter. “I could have been cast as a monster or a chicken or someone’s right hand, but instead, I got cast to play the guy who is the world’s biggest Muppet fan who literally dreams of working with the Muppets. Apart from my wedding day and birth of my children, being cast as Walter, was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was beyond happiness.”
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Like his Muppets Now co-stars, Linz is also a Sesame Street performer. He was first hired in 1991 and in recent years has played Ernie. Before starting his puppeteering career, Linz attended the University of Georgia and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, according to his LinkedIn profile.