Muppet Performers are not created equal, and that’s a good thing! We all bring unique strengths to the ensemble. That’s why we never switch around characters between us (except to stand in) because, despite all the conjecture, there is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.
He either shows up intact with all his historical mental faculties at his disposal, or it isn’t him. This is true for each of the Muppets. Anything else is manufactured, and the Muppets haven’t lasted for all these years without fully showing up. When they haven’t, you’re not shy about pointing that out. Neither am I, and we’ll talk more about that soon.
For discussion purposes, lets split the present-day core Muppet Performers into two broad categories. We’ll call them the ‘Jim-Era Performers’ and the ‘Post-Jim Performers’, those Jim chose to bring in himself, and those who were chosen in a variety of ways after his death.
It’s a real blessing that the Post-Jim performers are brilliant and devoted to doing the best they can to preserve Jim’s legacy by carrying on classic characters as faithfully as they know how. At the same time, they never knew Jim or Richard, and barely worked with Frank if at all, so when it comes to those characters, the starting point in assuming the roles is often limited to their observations as fans. Now, it’s not that fans don’t know who the characters are, they do; you do. It’s just that our job as the linear souls of the Muppets is different than your job as the impassioned viewers.
As fans, you can interpret the characters however you please in whatever way you relate to them. When you sense that something is off, you don’t have to fix it, but I do. It’s up to the Muppet Performers to be purposely maintaining the consistency of the characters they perform. That’s because beyond owners, producers, directors, and writers, that singular performer will be the ongoing thread in the life of a character indefinitely.
Once even the most educated and devoted fan is charged with inhabiting one of the core characters that has its origins in another performer, it becomes necessary to gain as much knowledge of the interior depth of that character and that original performer as possible.
The point is that there is so much vital and significant knowledge that was gained by the dwindling few of us who consistently stood next to Jim. From his characters to his methods and philosophies, it’s stuff you can never fully intuit from watching the Muppets. I know that to be true because I, too, was a completely obsessive Muppet fan with preconceived notions of my own that had to be unlearned when Jim hired me in 1978.
I approach The Muppets as a lineage tradition. For the inside knowledge-base steeped in its origins to survive and be passed down, there has to be a line of transmission, or you had to be there. For the Post-Jim performers to really understand enough about the Muppets to carry on the lineage they need to continue to be around the core performers Jim mentored as long as any of those people are willing and able to share.
None of this is a value judgement of any individual, it is a pointing out of the value of historical perspective so long as that perspective is used progressively. Having had the opportunity to spend the last 27 years cultivating knowledge of Jim along with feeling his presence through Kermit, I find myself at a place where evolving Jim’s vision has begun coming from a deep empathetic connection to him.
So, I see my most important task as providing a taste of the atmosphere created by Jim Henson to those Post-Jim core performers who will never otherwise come by it. My hope was to install it directly into their hearts and minds so that they could, in turn, be inspired to do the same for the next generation of performers instead of the characters becoming stale copies of their former selves. But, as I look around at what is presently transpiring it’s clear to me that the job is far from done.