Is It Time To Retire The Term ‘Muppeteer’?

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Jarrod Fairclough – Jim Henson.  Frank Oz.  Dave Goelz.  Richard Hunt.  Jerry Nelson.  Steve Whitmire.  Matt Vogel.  Eric Jacobson.  Peter Linz.  David Rudman.  Bill Barretta.  Caroll Spinney.  Karen Prell.  Kathy Mullen.  I could go on.  Ask most people familar with these guys what they have in common, and their answers will all generally contain a certain word – the word ‘Muppeteer’.  But below I’ll reveal why it might be time we put that word to rest.

The word ‘Muppeteer’ has become synonymous with The Muppets and the guys and girls underneath them, holding them up.  Even a few of these people have adopted the phrase, like Ryan Dillon’s Instagram page ‘ryandillonmuppeteer‘ (A recommended follow by the way).  Which is all well and good, because it allows the general public to get an idea of who they are and what they do in one simple term.  Muppet performer and builder Caroly Wilcox used the phrase in a pre-production memo for Fraggle Rock, which you can see here.  So, it’s to be expected that this phrase would become as well used as it is.  Hell, we’ve been known to use it in the past too.

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But, did you know that Jim Henson hated the term ‘Muppeteer’?  Author Brian Jay Jones revealed in Jim Henson: The Biography;
There was one term that Jim expressly would not allow to be used to describe his performers—and that was the word Muppeteer. While the media and others would use the term freely to describe Jim’s occupation, Jim thought it was just a bit too gimmicky. In 1984, when the Apple computer company sent Jim a mock-up of a page from its annual report proudly hailing Jim as an Apple user and listing his occupation as “Muppeteer,” Jim scratched darkly through the term and wrote “Muppet performer” beneath it. he was a performer or a puppeteer, not a Muppeteer.

Now, let’s be honest; There are far worse names that that could taken off.  Kermiteers.  Muppeters.  Voice Actors.  So maybe the gimmick of ‘Puppeteer but with an M!’ isn’t so bad.  But if Jim hated the word ‘Muppeteer’, is it time we put it to bed, and instead used his preferred term – Muppet Performers?  I’d argue yes, because The Muppets and Sesame Street and anything else Jim ever did was never gimmicky.  Sure, it was silly.  Sure, it was weird.  But I don’t think it ever became a gimmick.

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Plus, Muppeteer kind of doesn’t have the same meaning as Muppet Performer.  Muppeteer sounds like a puppeteer with The Muppets.  Which is accurate.  But Muppet Performer has so much more gravity to it.  These are puppeteers that perform a multitude of characters, that perform their intricacies and vulnerabilities and their eyebrow mechanisms.  So simply fob that off with a gimmicky word is almost an insult to the talents of every one of these people that perform our favorite frogs and pigs and birds and snuffleupagi.

I say that not to offend those who do use the term – as I said, it’s been widely used, even here on The Muppet Mindset.  I say this to merely get my point across – perhaps it’s time we lose the word ‘Muppeteer’, and stick with what Jim wanted – Muppet Performer.

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