Marni Hill – A couple of weeks ago, J.D Hansel and the Mindset’s own Jarrod Fairclough got together to do a live-stream on YouTube, which turned into a Q&A with good questions being asked and great questions being provided. One topic brought up by Jarrod himself was the strange fascination he had discovered from some of his fellow fans about Zoot and Lips, the saxophonist and trumpet player of the Electric Mayhem respectively. Jarrod was hesitant about writing an article since he wasn’t one of the fans in question, so I decided to step in and offer to write it instead. Being a Lips fan myself, it’s only fitting.
Let’s start with the less obscure of the two characters. Muppet fans were first introduced to Zoot in 1975’s The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence and ever since he’s remained a relatively quiet, one-liner with a lethargic personality. Dave Goelz once described Zoot as “just a fifty-year-old burnt-out musician” and that basically covers his whole character. He’s not much of a conversationalist if you want a discussion to make sense, but there’s no denying the volumes he speaks when he’s blowing that sax.
And then there’s Lips, who has spoken for a grand total of about five minutes in his thirty-eight year existence. He debuted in 1980, during the last season of The Muppet Show as a means of giving then-newbie Steve Whitmire something to do. He’s one of those Muppets who keeps coming back, instantly recognizable for die-hard fans, but no one knows a thing about him aside from occasionally playing with the Mayhem.
So why do we love them so much?
For the past few years, particularly on Twitter, there’s been a group of fans, some writers and some artists, who have been creating a certain narrative about the Electric Mayhem as a whole. Floyd and Janice are often shipped together, there’s fan-art of the band out on tours and family vacations, celebrating holidays and having fun in each others presence. More often than not, Zoot and Lips are paired off together, as brothers, best friends and lovers. Now, I always have the two paired together in my mind due to the friendship between Goelz and Whitmire, so it seems that everyone else believes that their similar personas make them compatible in certain relationships.
From my discussions with the Zoot fans, they appreciate his overall style and how it represents his character. He’s relatable for those who are more relaxed about life and perhaps those who wish they could be as chill as well. They love the way he plays his saxophone with a type of coolness and a kind of quiet passion he keeps to himself while off the stage. Fans of Zoot feel that he (along with Lips) deserves more credit when it comes to the band. The recognition they both received during the Outside-lands performance in 2015 was long overdue.
I can speak about Lips in on a more personal level as he happens to be my favourite Muppet of all time. It’s odd that I would choose him over brilliant characters like Rowlf or the Swedish Chef, but it comes down to Lips being a personality I can relate to, much like the relationship between Zoot and his fans. It may be taking liberty of reality and forming it into character headcanon, however after reading about Steve Whitmire being unable to find a voice for Lips over the years, I started imagining Lips as this very quiet, shy person who remains in the background due to not being able to figure out who he wants to be. A lot like Zoot, it’s only when Lips plays the trumpet that he feels like he has a voice. It’s relatable to me because finding an identity, not only finding it, but also being brave enough to show it off and “voice” it is something I’ve always struggled to do. Zoot has his saxophone, Lips has his trumpet and I have my writing.
Heck, I’ve even written an entire backstory for Lips that my mind will always consider canon because it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever get any more information about him other than his love for gas station sushi.
That’s the problem right there; Zoot and Lips are loved by a few, but ignored by most due to knowing so little about their histories aside from a few throw away jokes and one-liners. Is Zoot actually Jewish because of that one joke at the end of Letters for Santa? Does Lips make a habit of wrestling with Animal since he loved watching Scooter take the drummer down during the 2015 series? I guess we’ll never know! Cue the fan girls obsessing over
every scrap and morsel and coming up with content of our own.
Do you have any idea how excited I got when I realized that Lips was going to get a few lines during the 2015 series? The first time he spoke, I clapped my hands over my mouth in shock and nearly screamed in the middle of a library (I may have watched the show a teeny tiny bit illegally). I couldn’t believe it! Since when does Lips get lines? Zoot actually got quite a bit of attention over those sixteen episodes, being the perpetrator of a few more memorable jokes that I can quote off the top of my head nearly four years later.
It’s not uncommon for people to self-project onto obscure characters as it gives us a chance to insert ourselves into the canon of whatever story is being told or whatever franchise is being continued. It’s yet another form of imagination the Muppets can encourage out of us, even if it’s not the type they actively encourage us to have. Whether Zoot, Lips or Mutation #3, there’s nothing wrong with having headcanons about your favourite Muppets. It shows you have empathy and the ability to interpret the motivations of others based on the evidence provided for you. Great qualities to possess.
You never know. You might just be on the right track.