If you're like me, you grew up with the Muppets, and their voices are as familiar as a not-so-distant relative's. Who couldn't instantly recognize Kermit's friendly "hey-ho," or Piggy's falsely modest, "moi?" Yet, when ABC debuts The Muppets on Sept. 22, it has to do so (sadly) without some of the most iconic Muppet voices out there, like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. So, who is going to walk in those webbed, hoofed, and otherwise hard-to-fill shoes? Who does the voices for The Muppets now?
Before I answer, I need to add on to my question. According to several Q&As I've attended with Muppets performers at various Henson events, those behind the Muppets don't just do the voices. Each performer does a whole character, taking on the puppeteering as well as the voice acting. It's not like one skilled puppeteer does the on-camera work, and a famous voice gets to sit in a sound booth and just do the dialogue. It might be much easier that way, but that's not the Muppet way. So, as I run through these performers and the (multiple) roles they take on, we have to respect them as bastions of multitasking.
So, here are the performers behind some of your favorite felted TV characters.
Kermit, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, and Statler
Steve Whitmire has the hardest role in the series—taking over for Jim Henson as the voice of Kermit the Frog. But, he's been doing it since The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992, so by now he's had decades of practice in how to make Kermit his own while staying true to the original. And, even though he has the hardest job, he also gets to be some of the most fun side characters, like Rizzo, Beaker, and Statler.
Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle
You might think of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal as three totally different characters, making it hard for performer Eric Jacobson to tackle them all. But, to me, though their voices are different, their personalities are related: They're basically all id, and willing to do whatever it takes for what they want, be it personal validation, a laugh, or the opportunity to kick ass on the drums. It's funny, then, that Jacobson is also Sam Eagle, their total opposite and a poster child for repression.
Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, and Chip
Wait, I know most of Dave Goelz's characters: Gonzo, check. Bunsen, check. Waldorf, check. But, who is this Chip? Chip is the new Muppet created for the TV show. He's apparently the IT guy for the show-within-a-show, so the Muppets are definitely online now, and it's possible they're reading this as we speak.
Pepe the King Prawn, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, the Swedish Chef, and Bobo the Bear
Bill Barretta has quite a cast of characters to his name. And, while Rowlf and the Swedish Chef are probably the most famous out of his lot, Pepe is my favorite. I don't think he's been given his moment in the spotlight yet, so I hope The Muppets is where Pepe finally gets to shine. Who doesn't love a bug-eyed sea creature?
Floyd, Uncle Deadly, Sweetums
OK, it's possible you don't even know who two out of those three Muppets are. But, performer Matt Vogel killed it as another unknown, the villain Constantine, in Muppets Most Wanted, so I'm sure he'll be able to make his mark with these three. And, maybe there will be room for a Constantine cameo?
Denise is also new for the TV series — she's Kermit's new pig girlfriend. She's performed by Julianne Buescher, who you might know for playing Piddles the Pug alongside Cee-Lo Green at the 2011 Grammys.
With this stellar cast of longtime puppeteers, The Muppets is likely going to be just as good as it was when you were a kid, even if some of the performers are different.
Images: Bob D’Amico, Andrea McCallin/ABC