It’s the rare child of the ’70s who doesn’t have fond memories of the Muppets. Sesame Street. The Muppet Show. All those wacky movies. Well, this week Kermit the Frog and the gang are staging a big-screen comeback in Disney’s The Muppets. It’s a PG-rated romp about an idealistic fan named Walter who decides the only way to save the doomed Muppet Theater is to pull his idols out of retirement to host a telethon. Or as Beaker so eloquently described the plot, “Mimimimi mimimi.” I’d love to say I spoke with Beaker directly, but he wasn’t available. I did, however, get a call from another member of the cast who was incredibly gracious … and very green. Here’s just a portion of my candid conversation with Kermit.
It’s been awhile since you’ve been on the big screen. What inspired you to do another feature film?
Well, partially it’s because we haven’t been on the big screen in a while. We wanted to do that. Also, Jason Segel, who wrote the film and stars in it, came to us with a nice idea: It’s a Muppet film idea written completely from a fan’s point of view. And so that was kind of fun, and it was great working with Jason.
How does it feel to be co-starring with Miss Piggy again?
It’s always good. In our film, the story is that we haven’t been together for a very long time. Actually, we’ve done lots of television and Internet stuff over the years anyway, and I think our fans know we’re still out there. So Piggy and I work together quite often.
These days, they tend to combine the names of show-business couples. There’s Bennifer and Brangelina. Would you be Kermiggy?
Kermiggy? That’s actually a pretty good one. I hadn’t heard that. We might be that. We might be Pigmet, which sounds like something out of Shakespeare—better than “Hamlet” in Piggy’s case.
As you look back over your career, Kermit, what are you most proud of?
I think the longevity. I’ve been in showbiz for 55 years, which is hard to believe sometimes. The years just fly by. I think I’m very happy with my work on Sesame Street. I love the fact that so many adults now come up to me, and they learned their letters and their numbers from me. Now they’re introducing us to their own children, which is part of why I love this film. I think that’s what it’s gonna do.
Every year at this time, my family watches The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Oh, yes, one of my favorites. I love that film. … That was the first film I had ever done where I actually played another role. I’m Kermit the Frog the actor, and I play Kermit the Frog. But in that film I was actually playing Bob Cratchit, which is a whole different role. … I stretched myself as an actor to play an actual role from Dickens. Pretty neat.
I think my favorite moment in that film is when you tell Piggy about Tiny Tim’s experience at church, and how his illness pointed to the one who made lame beggars walk and blind men see. You guys were talking about Jesus, weren’t you?
Well, we were, and you know it’s really interesting about that film, even though we have lots of bears and pigs and chickens and rats in that film, the actual script is pretty much straight out of Charles Dickens’ novel. We didn’t change a lot of the dialogue, so it’s a pretty faithful telling of that story. It really is a great story about the whole Christmas season.
The media has changed pretty dramatically since you got your start, but kids still need healthy entertainment, don’t they?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve always tried to do that the best we could. Times change, and things get very cynical. I don’t know, I actually did the Ellen DeGeneres show a few weeks ago, and I was happy to work with her, because I know one of the things she tries to do which I’ve always tried to do is be funny without being mean to people. I would hate to make a joke about somebody and then have to work with them. I think it’s nice to be responsible about that kind of stuff.
A lot of celebrities have had a hard time maintaining a wholesome image. They may start out that way and then go off the rails. But you’ve been very intentional and successful about that. How have you done it?
Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t spend my life living in Hollywood. That’s part of it. I do all my work and then I always go back to the swamp. I always go back to the place where I came from, and stick with my roots. People ask me what my advice is for people going into show business, and it’s “Never believe your own PR.” I think that’s pretty important.
Kermit, there are moments in this new film where you offer wise counsel to other characters. Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share with us as we conclude today?
In all of our movies we have bad guys. And in this movie, Chris Cooper—who’s one of the nicest guys in the world—plays a really mean bad guy. And with all the Muppets, we’ve always tried in our movies, y’know, even in the first one with Doc Hopper who wanted to chop me up and make me into a meal, we’ve always tried to embrace our enemies. And I think that’s an important message, not only from The Muppets, but for everyone in the world.
Good advice. In fact, that’s what Jesus taught His followers in Matthew 5. If you’d like to hear the rest of our conversation—including what Kermit thought of Lady Gaga’s dress made entirely of Kermit puppets—check out episode #125 of The Official Plugged In Podcast, which will be available Thanksgiving Day. In the meantime, I’d love to know how Kermit and friends have touched your life. Also, who’s your favorite Muppet, and why?