Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Pepe the Prawn and more opened the D23 Expo Friday in Anaheim, California, with a lively panel that ventured into the risque.
Following a sizzle reel promoting the upcoming ABC series, Muppeteers Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson and Matt Vogel came on stage to discuss the “edgy” nature of the show.
Co-created by Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), a former longtime employee of Jim Henson, “The Muppets” takes a documentary-style approach, revealing what goes on behind the scenes of the fictional talk show “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” while also offering a glimpse into the beloved characters’ personal lives.
“It’s two shows -- a show within a show,” Whitmire said. “But you probably can’t find the late-night show, although Kermit says he’s trying to find a place on the air.”
He noted that while the humor in the new series is more “adult” than previous Muppets projects, “It’ll be real life. A little edgy, but nothing that parents can’t let their kids watch.”
Goelz, who voices Gonzo, agreed. “You want to do something you’re interested in,” he said. “We’ve always done things that amused us, that worked on an adult level but is safe for kids. We’re always learning. Every day we like to surprise each other with new aspects of the characters.”
Barretta, who voices Pepe the Prawn and the piano-playing Rolf, added, “Every day we’re pushing them a little bit and have fun with them. The characters, even after we cut, tend to stay alive. The new show is about what happens to them after we cut, which is fun. People usually don’t get to see the backstage stuff.”
The Muppeteers then brought out some of the characters to field audience questions.
Miss Piggy was absent, which isn’t surprising, considering her very public split with longtime beau Kermit the Frog. “It’s no mistake that Miss Piggy is not here today,” Jacobson explained. “It could be very awkward. Some people are upset out there by the breakup, but you know, they’ve never been the most stable couple. It gives them tension, still having to work together, she as the star, of course, and he as her executive producer.”
One audience member asked, “When Gonzo says he also likes pigs, is he trying to console Kermit or is he just being weird?,” leading to the Muppets hitting on those posing questions. A girl with an English accent asked Pepe whether he would date a British girl, which sparked a fight between Pepe, Animal and Gonzo over who was going to date her.
“We can have a foursome,” Gonzo said as the audience laughed.
Pepe replied, “No, wait a minute,” but after a long, reflective pause, added, “Yeah, OK, man. That sounds good.”
A few lucky audience members were invited onstage to learn how to operate the Muppets on-camera, and with the help of the Muppeteers staged amusing dance numbers to songs from Bruno Mars, Beyonce and Marvin Gaye.
The panelists were asked what it feels like to be working together again.
“We couldn’t have done this show five years ago,” Whitmire replied.
“The time feels right now,” Jacobson said. “After the viral videos primed the pump, followed by the movies that we did, there is now a real appetite for the Muppets. And we’ve got this amazing team, the creatives, the writers, this material -- it’s so incredible. I’m really excited. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked on a project like this before.”
“Once in a while it feels like it’s the right people in the right place at the right time,” Goelz said. “This is one of those times.”
“The Muppets” premieres Tuesday, Sept. 22, on ABC.