We’re back once again with the wonderful Matt Vogel. Today we discuss the Muppets! Don’t forget to read Part 1 if you haven’t already.
Interview with Matt Vogel, Part 2
Conducted by Ryan Dosier
MATT: I’m not sure if this is actually a deal or a rip-off, but I carry my card with me everywhere—just in case.
RYAN: Since we covered Sesame Street in part one, I thought we could dedicate part two to your work with the Muppet gang. Most recently you’ve taken on the roles of Jerry Nelson’s Muppet characters, correct?
MATT: That’s true.
RYAN: What was the recast process for these characters like? Was Jerry involved at all? Who were the big decision makers?
MATT: The Muppets Studio asked me to meet with Jerry and talk about his characters. David Rudman was also there to hear Jerry talk about Richard Hunt. It was very cool being in the room for that—kind of like a master class in character. He talked about Floyd’s roots and his take on The Electric Mayhem along with some insight about Robin and some of his other characters. He talked about The Muppet Show days and the genesis of both his and Richard’s characters. It think it was handled in the right way, since Jerry wasn’t performing those characters anymore, but Muppets wanted to start using them again with consistent performers.
RYAN: Which of Jerry’s characters is the most difficult for you to perform? Which one comes most naturally?
MATT: Well, for some reason I’m comfortable with Floyd. I am in no way a hip and cool dude, but I connect with him. I see a lot of Jerry in Floyd and I adore Jerry so I try to emulate him as Floyd, I suppose. Crazy Harry’s a blast to perform—get it? Lew Zealand is rough because of where it’s placed vocally, but it’s still fun. However, the most difficult for me is Robin. It’s such a delicate balance between the kid that he is and not making him too kiddie. Plus, the voice is so much like Jerry’s that it makes it nearly impossible to get there. Sometimes the more “character voice” it is, the easier it is to do. But like anything that you strive to be really good at, you have to practice and work on it, which I do with all of the voices…but mostly Robin.
RYAN: I’ve been consistently impressed by your performance of Floyd since Studio DC. In fact, for awhile, a lot of fans thought it was Jerry performing him. Will we be seeing Floyd return more as part of the main gang like he was back on The Muppet Show?
RYAN: As their performer, do you feel that there’s been a conscious decision within The Muppets Studio to bring back fan-favorites like Robin, the Electric Mayhem, and others?
MATT: I do think that it’s conscious decision for The Muppets Studio to bring back Jerry and Richard’s characters and finding someone logical to take care of those characters so they have consistency of character like they once did.
RYAN: Can you talk to us a little bit about “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Did the Electric Mayhem get paid that night?
MATT: Do they ever get paid? Shooting “Bohemian Rhapsody” was cool because we got to sing to the actual Queen backing tracks! I love how the video we shot tries to replicate the original Queen video.
RYAN: Bill Barretta revealed that you performed Lew Zealand in the video. How many takes did you spend trying to hit Beauregard in the eye with Lew’s fish?
MATT: I never had to actually hit Beauregard while I was puppeteering Lew, but I did have to hit Beau with the fish on his shot. We did it a couple of different ways where I’d hit him in the face at a couple of different times, but the schedule was pretty fast paced, so there wasn’t a lot of time to mess up or elaborate on what was happening in each shot.
RYAN: As the new performer of Jerry Nelson’s characters, did you perform Dr. Strangepork in the video? Do you know why he was so randomly included? (Not that that’s a bad thing.)
MATT: I did perform Dr. Strangepork in the video. He was one of the ones that Jerry talked about in the meeting I had with him. I think he was in the video because they were trying to get as many recognizable characters to the fans in there somewhere but I’m looking forward to doing something with him some day.
MATT: Steve and I got to play as Kermit and Robin for a couple of shots in the “Give a Day Get a Disney Day” commercials outside Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and we shot a piece in the Pirates of the Caribbean with Kermit and Robin in a boat looking at rat pirates.
RYAN: One of the very great Muppet appearances in years was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in December. You, of course, played Robin as he sat atop Jimmy’s shoulder. Did Jimmy specifically request that? Do they keep in touch?
MATT: I think they were trying to recreate the feel of the John Denver & The Muppets bit and Robin was on John Denver’s shoulder so that’s where I ended up putting him. Jimmy didn’t request it, but he was a good sport letting me put a puppet on his shoulder for so long. As for keeping in touch, Jimmy and Robin have tried to iChat but since Robin spends most of his time inside a plastic bag in a box it makes it kind of difficult.
RYAN: Another great, recent appearance was on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Did Crazy Harry mess up Ty’s hair when he blew up the house?
MATT: I’m not sure about Ty’s hair, but it was cool shooting that scene. We were actually right there when the explosives went off—it was very cool. The whole experience was very moving…seeing a family that’s loved by the community get a brand new place to live. And I was amazed at how the cast and crew on the show could completely demolish and build a brand new home in that small amount of time and then be off to the next city for the next one.
RYAN: What about the impromptu Muppet performance for the volunteers and the family? How did that come about and how much planning and rehearsal time did you have beforehand?
MATT: I think it was a last minute decision that Extreme Makeover wanted to do for the people of the community who’d volunteered. We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time and we were learning the song in the van on the way over. Paul DiMeo from the show learned the piano part about an hour before showtime.
RYAN: Talk to us a little bit about filming for the “Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.” promotions. Were the people in the Disney Parks in awe of you guys, or did they just push past you to get to “it’s a small world”?
MATT: It was great shooting in the park—we were right in the middle of Main Street USA in a firetruck and people were genuinely surprised and happy to see the Muppets. I was in Sweetums so I got a good look at the crowds that were gathering and it was pretty amazing. The best part about shooting at Disneyland was shooting after hours. We ended up shooting in the belly of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at 4AM—it’s unusual to see motionless animatronic pirates under work lights. We also shot on the Dumbo ride before the park opened and I had to take some Dramamine to keep from throwing up on the chickens I was performing. I get a little motion sickness now and again.
RYAN: The Muppets also recently appeared on America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the Electric Mayhem finally got a gig. How did they score that?
RYAN: Did the Mayhem get to watch the videos on the show? If so, which one was Floyd’s favorite?
MATT: Floyd would probably just say, “It’s a gig, man. Let’s play!”
RYAN: I’ve always wondered if the Muppeteers collect any Muppet merchandise. Do you?
MATT: I used to be a huge collector of Muppet stuff before I was a Muppeteer. I am not kidding, I had an entire bedroom chock full of anything and everything I could get my hands on back when I was younger. I’ve since parted with a lot of those things, but I still have a few items I really love.
RYAN: Aside from Muppet work, you’re also a very accomplished musician. Can you tell us a little bit about your work in music?
MATT: I wouldn’t say I’m an accomplished musician, but I do write songs and play in a band called The Mighty Weaklings. We started out playing in bars around New York City back in 2000 and recorded two independent recordings, including a kid’s CD called You Can’t Rock Sittin’ Down (available on iTunes) which I’m very proud of. We had some special guests on the record including Jerry Nelson on a track called “The Grumpy Song”. The most recent thing the band has done is record the theme song to an hilarious internet interview show called Side By Side by Susan Blackwell on Broadway.com.
RYAN: You also performed an Anything Muppet on one of my favorite shows, 30 Rock, awhile ago. What was it like to get to work on that show?
MATT: That was a really fun shoot. I got to work with my friends Joey Mazzarino and Carmen Osbahr and we had as much time as we wanted, which was nice. It was cool to be on the set of a show that I watch every week—and more than that—to actually be performing on that show.
RYAN: How do you feel about how Disney is currently handling the Muppets? Do you feel that they’re finally on the right track with them?
MATT: I’m excited about where Muppets is heading. I think they’re in a good place now at Disney and that there are legitimate plans to push the Muppets in all different mediums. I’d like to think that it will mean a lot more Muppet stuff happening soon.
RYAN: And, finally, what can Muppet fans expect from The Muppets Studio in 2010?
MATT: Well, I can tell you what I hope from The Muppets Studio in 2010…I hope we’ll get to do some more Muppets.com videos and YouTube shorts and of course, I hope we’ll be shooting a movie for a 2011 release.
RYAN: Matt, thank you so much for doing this interview with me. It’s been a true honor for me to have this opportunity. I guess I should ask if you have any questions for me since I’ve been grilling you for so long. I’ll answer whatever you may ask! (Unless it’s about that penguin incident in the diner three years ago… I’m not permitted to speak of that.)
MATT: Where’d you get that shirt?
RYAN: I got it from my tailor. Don’t you just love this outfit? I really can’t thank you enough, Matt! It’s been a great pleasure getting to interview you. Take care! Congratulations on 40 years of Sesame Street and the Muppet Revolution! If there is ever anything The Muppet Mindset can do for you, we’re always here to accommodate!
MATT: Likewise, Ryan. Thanks for having me.
Thanks again to Matt Vogel for this wonderful interview! Remember, for more information on Matt, be sure to check out http://www.mattvogel.com!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org