Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Rizzo the Rat

Written by Ryan Dosier.


Performed by…
Steve Whitmire

First appearance…
The Muppet Show Episode 418: Christopher Reeve (1980)

Most recent appearance…
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Best known role…
Hungry, sleazy, cowardly rat and best friend to Gonzo the Great and business partner of Pepe the King Prawn. Previously seen as a waiter, a narrator, a cabin boy, a red-nosed-rat-deer, a Munchkin.

Memorable quote…
“I never carried the plague–not even once!”

Rizzo the Rat is a street-wise rat from the sewers of Brooklyn, New York. He wasn’t raised on the streets–but he sure as heck was raised under them. He has an affinity for anything edible (and even things that aren’t–wax fruit, anyone?) and tends to get himself into situations he doesn’t care to be in; usually based on the doing of The Great Gonzo.

In his first appearance, Rizzo was hardly distinguishable from the other rats on The Muppet Show, as he was just a part of a larger group of rats following Christopher Reeve around backstage. He wasn’t even mentioned by name until four episodes later, when Kermit finally revealed the camera-mugging rat’s name.

Since The Muppet Show, Rizzo’s prominence in the Muppet group has sky-rocketed; most likely to give Steve Whitmire a main character to perform. He had a minor supporting role in The Great Muppet Caper as a bellhop and was elevated to full blown supporting character in The Muppets Take Manhattan when he worked as a waiter at Pete’s Luncheonette and helped Kermit attempt to sell the show to a Broadway executive.

In the Muppet specials after The Muppets Take Manhattan Rizzo made some minor appearances as well. In A Muppet Family Christmas he attempted to sleep in Oscar’s trash can with him and in The Muppets go to Walt Disney World he “assists” a Disney security guard in apprehending the Muppets. His main motivation in the latter was always food–an addiction he would hang on to as his career grew.

One of Rizzo’s most famous moments comes during the pre-show of Muppet*Vision 3D. Gonzo comes rushing out to tell Sam the Eagle of a special guest–the one and only Mickey Mouse! When Mickey comes out, who is it but Rizzo the Rat in Mouse clothing. Rizzo waves to the audience and says, “Hi, hello, welcome to my park!” When Sam tells him that he is indeed not Mickey Mouse, Rizzo shrugs and says, “Eh, whada they know? They’re tourists!”

In later years, Rizzo sky-rocketed to main character status in the Muppet films and TV specials. In The Muppet Christmas Carol he played narrator alongside Gonzo, who played Charles Dickens. This was notable because it was really the first time that Gonzo and Rizzo had worked together as a pair. It obviously worked, and the two have been good friends and a terrific comedic duo ever since.

Muppet Treasure Island saw Rizzo in much the same boat (pun definitely intended) as Gonzo’s foil. Here, instead of a narrator, he played a cabin boy and friend of Jim Hawkins. In the movie, Rizzo sold tickets for the voyage and billed them as a luxury cruise–“We put the RAT in pi-rate!”

On Muppets Tonight Rizzo acted as a stage manager of sorts for Clifford. At times he seemed almost Scooter-like in his role of wrangling guest stars and alerting Clifford to what act was next and when something wasn’t going smoothly. It was also on Muppets Tonight that Rizzo sang “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt,” a song that has garnered him much… attention.

Rizzo’s biggest role as himself was in Muppets From Space where he was arguably the second main character behind Gonzo. In the movie, he doubts Gonzo’s alien heritage, eats, schemes with Pepe, eats, loses at poker, eats, becomes a lab rat, eats, saves Gonzo’s life, and eats. This was the first time that Rizzo and Pepe worked together as a duo and they have continued to do so in recent years.

In It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz Rizzo was relegated back to secondary character position. He did have a few memorable moments in both, however, as Rizzo the Red-Nosed Rat-Deer and the Mayor of Munchkinland, respectively.

Since The Muppets Studio was formed, Rizzo has appeared quite often in most of the Muppet productions. He was featured prominently in both Studio DC: Almost Live specials as the Electric Mayhem’s manager and a supporter of polka-rap. In Letters to Santa he ratted out the mob and flew to the North Pole with Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Pepe. He also got Rowlf onto a skateboard in the viral video “Skateboarding Dog Gets Served” and got eaten by Big Mean Carl in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rizzo has appeared quite frequently in the videos on Muppets.com. Most notably video taping Miss Piggy with his “rat-cam.”

Rizzo had a small, non-speaking cameo in The Muppets (2011) and had one line in Muppets Most Wanted (2014), bemoaning the absence of other beloved Muppet characters in favor of Walter’s new starring role.

Rizzo, the rat who started as a nameless, clothes-less puppet has become one of the main Muppet characters. His popularity can be attributed to the brilliant performance of Steve Whitmire, the fun of his sarcasm, his wit, and his ability to play of so many different characters so well.

There are many reasons that the Muppets need Rizzo (besides the fact that he eats all the leftovers). Rizzo is the best friend of both Gonzo and Pepe, so it’s hard to picture either of them without him at their side. Rizzo has become an integral Muppet character–one whose presence would be sorely missed and very much disputed if he were excluded from a major Muppet project. Rizzo provides the wise-guy act to a group of cuddly frogs and dogs and bears and things. It is because of his sarcasm and wit that he has become such a favorite character.

At this point it really is hard to picture the Muppets without Rizzo in the group. He has become so ingrained and well liked, that he’s nothing short of a classic. Rizzo will be sure to have some more smart remarks in the next Muppet project and I can’t wait to hear them!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Rizzo the Rat

  1. I love Rizzo, he´s so genius 🙂 Im remember when i was in Disney 3D (to many years ago)and I saw him with mickey mouse ears with my parents & brothers and laughts a lots with his phrase “Eh, whada they know? They're tourists!” kisses from Uruguay, Malvina.-

  2. YES, the Muppets need Rizzo.

    Comedy is not just action, it's *reaction.* Gonzo's insanity isn't half as funny without a sarcastic, panic-attack-prone rat to react to it. And he's not half as human (or whatever) without his best buddy.

    The Rizzo/Pepe team is also fantastic.

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