Written by Ryan Dosier.
The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)
Most recent appearance…
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Best known role(s)…
Whatever, daredevil, weirdo, performance artiste, chicken lover, plumber, narrator, cabin boy, photographer, Tin-Thing, purveyor of the weird, wild, and unusual
Rizzo the Rat; Kermit the Frog
Camilla the Chicken (when he can tell her apart from any of the other chickens)
WHO IS GONZO?
Gonzo, otherwise known as The Great Gonzo or Gonzo the Great, is The Muppet Show‘s resident performance artiste who enjoys performing feats of “lunatic daring,” endangering his own life nearly every time he performs–and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Gonzo first appeared in the 1970 television special The Great Santa Claus Switch as a small blue Frackle who lived in a cigar box; thus, he earned the tentative name of Snarl the Cigar Box Frackle. It wasn’t until 1976 and The Muppet Show that the tiny fellow was plucked from the cigar box, given a purple tuxedo, and became a star.
In the very first episode of The Muppet Show, Gonzo’s weirdness shone right through as he performed his first televised wacky act wherein he ate a rubber tire to the tune of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” The Muppets were never the same. (And neither were their health insurance premiums.) Throughout the course of the show, Gonzo’s acts would become weirder and weirder as he attempted to reach new artistic heights.
In the first season of the show, Gonzo’s appearance was constantly very sad and morose due to his unmoving eyelids and pouty facial expression that didn’t match his usually manic personality. By the second season, Gonzo acquired bright yellow moving eyelids, a new nose, and an entirely new expression. After this new evolution, Gonzo leapt from the ranks of secondary character and, with help from his energetic and outspoken personality, became one of the primary and most popular Muppet characters.
Throughout the run of the show Gonzo would interact with guest stars; including notable scene-stealing moments with John Cleese, Madeline Kahn, Lola Falana, George Burns, and Big Bird; he often purveyed weird acts such as dancing cheese, singing rocks, hot-stepping chickens, and a baby asparagus chorus; he coordinated an all-show-long dance party, serenaded countless chickens, and, of course, blew the final note of “The Muppet Show Theme Song” at the opening of every episode.
Gonzo’s attraction to poultry persona began and developed throughout the course of the show, starting with a humble “Nice legs!” remark to an auditioning chicken dancer in the Rich Little episode, and reaching its apex with his semi-creepy attraction to six year-old, male, Big Bird in the Leslie Uggams episode. In that same episode, Gonzo met his now-regular chicken girlfriend, Camilla. Gonzo and Camilla have been in some sort of relationship ever since, even with Gonzo’s apparent inability to tell her apart from other chickens, leading one to ask the question… is the chicken he’s with really Camilla, or is some nameless chicken just looking for a quick buck-buck-buck?
In 1979, Gonzo made the jump to feature films with the rest of the Muppets with a starring role in The Muppet Movie. In the movie, Kermit and Fozzie discover Gonzo on their way to Hollywood when their cars collide. We find Gonzo pursuing a career as a Plumbing Artiste with Camilla at his side. However, once he finds his way into Fozzie’s uncle’s Studebaker, Gonzo professes his dream of going to Bombay, India to become a movie star (Hollywood is just too easy). He settles for Hollywood, however, and travels with Kermit and the rest of the Muppets to reap the rewards of the Standard Rich and Famous Contract. Along the way, he gets to take a trip in the air on balloons, gets “hopping mad,” and sings his most famous tune, “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday.”
After The Muppet Show ended and the Muppets moved on to their second feature film, The Great Muppet Caper, Gonzo took on a new role as a photographer–a weird one, of course, with one of his projects being a photographic essay on kneecaps. In the film, he worked as a photographer for The Daily Chronicle alongside roving twin reporters Kermit and Fozzie. Thanks to Gonzo, the mystery of who stole Lady Holiday’s fabulous Baseball Diamond was solved (eventually). It is also in this movie that Gonzo is first referred to as a “Whatever,” a classification that sticks to this day.
In his third feature film role in The Muppets Take Manhattan, Gonzo tags along with the rest of the Muppets as the go to New York City to try and make it on Broadway. When all of the Muppets go their separate ways, Gonzo and Camilla travel to Michigan where they start up a fantastic boat act in which Gonzo water skis while his chorus of chickens performs Tony Bennett’s rendition of the “William Tell Overture.” Thankfully, Gonzo rejoins the rest of the Muppets on Broadway, where he famously didn’t play the part of the Minister in Manhattan Melodies.
When the 1990’s loomed, Gonzo took more of a leading role in the Muppet clan, starting first with The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) where he played the part of Charles Dickens, guiding the audience through the story alongside his new-found partner and soon to be best friend, Rizzo the Rat. Together, Gonzo and Rizzo sold apples, broke a shelf, and did some other exciting things in the film as Michael Caine’s Ebeneezer Scrooge dealt with ghosts and ex-girlfriends. At this point, Gonzo’s manic, daredevil side would begin to fade into the background in favor of his more prominent, show-runner role.
In 1993, Gonzo continued his hosting role in Muppet Classic Theater where he and Rizzo alternated between hosting and acting, with Gonzo playing Rumpelstiltskin. 1996 brought the Gonzo and Rizzo dynamic back to the big screen in Muppet Treasure Island where the two played the best friends of Jim Hawkins. As a cabin boy on the Hispaniola ship, Gonzo had his limbs elongated, starfish put down his pants, and finally got to go to Zanzibar to meet the Zanzibarbarians (or wherever the wind ended up taking him).
Gonzo’s role on Muppets Tonight was odd. (What else did you expect?) At times he acted as a sort of co-host to Clifford, other times he seemed to be a producer, and even more times he conducted even more crazy acts including a cannonade set to the “1812 Overture,” being hammered feet first into a railroad tie by two American Gladiators, and rocketing skyward at mach 5 held only by a thin little bungee-cord, where at the apex of his ascent he was snapped back to earth where his fall was stopped by… the floor, what else?
The biggest role of Gonzo’s career came in Muppets From Space (1999) where he played himself, the main protagonist of the story. In the film, Gonzo struggles with his identity (obviously not content with just being a whatever), builds a jacuzzi, nearly has a quadrilobal brain probe, and discovers that the truth of his existence is completely out of this world. Gonzo’s friendship with Rizzo developed in this movie, as did his relationship with Kermit. Unfortunately, Camilla was nowhere to be seen during the whole ordeal–maybe that’s what sparked the whole identity crisis in the first place.
In the 2000’s, Gonzo was present in every major Muppet project including It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Carol (2002) where he played the producer role again, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005) where he played the Tin Thing, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008) where he worried about a little girl and sang his first duet with Fozzie Bear. In 2008, Gonzo started his own YouTube account, posting a video called “Classical Chicken” where he, Camilla, and chickens perform the “Blue Danube Waltz.” Gonzo appeared in the “Rolling with the Skateboarding Dog” video as well. He famously crooned the opening solo during the Muppet cover of “Bohemian Rhaposdy” in 2009 as chickens joined in behind him.
Gonzo appeared in the music video for OK Go’s cover of “The Muppet Show Theme Song” from Muppets: The Green Album. In the video, Gonzo joins Kermit, Fozzie, and Animal as they sing alongside lead singer Damian Kulash, watches as Camilla gets whacked by a can of paint, and even acts as a puppeteer of one of the band members, carefully watching the monitor as he works.
Gonzo returned to the big screen in 2011 in The Muppets, where he once again played a prominent role. In the film, Gonzo plays himself as a high-powered plumbing magnate and owner of Gonzo’s Royal Flush. It takes Kermit, Fozzie, Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and new Muppet Walter to convince him to return to the stage and the daredevilry that he loves so much. Together, with the rest of the Muppets, Gonzo helps to save the Muppet Theater from the grips of bad guy Tex Richman–with special help from his bowling ball.
In Muppets Most Wanted, Gonzo performs his latest death-defying act: The Indoor Running of the Bulls. Kermit, obviously, thinks the act is too dangerous and won’t let Gonzo perform it. However, when Constantine takes over, he lets Gonzo run wild. Gonzo ropes actress Selma Hayek into performing the act with him, and it goes just about as well as you’d expect. At the climax of the film, Gonzo’s nose provides the hook for Muppet Ladder to grab onto Constantine’s getaway helicopter.
GONZO AND DAVE GOELZ
For almost 40 years, since his first appearance on The Muppet Show, Gonzo has been performed by only one person: Dave Goelz. Dave was not only instrumental in Gonzo’s characterization, but his design as well. Dave was the puppet builder who redesigned the character in between the first and second season of The Muppet Show and thus became responsible for Gonzo’s wild takes and wild outlook. Dave (along with writer Jerry Juhl) is obviously responsible for creating exactly who Gonzo is. From his lunacy to his more somber side, Dave has been the one who made Gonzo who he is and who he will continue to grow into.
GONZO’S STUNTS, ACTS, AND WILD IDEAS
For over 35 years, Gonzo has been performing the most outlandish acts this side of Timbuktu. Starting with his eating of a rubber tire to classical music on The Muppet Show and most recently hurling a bowling ball at Jack Black’s head in The Muppets, Gonzo lives to entertain with his idea of fine art. Here are some of his greatest performances…
- Gonzo Wrestles a Brick (The Muppet Show Episode 207)
- Gonzo Recites Shakespeare While Hanging By His Nose (The Muppet Show Episode 222)
- Gonzo Recites the Seven Times Table While Balancing a Piano on His Nose (The Muppet Show Episode 301)
- Gonzo Yodels While Riding a Motorized Pogostick (The Muppet Show Episode 303)
- Gonzo Tap Dances in Oatmeal (The Muppet Show Episode 411)
Gonzo Conducts Liebesträume and Battles a Crab (The Muppet Show Episode 504)
- Gonzo Water Skis While Chickens Cluck Tony Bennett’s Rendition of “The William Tell Overture” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
- Gonzo Rockets Skyward at Mach 5 While Being Held by a Bungee Cord (Muppets Tonight Episode 102)
- Gonzo Conducts The Refined Young Cannonballs to the “1812 Overture” (Muppets Tonight Episode 206)
- Gonzo Skydives Out of an Elevator (Muppets.com)
- Gonzo Butters Pickles the Alligator (Muppets.com)
Being an artiste, Gonzo is quite musically inclined, having many different songs under his belt. Here are some of his most stand-out musical performances…
- “Wishing Song” with Madeline Kahn (The Muppet Show Episode 209)
- “Jamboree” (The Muppet Show Episode 311)
- “Act Naturally” (The Muppet Show Episode 405)
- “My Way” (The Muppet Show Episode 411)
- “El Condor Pasa” (The Muppet Show Episode 511)
- “Dancin’ With Myself” (Muppets Tonight Episode 207)
- “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” (The Muppet Movie)
- “Love in a Laundromat” with Camilla the Chicken (The Muppets at Walt Disney World)
- “Mr. Spaceman” with Jimmy Buffett and Rizzo the Rat (Kermit: Unpigged)
- “Something Better” with Rizzo the Rat and Jim Hawkins (Muppet Treasure Island)
- “Everyone Matters” with Kermit the Frog (It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie)
- “I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus” with Fozzie Bear (A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa)
WHY DO THE MUPPETS NEED GONZO?
It’s a wonder that the Muppets do keep Gonzo around after all the pain, destruction, and debt he causes them. What is it about the blue weirdo that makes him someone Kermit keeps on the pay roll (or under the steam roller–Gonzo would prefer either one)? Well, Gonzo may be crazy, wacky, zany, unhinged, and other-worldly, but he pursues the Muppets’ dream just as intensely as anyone. The dream of making people happy is exactly what Gonzo strives for every time he steps on stage.
Every time he balances a piano on his nose, tap-dances in tapioca and thumb tacks, or hypnotizes himself while holding a 5,000 pound weight, Gonzo is trying to live the dream and make people happy. The Muppets need Gonzo because he pushes their dream to its limits, bursting it at the seams, doing whatever he has to in order to live that dream and make those people happy through art.
The Muppets need Gonzo because, like Fozzie Bear, like Kermit, like Miss Piggy, no matter how many times he fails, he gets back up and tries again. No matter how many times he can’t remember what seven times seven is, no matter how many times he can’t walk for a week, no matter how many times he’s flattened like a fuzzy blue pancake, Gonzo always hoists himself up. He gets a calculator, he wears shoes, he uses a bicycle pump to reinflate himself… he never gives up on the dream.
Gonzo has never given up, and he will never give up, as long as there is art to showcase, chickens to chase, and weird to be.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org