Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Bert

WMW Bert

Written by Ryan Dosier.


Performed by…5bc96-bert
Frank Oz (1969-present)
Eric Jacobson (1997-present)

First appearance…
Sesame Street Test Pilot (1969)

Most recent appearance…
Sesame Street Season 45 (2014)

Best known role…
Ernie’s boring, badgered, paperclip/oatmeal/pigeon loving roommate

Famous quote…
“Oh, Ernie…!!”

Best friend…

Bart (brother), Brad (nephew)

Bert is the unibrowed, vertical stripe wearing roommate and best friend of Ernie. He is often exasperated and annoyed by Ernie’s antics in and around their apartment. It seems like Ernie is there to pester Bert at every turn. Despite this, Bert has his loves and passions–of mostly boring things. Bert has often expressed his adoration of subjects including pigeons, paperclips, bottlecaps, and oatmeal.

Bert, alongside his best pal Ernie, was the first Muppet character to appear on Sesame Street in one of the test pilots in 1969. In these early appearances, Bert was almost always ticked off or grumpy about something. In almost all cases, Bert was the boring, straight-man half of his relationship with Ernie. It wasn’t until later in the run of Sesame Street that Bert’s boringness was used to effectively and beautifully represent what makes him truly unique.

The passions of Bert run deep and are expressed widely and often. Bert has a pet pigeon named Bernice who has been with him for many years. At one point Bert taught Bernice to play checkers… and she beat him more than once. Bert’s signature song, “Doin’ the Pigeon,” is even derived from his love of pigeons as he teaches us all how to dance like the birds he loves so. Bert’s bottlecap and paperclip collections are often the subject of adoration for him… and no one else. But perhaps that is why Bert loves them so… because he is the only one around who appreciates them.

Bert makes up half of the comedy team of Bert and Ernie (obviously), who have been compared to the great straight man/funny man duos of all time such as Abbott and Costello. The formula is simple: Bert is trying to do something normal or boring, and Ernie finds a way to spice it up and simultaneously annoy Bert. Though the premise is simple, the numerous ways in which it has been played out over the years are hilarious. Whether Ernie steals Bert’s scarf and hat to make a snowman, Ernie is catching more fish with his offbeat method and when Bert tries he catches a shark, Bert is trying to sleep but Ernie wants to play his bugle and dance with the Boogie Woogie Sheep, Ernie is building a bust of Bert and uses Bert’s actual nose to finish it off… it is a truly never-ending list of ways for this brilliant duo to make us laugh.

While Ernie may be the one who plays the most jokes, it is Bert’s frustration, aggravation, and annoyance that make his relationship with Ernie hysterical. Yet, no matter how much Ernie may bug him, Bert always stays by his friend’s side. Bert could easily just move out, find another roommate, and finally have peace… but he doesn’t. He doesn’t because he cares about Ernie and because through it all, Ernie remains Bert’s best friend. At the same time, it is Ernie who truly understands Bert’s oddities. Ernie also needs Bert to keep him tame. Could you imagine how much havoc Ernie would wreak if not for Bert’s chiding? Ernie needs Bert just as much as Bert needs Ernie.

Though he is most well defined by his appearances on Sesame Street, Bert has made quite a few appearances in television specials and movies as well. Some notable appearances include playing the part of “Mama” in A Muppet Family Christmas, flying an airplane with Ernie to find Big Bird in Follow That Bird, providing commentary for the kids in Elmo in Grouchland, trying to film Sesame Street to put it on television in Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, directing the show in Elmopalooza, singing “Some Enchanted Evening” with Connie Stevens on The Muppet Show, and trading his paperclips to Mr. Hooper for a soap dish for Rubber Duckie–only to have them returned to him later–in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

Bert is truly a definitive part of Sesame Street, providing a boring but still charming persona to the show. His relationship with Ernie has been around since the very beginning and luckily it continues 42 years later. In recent years, Bert and Ernie have been seen in the claymation shorts on the show in the series called “Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures.” But Bert still shows up alongside Ernie or by himself to adore pigeons, get frustrated, and laugh it all off.

For the first half of his existence, Bert was performed exclusively by Frank Oz alongside Jim Henson’s Ernie. It is because of the talent, friendship, and timing of Frank Oz and Jim Henson that Bert and Ernie became such comedy powerhouses on Sesame Street. It was Frank Oz who discovered why Bert’s boring could be interesting. Jim Henson once spoke on this subject saying, “In the beginning, Frank didn’t like Bert. He felt Bert was too dull. But then after a while he realized that Bert’s dullness was really a lot of fun, and he got into this dullness thing and turned it into this wonderful personality.”

Though Jim Henson and others have claimed that Bert represents Frank Oz the best out of all the characters he performs, Frank doesn’t exactly agree. He once said, “Bert is a very boring facet of myself… I don’t think I would latch onto that one character as being me.” No matter the case, Frank Oz turned Bert into a wonderfully detailed, funny, and important character.

Over the years Bert has performed many songs, a majority of them with Ernie. He has had a wide variety of solo numbers as well, most of them expressing his various passions or his love of being boring. Here are some of Bert’s most popular songs that he has performed over the years…

  • “Doin’ the Pigeon”
  • “Imagination” with Ernie
  • “Bert’s Blanket” with the Boogie-Woogie Sheep
  • “Have You Ever Looked at a Paperclip?”
  • “Pigeons, Cookies, and Trash” with Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch
  • “I Gotta Be Clean”
  • “But I Like You” with Ernie
  • “I’m Square”
  • “Upside Down World” with Ernie
  • “La, La, La” with Ernie
  • “The National Association of W Lovers”
  • “Things That I Remember” with Ernie
  • “My Rock”

Sesame Street needs Bert because Ernie needs Bert. Bert without Ernie is like peanut butter without jelly… pillows without blankets… pie without the feeling of hating yourself after eating too much of it. The same can be said for Sesame Street without Bert and Ernie. They provide a basis for friendship, humor, and caring about people who are different from you to children watching.

On his own, Bert himself teaches children that it’s okay to like things that not everyone else likes. He teaches them that no matter how frustrating they may be, true friends are true friends for a reason. Above all, Bert shows that being who you are is the most important thing that a person can be. Bert will never change for someone else, and that’s why we love him.

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

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