Jarrod Fairclough – Through all the unpleasantness of the past couple of weeks, one thing has almost unanimously been agreed upon by Muppet fans around the globe – Matt Vogel is a great choice to take on Kermit the Frog after the dismissal of Steve Whitmire. After all, Matt Vogel is not only one of the most talented puppeteers the Muppets have ever had, but he might have done one of the best jobs taking on existing characters, leading me to declare him a title he probably doesn’t want, The Recast King.
After joining The Jim Henson Company in 1995, Matt Vogel did what any good Muppet performer does – right hands and non-speaking background characters. But after he auditioned to be Big Bird’s understudy under Caroll Spinney’s tutelage, Matt began to rise through the ranks, established himself as a performer, and became one of Sesame Street’s go-to guys for one-off characters, like Herb the Dinosaur, Hansel of Hansel and Gretel fame, and Mr. Yak.
His skills caught the eye of Jerry Nelson, and Matt was chosen to puppeteer The Count, lipsyncing to the original voice when Nelson became too ill to perform. With that, Matt seemed to become the natural heir for all of Jerry’s characters, and in 2008 he began to perform Jerry’s characters over with The Muppets, a franchise in which he was still ‘the new guy’.
After a few years without much to do, suddenly The Muppets had Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand and many others back. Under the influence of Matt, then-obscure character Uncle Deadly became a fan favorite, Julius Strangepork helmed the Swinetrek once more, and Sweetums got to bond with Pache (#RenewTheMuppets), giving him more of a character in 2 scenes than he ever had in 40 years.
And yet, while he is a full time performer with The Muppets, Matt still has the time to hang out on Sesame Street, where he has since added his voice to his role as The Count after Jerry Nelson’s passing, and he has played Big Bird increasingly now that Caroll Spinney has started to step back (as is his right – the man is 83!).
Matt has done an exceptional job taking on the mannerisms of each recasted character he’s been handed, adding layers to characters though his interpretations, which is one of the things I’m most excited to see in his Kermit. For years, many Muppet performers have said that the voice is only 10% of the character, and while Matt does nail the voices, all that matters to me is that the characters he portrays stay true to the way we remember them to be in their original incantation, while still being able to be fresh and new. My first thought when I heard this news was that ‘At least we have Matt’, because the man is not only The Recast King, but I might just be willing to call him the best Muppet performer the franchise has had in years.