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Clockwise from top, Allan Trautman, Brian Henson, Paul Rugg, Victor Yerrid, Drew Massey and Julianne Buescher with characters from Puppet Up!.

Puppet Up!, also known as Puppet Up! - Uncensored and originally titled Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv, was started "to demonstrate what happens when the perilous and provocative forms of traditional comedic improvisation are mixed with the art of puppetry"[1]. The show is strongly advertised for "adults only" and as "uncensored." However one rare and "exclusive" set of shows "for children" was held in Edinburgh in 2006.

The sketches in the live show are not pre-planned, and the shows contain all true improv. The puppeteers in the Henson improv troupe trained with Groundlings performer Patrick Bristow for nine months to perfect their improv skills prior to their first show. Just like the Groundlings, the Henson Improv sketches are performed based on audience suggestions.

Contents

History

Brian Henson, producer of the show, recalled the genesis of the show in a 2006 interview stating, "we began doing puppet improv workshops to hone our comedy skills and realized that we were having so much fun that audiences might enjoy watching too." In the fall of 2005 a show was performed in the sound stage of the Jim Henson Studios for friends and invited industry guests. The two shows were so successful that the group was invited to Aspen for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (March 8-12, 2006) was the show's first public debut. The Jim Henson Puppet Improv performed two shows featuring the talent of Brian Henson, Bill Barretta, Julianne Buescher, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Drew Massey, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman and Victor Yerrid.

In June 2006, Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv began performing under a new name, Puppet Up!. The troupe performed four shows over three nights at the world famous Improv in Hollywood.

In August 2006, Puppet Up! traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 30 shows. Two versions of the show were performed - the regular "adult only" version and, for the first time, a family-friendly "for kids" show.

Puppet Up! performed two shows in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 2006. These shows were filmed as part of HBO and AEG LIVEs "The Comedy Festival", taking place at Caesar's Palace. TBS produced an hour-long Puppet Up! - Uncensored television special from these shows, that aired five days later on TBS. TBS also ordered 30 web-exclusive episodes of Puppet Up! - Uncensored for their "Laugh Lab" video server on TBS.com. The web series debuted on TBS.com on Wednesday, March 7, 2007.

Puppets

Clockwise from top, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman, Drew Massey, and Victor Yerrid with characters from Puppet Improv.
Mortimer, interning at the Henson Company.

Early on the improv show featured many puppets recycled from past Henson Company projects. As the show grew new and original puppets joined the show. In 2006 all of the new Puppet Up! puppets were designed by Julianne Buescher and Drew Massey; the puppets were built by Buescher, Massey, Patrick Johnson, and Sean Johnson with help and guidance from veteran Muppet designer/builder Jane Gootnick.

The puppet cast includes:

  • "Al the Alien" was designed by Buescher and built by Patrick Johnson for Puppet Up! with the guidance of Gootnick. He is a favorite of Henson, who performs him as an arm wielding manic visitor from space at the edge of losing all control.
  • "Claude Bigfoot" -- Designed by Buescher, and built by Buescher and Massey for the show with the help and guidance of Gootnick. Claude has been performed by much of the cast and is often a dark, foreboding bar fly with a sensitive streak.
  • "Crabs" -- Two identical crab puppets (one red and one green) are used in Puppet Up! The red crab was designed by Eric Englehardt and built by Sean Johnson for Puppet Up! The green crab was built by Eric Englehardt for The Animal Show episode 302 as Cornelius the Crab.
  • "Creepy Old Man" was designed by Massey and is a favorite among most of the cast. He was performed by Henson in the TBS/Vegas special as one of the eye witnesses to George Michael doing something distasteful in a bathroom stall.
  • "Dr. Scientist" -- Designed and built by Massey, Dr. Scientist is a favorite of Paul Rugg, performed as a particularly mad scientist.
  • "Duck Boy" -- Designed and built by Buescher, often performed by Victor Yerrid as a manic and charmingly insane optimist who wins the day with blunt observations about his counterparts (often in the game "Job Interview"). He was originally built as a joke (after a quickly-constructed duck puppet was rejected from the new cast), but found a home among the other misfits.
  • "Germs" -- Of this contagious quartet, Germs 1 and 4 were designed and built by Drew Massey and Germs 2 and 3 by Julianne Buescher.
  • "Girleen" is a wild red-headed Whatnot, recycled and redressed by Buescher. She now wears a deep blue woolen suit and pearls, and has become a favorite of Massey.
  • "Gopher Tortoise" was recycled and redressed by Buescher and is a very popular standard character with all the performers. He appears as anything from a stumbling grandpa to an unruffled intellectual. He is a favorite of Ted Michaels.
  • "Grandma / the Queen" was designed and built by Buescher. She is performed by many of the cast, but found a very receptive audience in Edinburgh when she was portrayed by Buescher as the Queen of England. One particular skit found the Queen struggling to give birth, saying "We will do anything to not have Charles as King!"
  • "Harvey" is an old man puppet, often performed by Rugg. He is paired with another man (often Brian Henson) for the "Eye Witnesses" sketches, where the two retell some kind of unbelievable event. In Puppet Up - Uncensored, this unbelievable event is George Michael using the handicapped stall in a Central Park bathroom. Although similar in design to the previously created Whatnot Muppets, the character was designed by Massey and created especially for Puppet Up! The puppet was also used as "Steve" in a Henson.com podcast; see below.
  • "Herman Monster" is a monster character designed by Buescher, and built by Sean Johnson with the guidance of Gootnick. Herman is made from the same fur as Sprocket from Fraggle Rock. [2]
  • "Horny Aliens" are extraterrestrial characters recycled from a previous show. They are featured in such skits as "Pretty Girl and the Aliens" and "Aliens in America". They appear on merchandise with the slogan "Hot Alien Love".
  • "The Hot Dogs" -- previously used as Frankie Frank and the Footers on CityKids. They appear in a sketch that features the whole cast showing the hot dogs acting out a group event -- such as performing surgery or playing a drinking games. Merchandise with the hot dogs was released with the caption "Bite Me!"; they also adorned the 2006 Henson Company Holiday Greeting card.
  • "Leopard Girl" was designed and built by Buescher and is becoming a favorite of hers in the Song Improv games developed for the Australian show run, as she sings sultry soul and rock opera ballads.
  • "Mortimer" is often used in sketches where an audience member get to puppeteer in scenes with the improv puppeteers -- the puppet is given to the untrained audience member.
  • "Mr. Guy" is a humanoid live-hand puppet designed by Massey. Many Puppet Up! shows are opened by Mr. Guy and his dog Piddles. Mr. Guy welcomes the crowd to the show and explains the show, or rather shows, that the audience is about to see -- the puppet show on the monitors and the chaos happening below. He tells the viewers to ignore any heads or extra arms that might show up in frame (as everything is live and unrehearsed), while simultaneously trying to keep Piddles from mingling with the puppeteers below. He is often performed by Henson. He has also been used as a newscaster and other characters, depending on the sketch.
  • "Nancy" is a character often performed by Buescher in the Puppet Up! - Uncensored show. The puppet, a refurbished male Whatnot, is often used in the role of the put-upon deadpan lesbian named Nancy. She is paired with her fiery red-haired partner (performed by Massey) in sketches where the couple are asked to work out issues or share some shocking news with each other based on audience suggestions. Like many of the puppets used in Puppet Up!, the puppet has occasionally been used by other puppeteers for different roles -- giving the character a different name, personality, and other characteristics. As such, the puppet is often used as a male in these cases. In a 2006 sketch performed at the the Improv in Hollywood, and filmed as part of the Puppet Up! web show, Nancy confessed her dream of banging George Clooney to her partner.
  • "Nerd Boy" was designed and built by Buescher. He has been a fumbling professor, a haughty British student, and a Jerry Lewis parody. He's often used by Victor Yerrid, most notably in the TBS/Vegas special in the Improv Opera game as "Georgie", singing about Sylvia's great big melons.
  • "Nerd Girl" was designed and built by Buescher and often appears as the calm but disgusted center of the storm, as well as the fumbling shy date who never seems to say the right thing.
  • "Odie" is a blue Whatnot with dark, curly hair, recycled and redressed by Buescher. Odie often appears as a "mystical vegan" character in improv dating scenes.
  • "Piddles" is a dog character performed by Buescher. Working off of a design by Buescher for a diaper-clad Pug, Gootnick found a Dog City extra in storage and mended and re-dressed it for the role. The puppet had also previously been used as Pavlov the Pug Dog in The Animal Show. Many Puppet Up! shows are opened by Mr. Guy and Piddles. Mr. Guy often confuses Piddles' gender, occasionally saying "good girl" -- only to quickly correct himself to say "boy". Piddles was featured on several pieces of Puppet Up! merchandise with the caption "Hug Me or I'll Poop!" Piddles' dog tag reads "Piddles, 555-7667" (or 555-POOP). Jim Formanek (of the Jim Henson Company) named the pooch after seeing Buescher's first character drawing.
  • "PTA Mom" was designed and built by Buescher. She is a favorite of Kevin Carlson, and often appears as the wide-eyed, put-upon den mother trying to smile through the insanity around her.
  • "Professor Ape" is a glasses wearing ap. He is most often used by performer Allan Trautman. The puppet was redressed by Buescher from a recycled puppet previously seen as Jackie and Lawrence the Orangutan on The Animal Show.
  • "Punk Guy" -- Designed and built by Drew Massey, and a favorite character of Massey.
  • "Punu the Tiki God" was designed and built Massey and is performed most frequently in the Improvised opera games.
  • "Spiff Mouse" was recycled and redressed by Buescher into a lab rat, and often appears as the spastic assistant of Dr. Scientist.
  • "Sylvia" is a sexy teal Whatnot with long black hair, recycled and redressed by Buescher. She is most often performed by Buescher in Improvised Opera games, the most notable being the TBS/Vegas special where Sylvia sang about enjoying her new implants, but wished for another pair upon her back... while Nerd Boy (Victor Yerrid) mumbled with his face in her chest for the finale.
  • "Trixie" was designed, built, and is performed by Buescher and appears primarily in a game called "Pretty Girl and the Aliens." Her name was Chance, but since the Edinburgh performance of Puppet Up!, she has adopted the name Trixie.
  • "Yodita" was designed and built by Buescher. Yodita is a sweet and twisted little girl monster used mainly in the Edinburgh shows in 2006.

Recycled puppets

Although many of the puppets used in Puppet Up! were newly created for the show, some existing puppets from past productions were recycled for the project (especially the earlier shows). The recycled puppets came from a variety of previous Jim Henson Company projects including The Animal Show, The Secret Life of Toys, City Kids, Dog City, and Animal Jam. Although the puppet was pre-existing, the character (the personality, voice, performer, role and name) did not stay attached -- they were essentially a new character, usually created on the spot.

April Fool's Day Twitter

On April 1, 2009, Mortimer was the subject of a series of comical TwitPics sent from the Jim Henson Company's Twitter account. The premise was that Mortimer, a cast member in the Puppet Up! show, works in the Henson Company offices in between shots. Tweets included:

  • In between shoots, our performers lead normal lives and some even work at our company. Meet Mortimer: http://twitpic.com/2ont4
  • We never said Mortimer was our best employee: http://twitpic.com/2op1b
  • Another reason why Mortimer is likely to be overlooked for a promotion this year: http://twitpic.com/2oqnz
  • Altho a flawed employee, he's also a very popular one. Mortimer catching up with the ladies at the office. http://twitpic.com/2p1xh
  • Mortimer has a weak bladder, precise timing and loves to mess with the interns. Not now, Morty. http://twitpic.com/2p3jh
  • Mortimer claims Celia is his assistant, which she totally isn't. She's just patient. http://twitpic.com/2p534
  • Just checked to see why Mortimer's phone is forwarded to voicemail and wasn't surprised to find this: http://twitpic.com/2p5m0
  • Been a long day for Mortimer and the interns. Happy April 1st from everyone at The Jim Henson Company. http://twitpic.com/2p69g

Henson.com podcast

The puppet used for "Harvey" appeared as Steve, a "facilities engineer" (aka janitor) at the Jim Henson Company's studio lot. Steve was performed by Michael Oosterom.

Steve appeared alongside Grant Baciocco in a 2008 Halloween video-cast for the Henson.com Podcast. He tells stories of the "hauntings" on the lot (and also makes fun of Grant's spikey hair). Steve knows the lot inside and out gives a detailed account of the property's spooky history.

The podcast concludes with Steve under a white sheet dressed as a ghost and making howling noises. When Grant asks him to knock it off, the ghost says "Steve? We haven't had anyone named Steve here since 1969. But he passed on." (This does not make sense; Steve Whitmire would have surely worked at the studios.

Sketches

  • Eye Witnesses
  • Foreign Victim/ Lecture
  • Customer Service Help Line
  • Aliens in America
  • The Grinder
  • Couple's Therapy
  • What are the Hot dogs Doing?
  • 50’s Manners Movie
  • Job Performance Review
  • Cable Show
  • Unusual Board Game
  • Expert Talker
  • Home Shopping Network
  • Repeats
  • Parent Techer Confrence
  • Film Scene
  • Spot Scene
  • Car Pool
  • Game Show

Trivia

  • Patrick Bristow, Julianne Buescher, and Kevin Carlson first performed together on the TV Series Riders In The Sky in 1990 which also featured many Groundlings performers and many of the same cast/production members from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Credits

Producers

Brian Henson and Lisa Henson

Host and Director

Patrick Bristow

Musical accompaniment

Willie Etra

Performers:

Grant Baciocco, Bill Barretta, Julianne Buescher, Tyler Bunch, Kevin Carlson, Leslie Carrara, Brian Clark, Marcus Clarke, Alice Dinnean-Vernon, Peggy Etra, Brian Henson, Sean Johnson, Patrick Johnson, Donna Kimball, Karen Maruyama, Drew Massey, Ted Michaels, Alison Mork, Michael Oosterom, Colleen Smith, Carla Rudy, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman, Victor Yerrid

Sources

  1. PuppetUp.com
  2. Swazzle.com

See also

External links

  • PuppetUp.com - Official Site
  • Puppet Up - Uncensored! on Twitter
  • Puppet Up - Uncensored! on TBS.com
  • Interview with Patrick Bristow

This article uses material from the "Puppet Up!" article on the Muppet wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.







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