Veteran puppeteer Frank Oz has been pulled into the brewing Bert and Ernie debate. And though he declared that the “Sesame Street” characters were not gay, he softened his stance on the perception of the puppets and what they mean to LGBTQ people.
The 74-year-old Oz, one of “Muppets” creator Jim Henson’s early collaborators and the voice of many of the characters (as well as Yoda from “Star Wars”), also said that the roommates were not a gay couple, even though they long have been perceived as such.
Nor does it matter.
Addressing former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman’s recent Queerty remarks about the pair — and Sesame Workshop’s subsequent denial — Oz said that “it’s fine” that Saltzman feels they are gay.
“But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness,” Oz tweeted, replying to fans that, “I created Bert. I know what and who he is.”
He later clarified the latter part of that comment, tweeting that although he didn’t create the tangible Bert puppet, “with input from the writers, I created the character of Bert.”
Before that, the commentary swept the voice actor up into a heated discourse that lasted into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, during which Oz shared his takeaways.
“Although it doesn’t matter to me if someone is gay or viewed as gay, I learned it does matter to a great many people who feel they are not represented enough,” he wrote. “The Tweet discussion was worth it for me to just learn that.”
He’s also pleased people see in Bert “something that gives them comfort and recognition. But that does not change the fact that he is not gay.”
One Twitter user, citing the long-running issue of representation, told Oz that it was “important for characters to be explicitly declared queer, because the mainstream will code them straight by default,” and Oz agreed.
“When a character is created to be queer it is indeed important that the character be known as such. It is also important when a character who was not created queer, be accepted as such,” Oz wrote.
Oz said that he and Henson “never created them to be gay,” but that didn’t mean he created them to be “straight like everyone else,” either.
He was clear that he wasn’t targeting Saltzman with his remarks, but rather the question of whether Bert and Ernie were gay.
“He sounds like a caring person. He never said B & E were gay. But when others took that leap from his interview, I felt I had to question the need for the question,” Oz said.