Not too long ago Disney tell us that very long time Muppet author Jim Lewis can be retiring from his place because the go-to scribe for The Muppets after 35 years. We couldn’t let this event go unmarked, so I sat down with him final week to conduct this exit interview.
(This interview has been condensed for readability functions)
Jarrod Fairclough, ToughPigs: Jim, thanks for being right here. I do know I’m a 14 hour flight away however can I get you something earlier than we begin?
Jim Lewis: No! Simply scintillating dialog, which I do know you at all times carry to those occasions.
ToughPigs: It’s what I do finest. You’re becoming a member of us right here right now as a result of there’s an announcement you need to make.
Jim: Effectively, I’m formally exiting working with The Muppets after, let’s see… Every time Muppet Journal began, that’s after I first began working with them. It’s over 35 years, for the reason that mid-80’s. I’ve survived the Germans (Word from the editor: German firm EM.TV owned The Muppets for a quick interval within the early 2000’s), and varied gross sales, assorted instructions. And it’s, uh, it’s simply my time. So I’m gonna be exiting. However I hope to function a useful resource, and/or, uh, the characters nonetheless reside in my head, so anybody who desires to come back go to them is welcome to.
ToughPigs: Effectively, it’s going to be unusual not having you because the go-to anymore, however whoever is arising, I assume we’ll must undertake them as a substitute. Let’s begin at the start of your profession with The Muppets earlier than we get to the top of it. You began as an editor for Muppet Journal, as you stated earlier than. How did you come into the Muppet world?
Jim: I had labored in Washington DC and I fell in love – with a lady I didn’t marry, so let’s go away that as it’s. We moved to New York, and I used to be mainly working freelance for whoever would have me, doing just about all the things. From writing speeches, to writing advert copy, to doing PR stuff, to choosing up an occasional article right here and there. I discovered a spot at Kids’s Tv Workshop, now Sesame Workshop. I used to be there for a few years engaged on certainly one of their magazines. It was one thing known as ‘Enter‘. That was at the start of the pc age. If I knew then what I do know now, I’d be a wealthy man. I’d have invested in all these little firms we’d go and see. Anyway, Muppet Journal had already began and was underway, I neglect who precisely the editor was earlier than me. However Louise Gikow and varied different folks had been writing for it. The editorship got here up and I utilized for it and I had a wierd sensibility that appeared to match what they had been in search of. Writing in character appeared like a enjoyable problem. So I ended up becoming a member of them. And I used to be there for, uh, fairly just a few years, and that result in formally – they had been a licensee to Henson, however I labored with lots of people over on 69th Road, and that’s how I finally ended up coming to The Muppets.
ToughPigs: So how did that then switch to you working straight with The Muppets?
Jim: Effectively, you realize, the key of Muppet Journal is that it was all written as informed to by the characters. So a number of the items had been written by outdoors writers, they’d attempt to write in character, and I’d attempt to get it in to character. And over that point and the interval of doing that, like I stated, I heard the voices in my head. You begin to suppose like them. And within the mid-80’s, Jim and Frank – nicely, Frank had moved on, however Jim and Jerry Juhl, Michael Frith, began engaged on residence movies, as a result of that was an entire new space by the mid-80’s. They had been in search of anyone. Jerry didn’t actually need to get saddled with that stuff. Invoice Prady was working there and he was doing different issues for them. So that they wanted anyone who may write in character. So I wrote a pattern script for them in Fozzie’s voice, and that result in performing some residence movies, which then ultimately result in them realise it was cheaper to rent me than to pay me for scripts. In order that’s the way it ended up. And all of the issues I’d accomplished earlier than, scripts, writing PR, writing speeches, all got here in helpful as a result of it was a comparatively small organisation, so you bought to do all the things. From client merchandise, to publicity, to manufacturing, to ultimately theme park work, that kind of factor. So it was a pleasure. It actually was. And as nice a bunch of people as you may think about, you realize?
ToughPigs: For positive. Simply your Muppet Wiki web page, the quantity of credit you’ve had through the years, and that’s not even all of them! Since you’ve accomplished a tonne of belongings you haven’t been credited for, like interviews, public appearances–
Jim: Oh and my private favourite, which I simply discovered. I wrote the again of the stamps!
(At this level, Jim pulls out a framed copy of the whole set of 2005 Jim Henson and The Muppets stamps)
I’m one of many only a few individuals who have written on the again of postage stamps. After they got here out with these, I wrote the little ‘in character’ messages on these. I used to be mainly the utility infielder, spot welder, name it what you’ll. And I liked that, I liked that problem of not understanding what was coming at me. That’s served me nicely by way of the years.
ToughPigs: Out of all of the little odd-spotty belongings you’ve accomplished, what sort of issues had been your favourite? Was it interviews, or an look script, or?
Jim: Effectively, no, I can say – it’s a horrible factor to say, as a result of it’ll lower me out of issues, however now I assume I don’t have to fret about that! I liked the low profile issues. I liked print interviews, as a result of they had been finally reviewed by say Michael Frith or somebody up the chain, or at sure factors by me as a result of no person else knew the characters. But it surely was enjoyable to do this since you may create an entire state of affairs and also you didn’t have to fret about going by way of varied committies to get it accepted. These had been a few of my favorites. After which the kind of group stuff. Clearly Muppets Tonight, different productions working with Kirk Thatcher carefully, and the theme park stuff. That was only a deal with and a half to see within the early 90’s engaged on MuppetVision*3D. In truth we simply had a little bit gathering at Imagineering on the very constructing that Michael Frith and I used to go to again within the early 90’s. It could be he, myself and often one different particular person, Jenni Lupinacci, his assistant, and on the opposite facet of the desk there have been like 45 Imagineers and vice-presidents and whatnot, and simply seeing the amplification they might carry to a undertaking and to work with a bunch of people that had been creatively bent in that path, and likewise to bend them. Since you would attempt to get issues to, you realize, loosen up, and never – these reside characters who’re capable of change and react to the true world, in order that they don’t must be as locked in and a number of the extra conventional characters. They develop, which is certainly one of their strengths, I feel.
ToughPigs: By all that, is there a favourite second or line you’ve written that you just’re most pleased with?
Jim: 2 moments persist with me. One was the very first script I wrote, Hey, You’re As Humorous As Fozzie Bear. We had been taking pictures that on 67th Road, on this little studio that Jim had there, which was the unique residence of The Muppets after they had been in New York. I used to be there, and I bear in mind Frank and Jim calling me over, and asking me, they had been wanting on the web page and so they stated “You realize, we predict this is able to be higher if we went from right here to right here and lower these two strains”. And I used to be simply so flabbergasted, that these guys who, you realize, worldwide successes, that they had the kindness and the decency to really ask that. It spoiled me from ever working in Hollywood, as a result of no person asks something. Simply ‘What is that this crap?’ after which throw it out. However they had been simply stylish, and so they had been assured sufficient in their very own skills. That was a really, uh, that set the tone for the final 35 years.
After which the opposite second was one of many first initiatives we did after Jim handed away, Muppet Basic Theater. As a result of that was one the place we had been making an attempt to kind it out. One of many first combos of Gonzo and Rizzo, and simply engaged on that and seeing everyone stand up and attempt to fill that hole that was left by Jim’s absence. That was, once more, inspiring. That was after I realised, yeah, this could preserve going. What’s going to maintain it going is what’s on the stage now, engaged on it. All people wished it to occur.
ToughPigs: Have you ever discovered there have been sure characters you discovered simpler or more durable to jot down for?
Jim: Oh, for positive! I imply, Fozzie. I really like Fozzie. I’m Fozzie. I imply, I’m a failed comedian, that’s what it’s. I by no means had his braveness to stand up on the stage, however his bouyency within the face of all the things is one I perceive completely. And the opposite characters which have grow to be simpler to jot down for the older I get are Statler and Waldorf. (Laughs). Though typically I neglect to be humorous and I’m simply bitter! However significantly, they’re enjoyable to jot down for. It’s simply such a distinct tone to the remainder of the totally different characters.
So far as issue? Um, nicely, you realize, Zoot! He’s robust!
ToughPigs: He doesn’t say so much!
Jim: No! I are typically a verbal man, so it’s studying ‘What does this character carry and their angle’. And actually simply enjoying characters, not worrying about humorous strains. I wish to see what mixture of characters can be attention-grabbing, what haven’t we seen and the way would they performed off one another? We did some issues the place we put Floyd and Sam Eagle collectively, and that was simply a lot enjoyable as a result of they’re oil and water. Doing issues like that. Then alongside the way in which it’s additionally studying, it took me some time to study it, however with sure characters like Miss Piggy – particularly Piggy – it’s straightforward to go to the identical nicely each time. Every time we’d do one thing, like an look or one thing, their writers would take a shot at it and so they’d go to the bacon jokes and the pork jokes and all the apparent stuff. You realize, it was looking for the nuances and the surprises that might get you to the repay, and the anticipation of no matter you had been ready for her to do however not let her grow to be drained. However Frank by no means let that occur, and Eric has definitely by no means let that occur. They at all times have stored her sincere. That’s the factor, regardless of how nicely I do know the characters, the women and men who carry out them ARE these characters and so they simply, you realize, they put on their hearts on their sleeve and their sleeve in a puppet, so.
ToughPigs: You stated you discover Fozzie straightforward to jot down for. What about these puns? As a result of simply the concept of getting to provide you with that many puns! Like, Ryan who runs the social media, I do not know how he’s doing that! I’m shut with Ryan, I’ve pitched jokes and he’s turned them down! Like, quantity clever, absolutely he wants them!
Jim: Yeah, nicely, for one factor I feel I’ve the pun gene, you realize? I haven’t accomplished the DNA testing, however 23 & Me are researching it. I dunno. I did have one author say to me ‘You realize puns are the bottom type of humor, don’t you?’. I stated ‘Yeah, but it surely’s my nook of the world!’. (Laughs). Yeah, I imply, with Fozzie it’s all new to him. It’s all discovered humor to him, ‘Oh wow, that’s such an ideal joke!’, you realize? I do know we did a little bit factor with him on the Jungle Cruise, writing down the boat captains stuff. ‘That is ace materials! I’m wondering who writes these things?’. It’s that enthusiasm that retains it going.
ToughPigs: I can perceive why you’d need to retire simply from 35 years of puns. My goodness. One in all my finest buddies has a ebook known as The Riddle-O-Pedia, and it’s simply pun, pun, pun, pun.
Jim: Oh, wow!
ToughPigs: There are hundreds in there, and I’ve informed him if I ever get to jot down for The Muppets, I’m stealing this ebook, and I’m going to make use of each single certainly one of them!
Jim: (Laughs) Yeah! And with Fozzie you are able to do that. I by no means need him to grow to be that one-dimensional factor, simply the jokes. As a result of I feel in a number of methods, apart from Kermit he’s the center of The Muppets. You realize, you watch any of the films or reveals, he’s the one when Kermit is at his lowest level, it’s Fozzie who says ‘I imagine in you’, that’s why they proceed alongside.
ToughPigs: Have their been any dream initiatives that for no matter purpose you simply by no means acquired the prospect to do?
Jim: Yeah, a pair. Frank and I labored on a script, a Jerry Juhl script, that we rejiggered, that was doubtlessly gonna be made.
ToughPigs: Was that ‘The Least expensive Muppet Film Ever Made‘?
Jim: Sure! Hopefully, you realize, it’s nonetheless within the vault, I’d be thrilled if it occurred. If nothing else it gave me an opportunity to work actually carefully with Frank. However the time I joined within the mid-80’s he’d completed Take Manhattan and he was off doing Little Store and rising his personal stuff. So it gave me an opportunity to work for an prolonged interval with him straight. Plus, after we labored on the lodge he was staying at, he validated my parking! I’ll always remember him for that. He insists on reimbursement each month, however, you realize, ultimately I’ll pay it off.
Then the opposite one was one other script I wrote simply earlier than The Muppets had been offered to EM.TV, to the Germans. It gave the impression to be shifting alongside fairly properly. It was known as ‘When Kermit Met Piggy‘, and it was type of within the realm of 4 Weddings And A Funeral, Love Truly. It was each romantic comedy trope put in to a narrative with The Muppets within the heart, with Kermit and Piggy telling their story – nicely, telling Piggy’s model of their story. It was primarily a rip-off of Pygmalion.
ToughPigs: Ah, Wocka Wocka!
Jim: Precisely! Or ‘Barn Yesterday’! We may go on all week right here with these. That was a enjoyable undertaking that simply didn’t get made due to the timing. But it surely was one of many final issues I wrote earlier than all of it modified. I’m positive Disney in all probability personal it. However that was enjoyable, I loved doing it. It was a strategy to inform a number of totally different tales, as a result of like Love Truly it jumped round to totally different character teams. We pursued Rizzo and Yolanda, we pursued Gonzo and Camilla, we had all these different romantic relationships happening with Kermit and Piggy on the heart of it. And Piggy simply, nicely, it’s all her model of what occurred. These are the 2 that I want I’d gotten made, however, you realize. You reside and also you study.
ToughPigs: Effectively, Muppet followers studying this, we have to get #MakeBarnYesterday trending, as a result of I have to see this movie now. You’ve labored with The Muppets as they’ve modified arms a bunch, excuse the pun. Henson, Disney, the unusual German years all of us are inclined to neglect about. How has the job modified with every new possession?
Jim: I imply, clearly the vacuum that was left with Jim’s passing was enermous. As I stated, folks rose up. Individuals like Martin Baker, Michael Frith, stored it going, and naturally all of the performers. From Richard Hunt and all the different guys. All of them believed – Jim made you imagine you may do it, and with out him there to imagine in you it was a little bit more durable, however all of us tried to spice up one another. That, I feel, was clearly essentially the most tough time. In any other case, actually, inside the artistic – besides perhaps after we discovered ourselves doing one thing that, perhaps we shouldn’t have taken that undertaking or that cross promotion, these make you go ‘Ugh’. However actually, we’re like a theater rep firm, the place it’s the identical group of performers and puppet builders and individuals who have grown with The Muppets. You’re employed collectively and no matter will get thrown your method you cope with. So that you’re not completely insulated, definitely. However there was a sure insulation as soon as you bought on the stage and had been capable of do it. I can solely bear in mind one occasion the place we had been about to shoot one thing, um, a PSA. We’d written some stuff and we had been going over it with the fellows, and a few vice-president of this or that got here in, I feel it was through the German years, and he stated ‘What are you guys doing?’. I stated ‘Oh, we’re punching up the script’. He says ‘You, you, you possibly can’t change it! It’s been accepted by authorized!’ So I mainly did the entire ‘Effectively what the eff am I doing right here’ factor, ‘No, that is how we work!’. Finally, you realize, with a 2×4 and a few duct tape we had been capable of persuade him that it was a good suggestion to allow us to proceed working the way in which we did. However for essentially the most half we had been insulted from that type of stuff, and that’s good. Most teams, just like the Germans and at first, at Disney, weren’t actually positive what to do with us. There was some continuity, with Debbie McClellan, however to try to preserve ‘That is what they’re, that is what they do, that is why the performers are so vital’, they’re the character, in any other case you simply purchased a field crammed with material and ping pong balls. So, preserve that in thoughts should you’re ever doing something with these characters.
ToughPigs: That’s an ideal word. Now that you just’re retiring, is there something you’re wanting ahead to doing, contemplating you don’t must preserve considering up Fozzie Bear puns? Or will you at all times have them at the back of your thoughts?
Jim: Oh, that’s it, I’ll name Ryan in the course of the evening and say ‘Ryan! Ryan, I simply got here up with one!’. Additionally, I need to give credit score to Craig Shemin, one of many greats, who got here up with certainly one of my favorites. It was for a poster we did, a Tarzan poster, his tagline was ‘She’s Hollywood! He’s Vine!’. When he stated that, I used to be like, we aren’t worthy. It was a second with that sure perfection you dream of!
ToughPigs: That’s a kind of jokes the place you hear it and suppose ‘That’s it, we’re going residence, we’ve made our cash for the day!’
Jim: (Laughs) Yeah, we’re outta right here, that’s it! Finish of story! However, as for retirement, I don’t know. I’m fairly busy, I’ve acquired a number of household stuff we’re coping with right here. I’m previous, this isn’t a toupe, but it surely seems like one. I’ve acquired issues to cope with right here. Yeah, I’ll nonetheless be crackin’ clever, and like I stated to The Muppets Studios people, should you want me for one thing, please name. It’s simply I’ve no be capable to say ‘No’ and this simply offers me that energy to say ‘I can’t do it proper now’. So, I don’t know. My son, who’s autistic, has been making an attempt to get me to retire for the final, nicely he’s 27, so the final 25 years! (Laughs) ‘Dad, why don’t you retire? You may spend extra time with me!’. ‘Okay!’.
ToughPigs: I imply, he has level!
Jim: Oh, completely. I stored holding up the cheque ebook saying ‘Right here’s why!’.
ToughPigs: Proper, ‘I’ve to assist with Muppets Haunted Mansion, that’s why’.
ToughPigs: Lastly, and that is in all probability an even bigger query, what recommendation have you ever acquired for any of the longer term Muppet writers who’re sitting on the market studying this proper now. As a result of God know’s they’re on the market.
Jim: Effectively, all of it goes again to Jerry Juhl. These guys, Jerry Juhl, Frank, Jim, they only happy themselves. They wished to make themselves chuckle. They’d push right here and there, however make themselves chuckle, do issues that weren’t kiddy, do issues that labored on a number of ranges. Once more, Jim believed in you, so that you type of must imagine within the group. It’s type of a mirror world. So most of the issues we’ve accomplished through the years have mirrored what’s occurring behind the scenes as a result of it rings true. I assume, the recommendation I give is simply; like The Muppets, it will get messy, there are ruts, there are occasions you need to sing the going away track. However you bowl by way of it, and you’re employed collectively, and it really works. The important thing to it’s simply, should you can mirror the characters and discover that a part of you that IS these characters and bear in mind they aren’t simply taglines or punchlines, and it’s about that character and the way they work together, that makes it attention-grabbing. Then you definitely’ll succeed. It’s nice, as a result of I don’t know what else I’d have accomplished. I actually do not know. Individuals ask ‘How did you get to The Muppets?’, I say ‘It appeared like an apparent place to go when the witness safety program supplied me this oppurtunity. It was place to cover’. I actually don’t know what I’d have accomplished, as a result of it’s type of the final refuge of a sort of comedy that may be edgy however not over the road or making an attempt to maintain up with topical humor or ‘Oooh, they stated that’. You realize? It’s character comedy, it’s a candy spot when it’s accomplished proper. Not that we’ve at all times accomplished it proper, but it surely’s a candy spot when accomplished proper. And if vaudeville ever comes again I’ll come out of retirement. I need that on the report.
ToughPigs: Alright, we’ll be holding you to that.
Jim: Please do! Completely. I’ll be contained in the field marked ‘In Case Of Vaudeville Break Glass’.
ToughPigs: Effectively, Jim, let me be the voice of the followers and say thanks. For 35+ years of snickers and for maintaining these characters constant, particularly after Jim handed, and thru all of the bizarre possession adjustments, and in ruts, and large once more. It’s unhappy that you just received’t be one of many regulars, but it surely’s good to know that you just’re nonetheless round, I assume, in some capability.
Jim: Yeah, within the phrases of Monty Python, ‘I’m not useless but!’. I’ll nonetheless be round. You realize, when Jerry Juhl determined that he wished to step again, he stated to Kirk Thatcher and I, ‘It’s your Muppets now. Go on, you’ll discover it’. And that’s how I really feel proper now. There are such a lot of good folks. There are that core group that actually do get it. Individuals like Dave Goelz who had been there from the beginning, the primary man on the Moon. But additionally the others. It amazes me, not one of the different performers in addition to Dave and David Rudman knew Jim. David and I labored very carefully after I was beginning out. However there’s a core, and there’s a torch that will get handed. It’ll be there, and I hope it at all times is there. Since you don’t need them to grow to be catchphrases and punchlines. You need them to develop and preserve reacting to the world as it’s.
ToughPigs: Effectively, Jim, it’s been a fully pleasure. Thanks. We now have despatched you a Rolex watch, should you haven’t acquired that but it’s within the mail, don’t blame me if it doesn’t arrive.
Jim: Oh, and it’s ROLLEEEXX?
Jim: Oh yeah, okay, nice. If I’ve any hassle assembling it when it arrives I’ll let you realize.
Thanks to Jim for sitting down and chatting to us, and to Frank Reifsynder from The Muppets Studio for his help!
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By Jarrod Fairclough – Jarrod@ToughPigs.com