September 18, 2018
Children’s show responded that the characters are ‘best friends’ and are ‘puppets and do not have a sexual orientation’
Sesame Street disputes writers claim that Bert and Ernie are gay
The Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie are not gay and in a relationship, the children’s show was moved to say on Tuesday after a former writer said they were.
In an interview with Queerty, Mark Salzman was asked if the question had ever come up when he worked on the show in the early 1980s.
“I remember one time,” he said, “… a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked: ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ And that, coming from a preschooler, was fun. And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it.”
Salzman was in a relationship with the film editor Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003. He added that he “always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were [a couple]. I didn’t have any other way to contextualise them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie’.”
Salzman said that though he looks “more Bert-ish”, he “was Ernie” in a relationship that came to influence his work.
“I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic.”
Speculation about Bert and Ernie’s sexuality and relationship has long created friction between grown-up Sesame Street fans and the show’s makers.
In 2011, Sesame Workshop shot down an online petition that called for Bert and Ernie to marry.
In 2013, the New Yorker celebrated a supreme court decision challenging the Defense of Marriage Act by showing on its cover the two muppets arm in arm, in a darkened room, watching TV.
In Northern Ireland in 2014, a baker’s refusal to make a cake featuring icing showing Bert and Ernie advocating same-sex marriage prompted a minor constitutional crisis.
On Tuesday, Sesame Workshop issued the same statement it released in response to the 2011 petition, prefacing it with “as we have always said”.
“Bert and Ernie are best friends,” it said. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.
“Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Responses on social media were widespread and many cited as evidence to the contrary Miss Piggy’s libidinous passion for Kermit. Both are primarily stars of The Muppet Show, on which Piggy occasionally flirted with human stars including Sir Roger Moore. But Kermit has also regularly featured on Sesame Street.
Contacted for comment, Charles Kaiser, a Guardian contributor and author of The Gay Metropolis: the Landmark History of Gay Life in America, said: “I have no personal knowledge about the sexual feelings of Bert and Ernie. But I did have an on-and-off affair for several years with Richard Hunt, the very handsome back-end of Snuffleupagus.”
Hunt, who worked with Muppets creator Jim Henson for 20 years, died at 40 in 1992, from Aids.
In his interview with Queerty, Salzman also discussed Snuffleupagus, an amiable if perpetually worried mammoth-like monster who first featured on the show as Big Bird’s imaginary friend.
“He’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet,” Salzman said. “You had characters that appealed to a gay audience. And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted too.”
Sesame Workshop did not immediately comment.
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