Welcome, my weirdo students to your first ever Muppet Crash Course, the article series that clears up misconceptions and educates the casual, and perhaps die-hard Muppet fan masses!
First introduced to the world during The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence pilot in 1974, The Electric Mayhem has been a staple of The Muppets franchise, bringing their own groovy style to the overall Muppet discography. They have served as the resident house band for multiple movies and shows, while constantly generating their own brand of humour based on musician stereotypes and the inner workings of show business.
Let’s meet the band!
Jim Henson: 1975 – 1990
Bill Barretta: 2005- Present
Dr Teeth is the band leader and keyboardist, although he has also been known to play the piano. Despite being the band’s front-man, he’ll happily share vocal-duties with his fellow band members. Loosely based on jazz keyboardist, Dr John, Teeth leads his band with an easy-going nature, leading by his music rather than by example, although he can get a little testy if his ownership is called into question. His vocabulary consists of words he created himself, or using words that sound accurate but have nothing to do with what he is actually talking about at the time. For Teeth, it’s always what feels right rather than what is correct.
Teeth is the only ‘live-hand’ Muppet in the band, meaning he is often performed by two people, the main puppeteer (Jim Henson/ Bill Barretta) performing his head, body and voice, while another performs his arms and hands by wearing them as a type of sleeve. Teeth often has some type of ruffle on the cuffs of his shirt as to obscure the puppeteer’s arms. Much in the same way as Rowlf the Dog, the puppeteer performing the arms during a musical number will practice the fingering for the keyboard beforehand to make the ‘playing’ look as accurate as possible.
Sgt Floyd Pepper
Jerry Nelson: 1975-2003
Matt Vogel: 2008- Present
Floyd is the band’s key bass player, vocalist and possibly the most outspoken member aside from Animal. His name and attire was heavily influenced by Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Self-described as ‘the hippest of the hip’, Floyd possibly adores music and his bass more than his part-time squeeze, Janice. While he is close with and loyal to his fellow band members, Floyd’s influence over Animal allows him to keep the drummer somewhat under control. As a result, it’s often left to Floyd to hold on Animal’s chain, not that he would complain about it. While interacting with his fellow Muppets, Floyd often turns to sarcasm and loose insults, Miss Piggy being the main target. In recent years, Floyd has evolved from a beatnik into somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, believing that there hasn’t been a real moon since the 70’s.
Floyd is a type of Muppet known as ‘rod-handed’, meaning he has rods installed in his wrists to make his arms and hands moveable. During a musical number, unlike Dr Teeth, Floyd only needs his primary performer (Jerry Nelson/ Matt Vogel), who’ll perform his left hand to strum or pluck to the music, while his right hand is attached to the neck of the bass guitar. However, there are cases where a second puppeteer is brought in to perform the right hand to create a sense of accuracy or even to perform Floyd’s legs to make it appear that he is standing.
Richard Hunt: 1977-1991
David Rudman: 2008-Present
Janice is the band’s electric guitar player, on occasion playing the tambourine when a guitar isn’t required for a song. She is best described as a Valley girl type, very extroverted, friendly and open to try just about anything. Unlike her part-time beau Floyd, Janice is more likely to calm down a situation rather than hype it up with snide remarks. She can get easily distracted, continuing a conversation even when Kermit has called for silence, with amusing results. Janice has very recently evolved into a very spiritual character, taking up Reiki practices and connecting with the ‘astral plane’, believing that anything and everything is connected to the universe.
Janice is another rod-handed Muppet, performed similarly to Floyd with her primary puppeteer being able to perform solo, unless a second performer is brought in to improve the accuracy of her ‘playing’. It’s interesting to note that Janice, Floyd and other Muppet’s who perform stringed instruments such as Kermit with his banjo, play left-handed. Muppets are traditionally left-handed due to their puppeteers being right-handed. Even left-handed puppeteers are trained to perform this way. A puppeteer will always use their dominant hand to perform a Muppet’s head as that hand will provide a more accurate lip-sync, leaving their other hand to perform the arms.
Dave Goelz: 1975- Present
Zoot is the band’s saxophone player (although known to play other brass and wind instruments) and is most accurately described as a burnt-out musician with his head in the clouds. It’s quite common to see Zoot napping somewhere in the background, rarely joining in the antics of his fellow Muppets. At times, he’ll wake up in the middle of a conversation and misunderstand the context, asking odd questions to which others will respond by telling him to go back to sleep. As you can imagine, Zoot has taken a mostly non-verbal approach to life, only speaking up to tell a joke or to voice his weird understanding of the world around him.
Just like Janice and Floyd, Zoot is a rod-hand Muppet. During musical numbers, his hands are placed on the appropriate places on his saxophone, but still attached to arm-rods so his primary performer (Dave Goelz) can manipulate his arm movement from underneath. The mouthpiece of the sax, quite obviously, is placed in his mouth where the puppeteer can mimic blowing into it.
Frank Oz: 1975- 2001
Eric Jacobson: 2001- Present
Animal is the band’s drummer who needs little to no introduction. Loud, crazy and brash, there are very few who can control him, Floyd and Kermit among them. He’s prone to breaking out in drum solos when he’s either too excited or bored. He’ll eat just about anything. He’s a womaniser, who won’t hesitate to get what or who he wants. For him, there’s nothing better than a woman who will grab a pair of cymbals and box his head with them. While he is not capable of coherent speech and relies on communicating through action, there are times when he can almost get an entire sentence out. Despite his erratic and impulsive personality, Animal has a strong grasp of right and wrong and will take action if he sees anyone he cares about being pushed around. He also as a soft-spot for bunnies, which you can bet is as cute as all get out.
Animal is another rod-handed Muppet. During musical numbers, floppy drumsticks are attached to his hands, with the puppeteers hiding behind his drum-set. It’s very rare for Animal to be only performed by his primary puppeteer, as he needs a second performer for his arms, for the same reason Dr Teeth does. The floppy drumsticks give an illusion of quick and accurate drum playing, especially during drum solos. Animal also has a mechanism in his head that allows his eyelids to be raised up, down, or even closed.
Steve Whitmire: 1978- Present
Lips is the band’s trumpeter (and my all-time favourite Muppet, but that’s irrelevant). Not a lot is known about Lips despite being around for over 30 years. He was originally added as an honorary member during The Muppet Show, but has been established as a key member of The Mayhem since that time. Due to discrepancies with his voice, Lips has only spoken on a small number of occasions. When he does, he’s voice is heavy and gravelly, most likely due to disuse. He appears to enjoy hanging out with the band and takes a silent interest in the affairs of other Muppets when he’s not playing, but his biggest passion is music. He may also be a bit of a bookworm as he has been seen reading quietly to himself.
Lips is yet another rod-handed Muppet, performed exactly like Zoot during musical numbers. Like Animal, Lips has a mechanism in his head, not to raise or lower his eyelids, but to direct them inwards when he’s blowing hard into the trumpet. It’s also worth noting that the mouthpiece of the trumpet has to be placed on one side of his mouth instead of the middle due to his nose blocking the way.
Notable Honorary Members:
Clifford: Joined the band as an auxiliary percussion player for The Muppets at Walt Disney World in 1990.
Trumpet Girl: who also played trombone, played on occasion with the band throughout The Muppet Show and was a staple of the Muppet orchestra for all 5 seasons.
Rizzo the Rat: played cymbals on a couple of occasions, although I’m fairly certain this was merely an excuse to give Steve Whitmire something to do before Lips was created.