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Jason Segel brings back the Muppets' anarchistic edge - and Lew Zealand's boomerang fish act.
Jason Segel is starting to suspect that you’re just as excited to have the Muppets back as he is.
After seeing the increasingly enthusiastic response to the early peeks at the upcoming film “The Muppets,” Segel – an intense fan if Jim Henson’s creations since childhood who’s labored for several years to revive them – tells PopcornBiz that he’s thrilled to haven his faith in Kermit and the gang validated.
“I was relieved to know I wasn't crazy,” chuckles Segel. “Because I'd had that hunch. I feel like the Muppets got lodged in all of our subconsciouses, growing up with them. They came during a time of real subversive comedy: they were on 'Saturday Night Live,’ and I believe the first Muppet Special was called 'The Muppets: Sex and Violence' – that was the first Jim Henson Muppet Special [The 1975 ABC program served as a pilot of sorts for the syndicated “The Muppet Show” which launched the following year]. So they informed comedy to a young guy like me at the time. And it turns out a lot of people feel exactly the same way.”
Segel says the building anticipation for the film, which he co-wrote with his “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller, shows there’s an appetite for the more edgy, anarchic Muppets he loved from his youth, rather than the softer, marketing-minded versions they’d morphed into.
“They're excited to show their kids the Muppets that they grew up with,” he says. “Not the Muppets of the past ten years where it's been Pizza Hut commercials and stuff like that – and no offense to that – but that late '70s early '80s Muppet era, which was awesome. I mean, it got watered down a tiny bit, but by no fault of their own. The entity traded hands quite a bit. But I think finally they found a really good home.”
Segel admits realizing his dream of restoring the Muppets to greatness was a much bigger challenge that he originally imagined. “It was very difficult to make,” he says. “I didn't quite know what I was getting into. logistically and technically. It was tricky: you have to build elevated sets and there's all sorts of stuff that I didn't foresee, but it was truly a dream come true. I can't say enough about those puppeteers as well. Part of their job is to be invisible – you're not supposed to think about the puppeteer. When in reality these guys are actors and musicians and comedians – and contortionists, a lot of the time. And I was just in awe.”
He’s also excited to shine the spotlight on some of his favorite, lesser-known Muppets, outside the familiar clique of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal and the rest. “I'm a Crazy Harry fan – he'd just always come in and randomly blow stuff up, and that makes me laugh,” he reveals. “And I always had an affinity for Lew Zealand, as well. He'd throw the fish. You know – the boomerang fish?”
The labor of love also came with its share of magic moments, both sublime and overwhelming, for Segel. “I cried when they brought out Kermit for the first time and he started saying stuff I wrote,” he admits. “It was crazy. So it's been four years in the making. but coming up Thanksgiving time I think we'll all be very happy.”