A former Sesame Street writer has confirmed in an interview with Queerty that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a couple, saying that the audience should “trust their intuition” on this one. Thank you, I will!
Mark Saltzman, who worked with the Muppets for over 15 years, and wrote over 50 songs for Sesame Street, said in the interview:
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked “are Bert & 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.
“And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as “Bert & Ernie.’”
(‘Arnie’ was Saltzman’s partner of over two decades, Arnold Glassman, who passed away in 2003.)
The interviewer then asks if Bert and Ernie became analogues for his relationship with Arnie, and Saltzman responds:
“Yeah. Because how else? That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?
“I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, ‘Oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.” But those two, Snuffalupagus, because he’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…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.”
It makes sense – writers often draw from what they know, whether intentionally or otherwise, and there’s a long history of queer-coding in the media we consume.
Disappointingly, both Frank Oz and Sesame Street have responded to the interview by insisting that Bert and Ernie aren’t a couple, just really really good friends. Sure, Jan.
In response to these statements, people quickly pointed out that other Muppets, both on and off Sesame Street, have been depicted as being in straight relationships:
If Sesame Street’s grumpiest resident can have a girlfriend, why can’t Bert and Ernie find happiness with each other?
The responses from Oz and Sesame Workshop are unnecessarily defensive – Bert and Ernie have been everyone’s favourite gay puppets for decades now, why not continue to let people enjoy that? Especially given the new information that one of their writers was writing them with his own relationship in mind.
This matters because it can help normalise gay relationships from an early age. If you’re thinking that kids shouldn’t have to worry about things like sexual orientation, I’d ask you to think about how old you were when you were first exposed to heterosexuality – whether it was a Disney princess kissing her prince, or your parents kissing each other.
I guarantee you were around Sesame Street viewing age – I know I was.
Nobody ever questions exposing children to straight relationships, but gay relationships are hypersexualised, stigmatised, and seen as inappropriate for children. Depicting them in children’s shows could play a small part in challenging that outdated notion.
Gay people exist. Straight Muppets exist. Why can’t gay Muppets exist too?
(Header photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)