Bert and Ernie
Bert and Ernie are two Muppets who appear together in numerous skits on the popular U.S. children's television show Sesame Street. Originated by Frank Oz and Jim Henson, the characters are currently performed by puppeteers Eric Jacobson and Peter Linz; Oz occasionally performed Bert until 2006.
Bert and Ernie were built by Don Sahlin from a simple design scribbled by Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. Initially, Henson performed Bert and Oz performed Ernie, but after just one day of rehearsal, they switched characters. The original idea was to show that even though two people can have totally different characteristics, they can still be good friends. According to writer Jon Stone, the relationship between Bert and Ernie reflected the real-life friendship between Henson and Oz. Their names are believed to have been drawn from those of two minor characters in the Frank Capra film It's A Wonderful Life.
According to A&E's Biography, Bert and Ernie were virtually the only Muppets to appear in the Sesame Street pilot episode, which was screen tested to a number of families in July 1969. Their brief appearance was the only part of the pilot that tested well, so it was decided that not only should Muppet characters be the "stars" of the show, but would also interact with the human characters, something that was not done in the pilot.
An ordinary Bert and Ernie sketch involves Ernie coming up with a harebrained idea, and Bert trying to talk him out of it, ending with Bert losing his temper and Ernie remaining unaware of the results of his own bad idea. For example, in one sketch, Ernie tells Bert he started to collect ice cubes the day before, and put them under the electric blanket overnight. When he shows the ice cubes to Bert, he finds out that they have melted into water.
Bert knows what has happened, and tries to tell Ernie that his ice cubes melted because of the electric blanket, but Ernie takes this to mean that a fish from the ocean came into the apartment and melted his ice cubes, and vows to find the (non-existent) fish that melted them, leading Bert, just after Ernie has run out of their apartment after the fish, to murmur sardonically, "Go get him, Ernie."
The age of the characters is unclear. Sesame Street Live performer Taylor Morgan said in an interview that "I just kind of try to think like a six year old or a seven year old, because that's how old Bert is."
Bert was initially performed by Frank Oz. Since 2001, Muppeteer Eric Jacobson has been phased in as Bert's primary performer after Oz retired from most of his Muppet duties to focus on directing (Oz, however, did continue to perform the character occasionally until 2006). Bert is a “hand rod puppet", which means that while the puppeteer's right arm is inserted into Bert's head to control the mouth, the puppeteer's left hand uses rods to control the arms of the puppet. Bert has one large eyebrow, known as a unibrow.
Ernie was originally performed by Jim Henson. From 1993 to 2014, Muppeteer Steve Whitmire took on the role of Ernie (following the death of Henson in 1990). In 2014, Billy Barkhurst took on the role of Ernie; currently, the character is performed by Peter Linz.
Ernie is a "live hand puppet", meaning that while operating the head of the puppet with his right hand, the puppeteer inserts his left hand into a T shaped sleeve, capped off with a glove that matches the fabric "skin" of the puppet, thus "becoming" the left arm of the puppet. A second puppeteer usually provides the right arm.
Ernie's performance of "Rubber Duckie," wherein he sings affectionately about his squeaking toy duck and the joy it brings him during bath time, became a modest mainstream hit, reaching No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1970.
In popular culture
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Bert and Ernie are among a handful of Sesame Street specific Muppets to also appear on The Muppet Show, making occasional cameo appearances, such as at the end of The Muppets Valentine Show, the 1974 pilot episode for the series. While several other Muppets featured on Sesame Street such as Kermit the Frog would crossover into the other program, Bert and Ernie were primarily confined to the occasional cameo.
Sexual orientation discussion
Bert and Ernie live together in an apartment located in the basement of 123 Sesame Street. Despite sleeping in separate beds, they share the same bedroom, which has led to some speculation that they are a representation of gay lovers. This is repeatedly denied by Sesame Workshop, and some of Bert's interactions with female characters do appear to show that he is attracted to women, like serenading Connie Stevens in the Some Enchanted Evening segment of a first-season episode of The Muppet Show, and recording a song about his girlfriend, I Want to Hold Your Ear, which was released on several albums.
In July 2013, The New Yorker magazine chose an image of Bert and Ernie by artist Jack Hunter, titled Moment of Joy, as the cover of their publication, which covers the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Sesame Workshop was reportedly so outraged by the idea that it was rumored to be considering the possibility of litigation.
In September 2018, Mark Saltzman, one of the script and songwriters for Sesame Street, alleged in an interview with Queerty that Bert and Ernie were analogues for his own intimate relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman, despite the fact that he did not begin writing for Sesame Street until fifteen years after Bert's and Ernie's first appearance.
Sesame Workshop responded by claiming that Bert and Ernie have no sexual orientations because they are both puppets. Frank Oz, who previously performed as Bert, stated Bert and Ernie were not gay, saying, "They're not, of course, a gay couple. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness." Sesame Street then went on to clarify even further stating: No, Bert and Ernie aren't gay — they're 'best friends.' However, it has been pointed out that Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog used to be in a romantic heterosexual relationship during the course of the show.
Parody and other uses
From March 30, 1997, to ca. 2002, the parody website "Bert is Evil" displayed Bert in a number of doctored photographs, implicating him in crimes ranging from the Assassination of John F. Kennedy to those of Jack the Ripper. A similar image from another source and featuring Bert conferring with Osama bin Laden was mistakenly included by a Bangladeshi print shop on a series of protest signs in October 2001 and 2002.
The German comedy sketch series Freitag Nacht News had a recurring sketch called Bernie und Ert created by Attik Kargar, who performed the puppets and supplied the voice of Bernie. Bernie and Ert are an obscene parody of Ernie and Bert, and especially redubbed on Sesamstrasse. The puppets had no nose, one eye each, and swapped hairstyles. Each sketch focused on such topics as crime, drug abuse and Friday the 13th.
In February 2003, Bernie and Ert were dropped from the series because of legal concerns; however, older episodes circulate on the internet. They also appeared in a Freitag Nacht News sequence called Bullzeye in a sketch called "Popo Club". Bernie & Ert wore black masks and leather jackets, disguised as Unknown No. 1 and Unknown No. 2 respectively, with another character named Winfred, propagating bizarre sexual practices.
This skit became popular that it resulted in more skits called "Popo Club" featuring Unknown No. 1 & 2, with occasional appearances by Winfred.
The film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) includes a taxi driver named Ernie and a policeman named Bert. Jerry Juhl, a writer on many Henson projects, said that the film did not influence the creation of these two Muppets: "Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the police officer and the cabdriver."
The Sesame Street special Elmo Saves Christmas refers to the coincidence: in the special, It's a Wonderful Life plays on television continuously and, near the end, the Muppets Bert and Ernie walk by the television set and stop short when they hear their names mentioned in the movie.
In the 1991 pilot episode of Eerie, Indiana, Marshal and Simon are subtly asked for help by a pair of twin brothers named Bertram and Ernest (called Bert and Ernie for short), because their mother has forced them to sleep every night in her 'Forever Ware' containers, thus having kept them at age 12 for over 30 years. This could allude to the fact Bert and Ernie have not aged in all the years that Sesame Street has aired.
- Arab World, Iftah Ya Simsim, Bert is "Badr", and Ernie is "Anis". They are called "Anis w Badr" (Arabic: أنيس وبدر)
- Brazil, Vila Sésamo, Bert is "Beto", and Ernie is "Ênio". They're called "Ênio e Beto".
- Egypt, Alam Simsim, Bert is "Hadi", and Ernie is Shadi. They are known as "Shadi w Hadi".
- France, 1, Rue Sésame, Bert is "Bart" and Ernie is "Ernest". They are called "Ernest et Bart". In the French version, when Bert's brother Bart comes to visit, he is called "Bert".
- Germany, Sesamstraße, they are called "Ernie und Bert".
- India, Galli Galli Sim Sim, they are called Bert and Ernie.
- Israel, Rechov Sumsum, Bert is "Bentz", a common short-form for the name "Ben-Tzion", and Ernie is "Arik", short-form for "Ariel" (Hebrew: אריק ובנץ).
- Italy, "Sesamo apriti", Bert is "Berto" and Ernie is "Ernesto". They are called "Ernesto e Berto".
- Mexico and all Latin America, Plaza Sésamo, Bert is "Beto", while Ernie is "Enrique". In addition, Ernie's cousin Ernestine is called "Enriqueta".
- Netherlands, Sesamstraat they are "Bert en Ernie". Paul Haenen provides Bert's voice, and Wim T. Schippers provides Ernie's.
- Norway, Sesam Stasjon, Bert is "Bernt", while Ernie is "Erling". Usually, they're called "Bernt og Erling", respectively voiced by Harald Mæle and Magnus Nielsen.
- Pakistan, Khul Ja Sim Sim, Bert is "Bablu", while Ernie is "Annu". They are commonly called "Annu aur Bablu".
- Poland, Ulica Sezamkowa, Bert is "Hubert" and Ernie is "Emil". They are called "Hubert i Emil".
- Portugal, Rua Sésamo, Bert is "Becas" and Ernie is "Egas". They are called "Egas e Becas", in the opposite order.
- Russia, Ulitsa Sezam, Bert is Vlas and Ernie is Yenik. They are called Vlas i Yenik ("Влас и Еник")
- Spain, Barrio Sésamo, Bert is "Blas", and Ernie is "Epi". Also, they are always called "Epi y Blas", in the opposite order.
- Turkey, Susam Sokağı, Bert is "Büdü", while Ernie is "Edi". They are commonly called "Edi ile Büdü".
- "ONTD_Political - Bert and Ernie Come Out in the New Yorker". Ontd-political.livejournal.com. 2013-06-28. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- Davis, Michael (2008). Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. New York: Viking Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-670-01996-0.
- "macon.com". macon.com. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007.
- Whitburn, Joel (2007). "Top Pop Singles: 1955-2006".
- "Are Bert and Ernie Gay?". Snopes. Retrieved 2007-10-28.
The Children's Television Workshop has steadfastly denied rumors about Bert and Ernie's sexual orientation...
- "Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie". The Sesame Workshop. 2018-09-18.
- Françoise Mouly; Mina Kaneko. "Cover Story". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
"It's amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime," said Jack Hunter, the artist behind next week's cover.
- Rawles, Timothy (September 17, 2018). "Bert & Ernie are based on a real-life gay couple". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
- Reddish, David (September 16, 2018). "EXCLUSIVE: Are Bert & Ernie a couple? We finally have an answer…". Queerty. Queerty. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
- Vivinetto, Gina (18 September 2018). "No, Bert and Ernie aren't gay — they're 'best friends,'". Today. NBC. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
- BBC News - Bert in the frame with Bin Laden
- Carroll, Jon (January 3, 2000). "A Few Tiny Errors, Part I". The San Francisco Chronicle.
- George Dvorsky (April 25, 2013). "Neutrinos From Another Galaxy Have Been Discovered in Antarctica". Io9.com. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- Leigh, Rob (June 22, 2014). "EastEnders spoilers: Kat and Alfie Moon's twin boys to be named after Muppets Bert and Ernie - Mirror Online". Daily Mirror. Retrieved September 4, 2014.