Dave Goelz

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Dave Goelz
Goelz in May 2018
David Charles Goelz

(1946-07-16) July 16, 1946 (age 77)
  • Puppeteer
  • actor
  • puppet builder
Years active1961–present
Debra Goelz
(m. 1992)

David Charles Goelz (/ˈɡlz/; born July 16, 1946) is an American puppeteer, actor, and puppet builder known for his work with the Muppets. As part of the Muppets' performing cast, Goelz performs Gonzo the Great, as well as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf (after Jim Henson's death), Zoot and Beauregard, originating on The Muppet Show. Goelz's puppeteering roles also included in Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. Outside of puppeteering work, he was also the voice of Figment in the Journey into Imagination with Figment attraction at Epcot.

Early life[edit]

Born in Los Angeles, California, Goelz had an interest in puppetry as a child, including an affinity for the children's television show Time for Beany, but after graduating from John Burroughs High School in Burbank, he attended the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design and began work as an industrial designer. Goelz applied to work at Walt Disney Imagineering, but was not considered on the basis that they had sufficient industrial designers already employed.[1] The mechanically-minded Goelz worked for such companies as John Deere, American Airlines, and Hewlett-Packard. However, when Sesame Street premiered, he was fascinated by the craftsmanship, as he recalled in an interview:

I had been a Muppet fan for many years, but now I started getting fascinated with the design process that went into what I was seeing on the screen. Who were these people who created the puppets, costumes and performances that were so evocative? I got very curious.

While working full-time for an electronics firm, Goelz began dabbling with puppet building.


Muppet building[edit]

Goelz met Frank Oz at a puppetry festival in 1972, and during a vacation in New York City, he attended daily Sesame Street tapings. A few months later, Goelz showed his design portfolio to Jim Henson, and in 1973, he was offered a job with Henson Associates as a part-time puppet builder. His first assignment was to build puppets and design effects for a proposed Broadway show. However, the show was soon abandoned in favor of an ABC pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show, for which Goelz built characters and got his first chance at performing, playing Brewster, whom he also designed.

Upon Goelz's return to California, he learned that he had been replaced by his electronics employer, so he set up shop creating puppets and videos for industrial videos. Eight months later, in the fall of 1974, Henson offered him a full-time position as a builder/designer, and occasional performer in specials, while still allowing him to keep his industrial clients. Returning to New York, Goelz began work on The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, for which he built the new host character, Nigel. Working from sketches by Jim Henson, Michael K. Frith, and Bonnie Erickson, he also built Animal, Floyd Pepper, and Zoot, the latter becoming his first major character.

The Muppet Show and the birth of Gonzo[edit]

In 1976, Goelz joined the rest of the Henson team and flew to London to begin work on The Muppet Show. In addition to reprising his role of Zoot and playing background roles, as in the earlier specials, Goelz was promoted to "Principal Muppet Performer" with the starring role of The Great Gonzo. The puppet had debuted in The Great Santa Claus Switch, as Cigar Box Frackle,[2] and had made brief appearances in Muppet Meeting Films and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, with different performers. The sad-eyed creation was now given a permanent name and puppeteer. However, in addition to playing Gonzo, Goelz was still employed in the Muppet Workshop.

Goelz recalled the hectic schedule of working full-time behind the scenes and in front of the cameras in a 2004 Film Threat interview:

So my typical day involved running back and forth between making puppets and performing. And I of course didn't know anything about performing. At all. I guess I had an aptitude for it, but it was something I hadn't had any training for. So I was learning on the job, and I found the whole thing very stressful. At the end of the first season, I said, 'Jim, look, is there any chance I could come back next year and just be a performer, and not work in the workshop?' And he said 'yes'. So I sort of blended into the performing world that year.

Gonzo, that first season, like many of the new Muppet Show creations, was a work in progress, and especially for Goelz, playing his first starring character and major speaking role. When he was assigned the character, he panicked: "I have no voice!"

He thought of the voice the morning before the first taping performance. As recalled later, Goelz thought that he had the worst voice out of all the Muppet performers,[3] and was scared the first time he had to sing.[4]

The early Gonzo, with a permanently sad expression, inspired a similarly depressed portrayal from the novice puppeteer: "The downcast eyes made him easy to play because that was exactly how I felt. I was an impostor in show business. I was learning how to perform and to puppeteer on the job."[5]

In that first season, Gonzo was a misfit and out of place, according to Goelz, which was how he saw himself as a performer:[2]

When I came to The Muppet Show, I found myself suddenly with a different and enormous star every week, and I had absolutely no credentials. I felt so out of place. So that came into the character, and for the first season, he was very self-effacing and he felt like a misfit.

Looking at the character in retrospect at MuppetFest, he recalled that "over the years, he sort of evolved along with me... I was an impostor in show business. In the first season, Gonzo is always self-effacing and embarrassed. But he knows he has something special."[6] Adding to Goelz's insecurity was the jaded veteran crew members of ATV Studios, who had worked with the likes of Julie Andrews and Bing Crosby, and were thus hard to impress.

Finally, towards the end of the first season, Gonzo had a scene where he had to shout, in amazement, "No!" Jim Henson told him to go bigger, so Goelz obliged with an overemphatic "NO!" This earned his first laugh from the crewmembers.

I got another laugh the second season. It was unstoppable now! And I thought, I could make a character of this. Then when I got that first laugh... I felt limited because he couldn't look excited. His droopy eyelids always made him look pathetic. So after that first season, I asked Jim if I could build a Gonzo with an eye mechanism. He said 'sure', so I went back to New York and did that. Now he could convey his excitement and enthusiasm for his silly acts, and it was much more entertaining. Along with this I was becoming more comfortable with performing. So it started to work better. I think he grew because I was growing, and I was capable of doing more.

As Goelz increased in confidence, and Gonzo transitioned from a nervous depressed failure to a manic, confident stuntman, other facets of the character fell into place. The second season introduces his romantic fascination with poultry.[7] As the performer reminisced in Of Muppets and Men:

There was a moment during the second season when I had Gonzo ad-lib a line that was, I think, important for my understanding of his character. He'd been auditioning chickens for the show -- dancing chickens -- and they were all terrible. At the end of the scene I had him turn to the camera and say, 'Nice legs, though.' Something jelled right there. It told me something about him.

Other Muppets[edit]

In addition to the starring role of Gonzo, during the first season of The Muppet Show, Goelz also had the slightly less challenging but still time-consuming supporting roles of Zoot and another new creation, scientist Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

It's easy for me to do Bunsen, because I've known dozens of Bunsens. Actually I don't think he's very funny except as a foil for Beaker, who is one of my favorite characters. Zoot is a big puzzle for me. People write to me and say they know people exactly like Zoot. Well, I'd like to meet one of them, because I've never met anyone like that. I found that when the writers gave Zoot lines to speak, I would always try to give them away to other characters, because I didn't know what to do with him. Maybe that helped to define the character. Perhaps it's best that he's so non-verbal.[8]

In later seasons, a new Goelz character was added, the well-meaning but slow-witted janitor, Beauregard:

Bo is very similar to a character I performed in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. His name was Wendell Porcupine and I had a lot of fun with him. Bo was sort of modeled after him. He's big and strong and clumsy—I love him—but he's passive, we've never found a hook for him.[9]

Fraggle Rock[edit]

With the debut of Fraggle Rock, Goelz was cast as one of the five leads, the depressed, pessimistic Boober Fraggle. Boober stemmed from something Goelz had said while working on the first season of The Muppet Show, that he was so busy on the show that the only things he had time to worry about were death and laundry. At Muppetfest, Goelz related the process of character creation for the show: "They looked at the performers, and picked out our flaws, and made characters out of them. They denied it... So that's how I ended up with Boober, the superstitious, paranoid character." In the Fraggle Rock: Complete First Season interviews, Goelz also mentioned that "I was cast with Boober, who was sort of grumpy and inflexible, just like I could be a lot of the time." Demonstrating his versatility, he also played the pompous Uncle Traveling Matt, the rat-like Philo, and the cantankerous World's Oldest Fraggle, as well as a variety of guest characters and memorable incidentals, such as Wrench, Cotterpin Doozer's best friend, the obese Large Marvin and Sidebottom, Boober's more jovial alter-ego from his dreams. In the Fraggle Rock: Complete Second Season interviews, Goelz talked about how he developed Traveling Matt's character, from the starting point as Matt being simply a misinterpreting chronicler of human life, to determining that Matt was also inherently clumsy and inept, which led to Matt covering up his blunders in his postcards and developing a comedic air of ostentation. Goelz reprised his roles as the voices of Boober and Travelling Matt in the 2020 Apple TV+ spin-off series Fraggle Rock: Rock On!; the two characters were puppeteered by John Tartaglia, who also puppeteered Wembley (to Frankie Cordero's vocals) and performs Gobo (a role he inherited from Jerry Nelson).

Films and beyond[edit]

Goelz continued to reprise his roles as Gonzo and Bunsen in feature films, slowly adding more aspects to "the weirdo," and also worked on Henson's forays into "realistic" fantasy, The Dark Crystal (performing the Garthim Master SkekUng and the dog-like Fizzgig), and Labyrinth (playing a variety of roles, notably Sir Didymus).

I loved the atmosphere on Dark Crystal. That turned out to be a very stimulating project, because it was pretty much unprecedented. On the very first day we filmed, the Skeksis had to file past the deathbed of the Skeksis emperor, performed by Jim. The Skeksis all had ulterior motives as they walked by the bed to pay their respects. In our very first shot, I was inside the Garthim Master Skeksis with another puppeteer doing the right hand. I was totally blind except for a little monitor on my chest, and I just stepped off the platform and we started to fall. Fortunately somebody was there and caught us and pushed us back up."[10]

As the 1980s progressed, in addition to switching between the manic Gonzo and the phlegmatic Boober (a variety which Goelz recalled as "stimulating"), Goelz played occasional new roles in specials, notably Rugby Tiger in The Christmas Toy:

I had such a good time. He's just a naive, self-centered and self-satisfied, little tiger cub, and he was just so much fun. He was just completely unaware of the feelings of others. The crew loved him. It doesn't show up much on the show, but it was just a fun thing to do with the crew.[2]

Another new character was Digit in The Jim Henson Hour.

Goelz also provided the puppetry for Kermit the Frog for Muppets Most Wanted test footage.

Other roles[edit]

Following Jim Henson's sudden death in 1990, and with Frank Oz continuing to focus heavily on directing, Gonzo the character and Goelz the performer gained increased significance, starting with the first new feature, The Muppet Christmas Carol. By performing Gonzo as Charles Dickens as narrator,[11] Goelz (accompanied by Steve Whitmire as Rizzo the Rat, a pairing which would be repeated in subsequent productions) largely dominated the Muppet side of the film, and received top billing as "Muppet Performer" (a distinction which would continue through Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets from Space) "...when we did The Muppet Christmas Carol, he [Gonzo] developed a soulful side. He played the part of Dickens, and I just loved doing that. It just paralleled my own growth. Jerry Juhl wrote it as a way of getting Dickensian prose into the movie. But the fact that he chose Gonzo was very satisfying to me. And I think it was because he saw me changing and I think he felt that Gonzo could change too" (Film Threat). Goelz also took over the part of Waldorf from Henson. Muppets From Space was both Gonzo the character and Goelz the performer's first leading role in a Muppet production.

Apart from a brief stint operating the face of Earl Sinclair and performing hand-puppet guest characters on Dinosaurs, and reprising Rugby in The Secret Life of Toys, Goelz' most notable new television character was Stinky the Skunk in Jim Henson's Animal Show. Otherwise, the puppeteer remained mostly occupied with Gonzo in movies, videos, and the 1996 series Muppets Tonight, the latter introducing a few new characters such as Randy Pig and Bill the Bubble Guy. Goelz also performed a handful of minor Sesame Street characters and appeared in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland as Humongous Chicken. His most recent credits include The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and the first few installments of the online series Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. In 2011 and 2014, he reprised his performance as Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf, Beauregard and other signature roles in The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. In 2015, Goelz voiced Subconscious Guard Frank in the Disney·Pixar film Inside Out.[12] He also voiced Baffi the Fizzgig in the 2019 Netflix original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

Personal life[edit]

Over the years, Goelz has suffered a number of injuries due to the way Muppet performers must hold up their arms for extended periods and contort into small spaces. These include four shoulder surgeries and a hip replacement.[13]

At 46, he married his wife Debra, who was formerly a Jim Henson Productions VP of Finance, and subsequently had two children. They live on a forested 20-acre space in Northern California.[13]



  1. ^ "WD-FM Interview with Muppet Performers Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta" (video). youtube.com. The Walt Disney Family Museum. October 8, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "The Geeks Shall Inheirit the Earth: Dave Goelz Under the Stage part 2". Film Threat. March 31, 2004. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  3. ^ "Muppet Morsels – Episode 111: Lena Horne". The Muppet Show: Season One (DVD) (Special Edition Four-Disc Set ed.). Buena Vista Home Entertainment. August 9, 2005.
  4. ^ "Muppet Morsels – Episode 111: Avery Schreiber". The Muppet Show: Season One (DVD) (Special Edition Four-Disc Set ed.). Buena Vista Home Entertainment. August 9, 2005.
  5. ^ Plume, Kenneth (January 28, 2000). "Gonzo Puppeterism: An Interview with Muppeteer Dave Goelz". Muppet Central. p. 2.
  6. ^ "Creating the Classic Muppets Panel", MuppetFest Memories: Dec. 8–9 2001 (Fanzine)
  7. ^ Kryza, AP; Mesh, Aaron (April 28, 2009). "Dave Goelz Practicing Gonzo journalism with a master of Muppets". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  8. ^ Finch, Christopher (1981). Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 85). ISBN 978-0394520858.
  9. ^ Finch (1981), p. 40.
  10. ^ Plume, Kenneth (January 28, 2000). "Muppet Central Articles - Interviews: Dave Goelz". Muppet Central. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  11. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (December 21, 2015). "How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol". The Guardian. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "Pixar's 'Inside Out' Cast Includes Some Awesome Voice Cameos (Spoilers)". Stitch Kingdom. May 20, 2015. Archived from the original on May 22, 2015. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Hilgers, Laura (August 21, 2019). "Dave the Human". Nob Hill Gazette. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  14. ^ "Video: The Muppet Christmas Caroling Coach Debuts at Disney Merriest Nites". laughingplace.com. November 11, 2021. Retrieved February 1, 2022.

External links[edit]

Dave Goelz on Muppet Wiki

Preceded by Performer of Waldorf
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Bunsen Honeydew
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Big Mean Carl
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Randy Pig
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