Photo courtesy of Sesame Workshop
Legendary Sesame Street and Muppets puppeteer Peter Linz discusses his celebrated career, new Disney+ show, and why he loves living in Bedford.
Although his face may be unfamiliar, there is a good chance you’ve long enjoyed the work of Peter Linz. The hand behind Sesame Street’s iconic characters Ernie and Herry Monster since 1991, Linz is perhaps best known as performer of The Muppets character Walter for more than a decade. Along with work on a fleet of noted children’s shows, Linz has also performed on Broadway in the hit musical Avenue Q and completed voice work for PBS. In May, Disney+ released its new series The Muppets Mayhem to critical acclaim with Linz in the role of Lips. We caught up with the acclaimed puppeteer to learn a bit about his new show and why he adores Westchester.
How did your interest in puppetry begin?
Puppetry had been my childhood hobby and passion as long as I can remember. The story goes that when I was around three years old, my father put a puppet on my hand and showed me how to make it work. I distinctly recall in preschool, making the other kids laugh at the antics of a mohair squirrel puppet I played with. Later in grade school, I built puppet stages out of cardboard boxes and did shows for the neighborhood kids. I was just the right age to grow up with The Muppet Show and Sesame Street and was a huge fan of both, long after they were age-appropriate. As a somewhat shy child, puppetry gave me the opportunity to be expressive, to create wild, outlandish characters, and most of all, enjoy the satisfying feeling of making people laugh.
How do you go about bringing life to your characters?
Puppeteers are actors from the elbow up. Like most actors, my characters have grown from what a writer has created or from my own psyche — or both. When deciding on vocal quality, I consider who the character is, their needs and desires. Looking at the puppet, I imagine what sort of character would emerge from their face or go the opposite direction and come up with a character you’d never expect, hopefully to great comedic effect.
You are based in Bedford, correct?
I’ve lived in the town of Bedford for 24 years. I love the charm and antiquity of Westchester, the architecture and aesthetically pleasing layout of Katonah in particular. Most of all, I love the brilliant and wildly creative friends I’ve made here.
Do you feel a certain weight or responsibility when bringing to life characters like Ernie?
Creating and performing my own, original characters is what truly excites me. However, I consider it an enormous responsibility being the steward of these iconic characters. Other legacy characters I’ve been entrusted with are Statler (one of the old men in the balcony), literal male chauvinist pig Link Hogthrob, and Kermit’s nephew Robin. For these characters to continue to be successful and appealing, you must make them your own while remaining true to their origins. Attempting to recreate and preserve these characters originally created by Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, and Richard Hunt is the most challenging aspect of my career.
Tell me about your new show, The Muppets Mayhem.
It’s the first time there’s been a Muppet series that focuses exclusively on the house band from The Muppet Show, The Electric Mayhem. The 10-episode Disney+ series follows the band as they attempt to record their first (and only) album in 45 years. I perform the character Lips, the trumpet player. It’s a well-crafted, touching, and hysterical series that was an absolute joy to work on.