‘Sesame Street’ Reminds Everyone Bert and Ernie Are Not Gay or Straight Because They’re Friggin’ Puppets

Former writer says he always saw duo as a “loving couple”

Last Updated: September 18, 2018 @ 1:52 PM

Updated 1:38 p.m. PT: Frank Oz shot down former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman’s remarks about Bert and Ernie’s sexual orientation in his own statement, tweeted Tuesday.

“It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay,” Oz, a longtime Muppets veteran and Bert’s creator, wrote. “It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. 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.”

Previously: A former “Sesame Street” writer says popular characters Bert and Ernie are a “loving couple.” Sesame Workshop says that isn’t so, because puppets “do not have a sexual orientation.”

“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” Sesame Workshop, the studio behind the beloved children’s program, said in a statement tweeted by its official account Tuesday.

“They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters an possess many human traits and characteristics (as most ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Sesame Workshop issued the statement in response to remarks Mark Saltzman — a seven-time Emmy-winner who worked within The Muppets family for 15 years — made in an interview with Queerty published earlier this week.

“And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were,” Saltzman said of the puppets’ sexual orientation, suggesting they are a gay couple. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”

“The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie [Glassman] & I as ‘Bert & Ernie,'” Saltzman added, referencing the late Glassman, an acclaimed editor and his life partner of more than 20 years.

Here are the relevant parts of the interview:

Ok, so we have to address–that’s the big question, right? In the writer’s room, you’re all adults. Were you thinking of Bert & Ernie as a gay couple? Did that question ever come up?
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.”

That’s telling.
Yeah, I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor–if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn’t that be perfect? Bert with his paper clips and organization? And I was the jokester. So it was the Bert & Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street. So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches…Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.

So you’re saying that Bert & Ernie became analogs for your relationship in a lot of ways?
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.

The secret friend…because at that point Snuffy was Big Bird’s secret friend. It was later on he out and everyone realized he actually existed.
That happened while I was there, yeah. But they haven’t…the New Yorker cover was kind of vindication, but there’s not a Bert & Ernie float in the Pride Parade.