The 12 Most Fascinating Muppets Of The '70s

By | August 8, 2019

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Left: The Swedish Chef. Right: Beaker. Sources: Jay David Buchsbaum/The Muppets Studio/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; IMDB

Jim Henson's puppet variety show, The Muppet Show, featured Kermit the Frog (a Sesame Street veteran), Miss Piggy, and Gonzo, yes. But it was Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Sam the Eagle, Animal the drummer, and others who made the show such a success. This rogues gallery of supporting characters, who didn't just look funny but also had distinct quirks and delusions, took puppetry to a new, more sophisticated level. The absurdity of an incomprehensible chef who tries to cook live chickens, a scientist who sets his assistant on fire, a pair of old grumps who attend every show just to complain about it, a dashing space pig who wears a toupee -- this wasn't just kids' stuff, it was humor in the vein of Monty Python (which preceded The Muppet Show) and Airplane! (which came after). 

Running from 1976-1981, The Muppet Show won four Primetime Emmy Awards. The creator of the show, Jim Henson, began making television shows in the 1950s featuring his puppets. The early characters he created, such as Kermit and Fozzie Bear, appeared on variety shows aimed at adults, but the success of Sesame Street (which launched in 1969) led to them being perceived as entertainment for children. With The Muppet Show, Henson was getting back to his roots, providing sly humor that adults could dig while bringing the kids along with slapstick and broad punchlines. In the late '70s, The Muppet Show was truly a show for all ages, and the roster of big celebrities who made guest appearances is proof that grownups definitely got the joke. 

But who was this supporting cast? How well did we really know Janice, Sweetums, Floyd Pepper, Statler & Waldorf, the pigs of "Pigs In Space?" Let's take a closer look at the characters who made the show such a timeless success.

The Swedish Chef: Bork Bork Bork

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The Swedish Chef makes chocolate mousse. Source: Facebook

We don't know much about the Swedish Chef, probably because we can't understand a word he says. Fun fact: he annoys many actual Swedes, mainly because of the questions that non-Swedes ask about the character, including asking them to translate his gibberish. Swedes complain that the Chef's babble actually sounds closer to Norwegian. The singsong nature and rise and fall of his voice does seem to support this idea.

There is a Swedish chef who claims to be the inspiration for the character, but Henson may have been inspired simply by some Berlitz language tapes he had been listening to. The Chef is one of a few "live hand" Muppets (Rowlf, Fozzie Bear, Bunsen Honeydew, and Sam the Eagle were others) -- one puppeteer has a hand in the head of the puppet to do the mouth movements and wears a glove to be one of the Chef’s arms. A second puppeteer is the other arm of the puppet. This janky arrangement makes the Chef a bit uncoordinated -- all part of the comedy.