It is a strange but wonderful thing, to talk to a Muppet — an experience I can now say I’ve had, thanks to Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. As seen in the video interview above, the stars of The Muppets Mayhem were generous enough to answer a few questions via Zoom about their life prior to making the new Disney+ musical comedy series, confirming that you should never take Animal to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and reflecting on the magical time they’ve had performing on the road over the years.
In the series, it’s mentioned that the Mayhem were at Woodstock, but they have no memory of performing there. In fact, as they reveal to Consequence, the only festival they actually remember performing at during their long career is Outside Lands… which makes a lot of sense, given that The Muppets Mayhem owes a lot to the annual San Francisco fest: While The Electric Mayhem first began rocking in 1975 as the house band for The Muppet Show, in 2016 The Electric Mayhem made an unprecedented appearance at Outside Lands.
“I was amazed that people actually came to listen to us — 30,000 people showed up and I thought, well, maybe there’s something to the band,” veteran Muppets performer and executive producer Bill Barretta, the voice and hand behind Dr. Teeth, tells Consequence. “And so I started thinking, maybe we should take this show on tour, go to different festivals. And then I started thinking, maybe there’s a TV show about that.”
Barretta pitched that idea to Muppet Studios, and there was interest — but a changing of the executive guard meant it didn’t happen right away, and when he repitched the idea, he found out that eventual executive producers Jeff Yorkes and Adam F. Goldberg were also proposing their own concept for an Electric Mayhem series.
Yorkes’ background is in editing, and Goldberg credits him specifically with “helping showrunners sell shows by making sizzle reels. He did that for The Goldbergs, he did it for Cobra Kai, and he did it on his own where he sent me the Mayhem trailer.”
Why did Yorkes cut together a spec trailer to sell the idea of an Electric Mayhem series? As a former Henson intern, his answer’s simple: “I love the Mayhem. They were my favorite. They were their own subset of weirdos that just didn’t care, just did their thing — they just liked rock. I’m a big music fan, and I was just like, they don’t have an album. That’s crazy to me. So that’s sort of where the idea [for the show] came from — selfishly, I just wanted The Electric Mayhem to have an album.”
Barretta was on board to combine the ideas, thanks in part to Goldberg’s track record as the creator of The Goldbergs and other series: “I was like, ‘Ooooh, Adam Goldberg. He’s got a good show. That could be interesting.'”
The quest to create The Electric Mayhem’s first album drives the first season of the series — Goldberg confirms that this is not intended to be a limited series — “we know what we want to do” in Season 2, and even have ideas in the works for a third season.
As always, it wouldn’t be a Muppets project if the Muppets weren’t hanging around with human friends — in the case of The Muppets Mayhem, Lilly Singh stars as a young aspiring music executive who pushes the Mayhem to fulfill their contract for that long-overdue first album, with some help from her younger sister (Saara Chaudry) and The Electric Mayhem’s biggest fan (Tahj Mowry).
Singh says that she wasn’t the biggest Muppet fan prior to her casting, but watched every Muppet film and show she could in preparation for the show, focusing specifically on “how people interact with the Muppets.”
“After I booked the role, I had a meeting with all the producers to talk about what they were envisioning for the character,” Singh says. “And they made it very clear to me that you treat them like they’re humans. Don’t talk to them like they’re kids. Don’t look down on them, don’t talk to them like they can’t handle emotion. And so when I was watching different people act opposite the Muppets, that’s what I was trying to look for. Like, are they changing the way they’re talking because they’re talking to something that can’t comprehend emotions, or can’t comprehend what they’re saying?”
The thing is, though, that the Muppets (or their performers, anyway) can comprehend those things. “The Muppets can’t see, but you’ve still gotta give them facial expressions,” says Singh. “So I was really studying how to make sure that our relationship was believable because they’re not human, but they still have human tendencies and emotions and thoughts.”
Says Mowry, “They’re beings. Like, they’re real.”
Singh agrees. “They’re absolutely real. When I walk on set, I say hello to the Muppets performers and also the Muppets — because they’re different.”
As a veteran performer, Barretta observes that “most actors that we end up working with don’t even notice us. They would prefer to not ever see us. And some people don’t quite get it right away. Like, Tony Bennett couldn’t hook into it right away with this character that I did, because he was fascinated with the abstract and the art of these characters, how they worked and what they looked like — it took longer for him to just relate to the character. Where we were fortunate with our actors is that they immediately connected. They looked right into their eyes and were just having fun playing with them and riffing off of them.”
Looking to the past for great examples of engagement, Mowry called out the human performances in The Muppets Take Manhattan (a cast which included Louis Zorich, Juliana Donald, Lonny Price, Gates McFadden, and Graham Brown): “The performances from the humans in that movie specifically are so grounded. Like they’re just New Yorkers — they’re living in New York, hanging with the Muppets, cleaning the kitchen with a bunch of rats.” Chaudry also cited Jason Segel’s performance in 2011’s The Muppets as a good example.
Barretta says that “something I just kept mentioning to [the human cast] was to just be real. Just keep that in the back of your mind. Stay grounded, stay real. Because it’s funnier, because then the audience invests itself. We are then in their position and we’re going, ‘Oh, they really believe that these characters are there. They’re not trying to play and pretend that they’re there with them. They’re really doing it.’ And so they all did that, and they were phenomenal.”
One important facet to the development of the series was that while there are decades of Muppets lore to look back on, The Electric Mayhem represent more of a blank slate, canonically — there’s no secret binder in the Muppet Studios office containing a detailed breakdown of each character’s backstory. This gave all the writers, both deeply embedded performers like Barretta and super-fans like Yorkes, the opportunity to develop it on their own.
“Our first terrifying meeting was with Bill, where we’re pitching where Dr. Teeth came from. And it was just seamless — Bill going, ‘I love this and here’s what I know about Dr. Teeth.’ It was just this immediate seamless riffing on our ideas,” Goldberg says.
Yorkes then started laughing at a memory: “Muppet canon is a very weird thing — it mostly doesn’t exist. Do you remember the day I came into the room, and we’re riffing, we’re talking about Animal’s backstory, and I’m like ‘Guys, there is a storybook that came out in 1980-something about Animal and his mom!’ and everyone’s like, ‘Shut up, Jeff!’ You remember this?”
“Yeah, I do remember. I do remember yelling at you,” Goldberg says, also laughing. “What’s interesting is Bill has been performing the Muppets for 30 years and obviously has this endless wealth of knowledge being in the trenches, whereas Jeff has the fanboy knowledge. So I think Jeff would be frustrated sometimes that I would defer to Bill and his trenches knowledge.”
Don’t knock the power of fandom, though. Here’s how good Yorkes’ first spec trailer was — the official teaser for The Muppets Mayhem, according to Goldberg, “is Jeff’s sizzle, essentially.”
For the original sizzle reel, Yorkes used footage from the 2016 Outside Lands concert, as well as footage from other rock films and archival clips of the Muppet Show. “Instead of using shots from Rock Star or Almost Famous, just of like mixing boards and lights, I got to recut it with, you know, our show,” Yorkes says. “That’s cool.”
“Absatively posalutely” cool, as a wise man might say.
The Muppets Mayhem is streaming now on Disney+.