"It's time to play the music, It's time to light the lights, It's time to meet the Muppets On the Muppet Show tonight!"
The immense popularity of The Muppets they created for Sesame Street gave Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl and Frank Oz a lot of exposure, with the Muppets becoming quite popular. Unfortunately, the Sesame Street association was a double-edged sword: it also threatened to pigeonhole the Henson crew as children's entertainers. Thus the impetus to create a new show featuring the Muppets, a variety show for family viewing, but with social and political satire. ABC aired a pair of pilot specials, The Muppets Valentine Show (1974) and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975), but when all the U.S. networks rejected their (frankly awesome) pitch for a weekly series, they instead finagled a distribution deal with Britain's ITC, under the auspices of Lord Lew Grade.The Muppet Show was produced for worldwide weekly syndication from 1976 to 1981. It was videotaped at the London studios of ITC's parent company ATV. The choreography for the human guests was created by Gillian Lynne, who later went on to design all of the ballet sequences in Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage version of The Phantom of the Opera.The show became so popular that in at least one U.S. market, two stations broadcast different episodes of The Muppet Show in back-to-back time slots. The show was never actually cancelled; instead, Henson and company decided to end it so that they could work on films, The Muppet Movie in particular.
It's time to put on makeup, It's time to dress up right, It's time to raise the curtain On the Muppet Show tonight!
Cheerful, cool-headed Kermit the Frog was the emcee-slash-production manager-slash-eye of the storm for this truly 'far out' all-puppet Variety Show. The setting was a tiny rundown downtown theatre and the tone was deliberately reminiscent of old-style vaudeville, where anything could happen and usually did. Other major members of the troupe included diva Miss Piggy, comedian Fozzie Bear, piano-playing Rowlf the Dog, daredevil performance artist Gonzo the Great, and Scooter the eager "go-fer".
To introduce our guest star That's what I'm here to do (or, what it's time to do); So it really makes me happy To introduce to you:
A different human entertainer was featured as each episode's Special Guest, and the show's cachet quickly became such that they were frequently A-list—often uniquely so (ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev, anyone?). Each week, technical flubs, talent crises, rampaging egos and financial issues (when the pigs weren't rebelling, or angry clones weren't on the loose, or the Star Wars cast wasn't rampaging through in search of Chewbacca) would bring the show teetering to the brink of disaster; each week, the show somehow managed to go on.Recurring sketches included Veterinarian's Hospital, starring Rowlf ("the continuing stoooooooory of a quack who's gone to the dogs"); Pigs in Space (yep, pretty much); Muppet Labs, with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his perpetually terrified assistant Beaker ("Now your family can be protected from the heartbreak of gorilla invasion!"); cooking segments with the game-but-goofy Swedish Chef; and the disaster-prone 'Muppet News Flash'. Piano-playing Doctor Teeth and his Electric Mayhem — laid-back bassist and singer Floyd Pepper, groovy guitarist Janice, silent saxophonist Zoot and drummer Animal — were the house band. And sitting high above it all in the balcony, in prime position to volley insults, were codger hecklers Statler and Waldorf:
Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know It's like a kind of torture To have to watch this show!
Ostensibly a family show, The Muppet Show in practice played freely with the dark side of Henson's vision, more familiar from his later work. Notable guest stars included Alice Cooper, Vincent Price, Jonathan Winters, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Steve Martin. Songs from adult shows like Chicago and Cabaret were worked into the mix (to say nothing of Elton John singing "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", or Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare"...) Casual violence abounded and seemingly gentle skits often took a weirdly surreal turn.
Our show tonight will feature Some stuff that goes like this!
But now, let's get things started! (Audience: Why don't you get things started?) It's time to get things started On the most sensational, Inspirational Celebrational Muppetational This is what we call the Muppet Show!! (Gonzo plays something on his trumpet. Hilarity Ensues, usually)
Accentuate the Negative: In-Universe, Statler and Waldorf take great pleasure in mocking anything and everyone except the Special Guest, and even those are by no means immune (just ask Milton Berle). The only other thing the old gentlemen seem to enjoy unabashedly is when they perform old vaudeville-era song-and-dance numbers.
Kermit: Tonight's episode of The Muppet Show has been cancelled.
Statler: Have we died and gone to heaven?!
Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Kermit usually wears nothing but his collar, and will cover himself up if it's taken off. When they do an underwater performance of The Beatles' "Octopus's Garden", he wears a bathing cap.
Inverted in one episode where Kermit initially believes the guest star is an act called Lesley & Warren, and then is presented with the trio of Les, Lee & Warren, but is pleasantly surprised to discover that it's actually the similarly named but more famous actor-singer-dancer Lesley Ann Warren.
In the episode devoted to a musical about Robin Hood, the "author of tonight's drama" is introduced in a backstage scene as William Shakespeare — not theWilliam Shakespeare, just a William Shakespeare.
Almost Kiss: Kermit and guest star Lynn Redgrave, in character as Robin Hood and Maid Marian, sing a beautiful love duet, and are about to kiss when Miss Piggy invents a blatant excuse to come on stage and interrupt.
Anvil On Head: As part of the Muppet News Flash sketches, as the newsman tries to deliver the news of the day, he suffered from a nasty streak of bad luck that usually culminated in some person or object, somehow related to the day's story, falling on his head.
Ascended Extra: Miss Piggy was just one of about a dozen pigs intended to appear in a choral number early in the first season. But her voice and attitude amused the crew so much that they kept bringing her back. Several years later, Rizzo the Rat became a major character in much the same way.
Ash Face: A recurring gag whenever explosions are involved. Which is often. Very often.
Award Show: The Phyllis George episode has the show throwing an awards show for itself.
The Backstage Sketch: The show would frequently feature sketches backstage where the "talent" would propose new acts, the guest stars would bicker with Kermit over the things they were being asked to do, and zany things went on in the name of pushing the show forward. These would often be intertwined to create a plotline.
Bait and Switch: In the Roger Miller episode, a weird disease causes the cast to one-by-one transform into chickens. When Statler and Waldorf appear for the stinger at the end of the credits, will they also be transformed? Yes — but not into chickens.
Banana Peel: In the James Coco episode, Coco attempts to liven up the Swedish Chef's act with a chorus line of dancers, which keep interrupting the Chef's attempts to prepare a banana split. The Chef retaliates by dropping a banana peel in their path, making them all fall down.
Barefoot Cartoon Animals: Animal, who usually only wore a front-open T-shirt and tattered pants. Other regular characters in this group (though not always seen as such on camera) include Dr. Bob (played by Rowlf) from Veterinarian's Hospital, Sweetums the ogre, Uncle Deadly (a blue reptilian-like creature that wore tattered Victorian-style morning dress with spats) and Beauregard the janitor. Kermit and Fozzie have also had a few stage costumes that applied this trope as well.
Big Eater: Animal and several of the monsters (especially Luncheon Counter Monster, Mean Mama, Behemoth and Gorgon Heap).
Big Ol' Unibrow: Alan Arkin sports one after drinking some Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde formula.
Brandishment Bluff: Subverted - in a cowboy sketch, Fozzie has "a loaded pickle". It goes off.
Breakout Character: Miss Piggy. Her role during the first season was mostly Kermit's Abhorrent Admirer. By the second season, Piggy's diva qualities had emerged. Pretty soon, she was being featured on just as much promotional material and merchandise as Kermit.
Bullet Dancing: In the Roy Rogers episode, Waldorf gets Statler bullet dancing, and Statler starts doing ballet. When they try it the other way around, all that happens is Waldorf gets a bullet in his foot.
The Bus Came Back: Wayne and Wanda, a musical duo whose songs would always devolve into chaos, vanished after the first season, but returned in a fourth season episode, revealing that Kermit fired them and were now under hard times. Kermit, feeling guilty, and unable to remember why he fired them, agreed to hire them back. As soon as they started singing though, Kermit remembered why he fired them in the first place (they were terrible), and promptly fired them again. They do return again, however, as background characters in The Muppets.
Butt Monkey: Beaker was the king of this trope during the Bunsen Honeydew sketches from the second season on — though on occasion, he managed to get revenge. Often overlapped with The Woobie because many fans couldn't help but laugh and feel sorry for him.
Carnivore Confusion: A frequent problem encountered by the Swedish Chef, whose main courses tended to walk into his kitchen on their own four feet. Memorably lampshaded when he tried to cook Big Bird, and later when he tried to make frog's legs with Kermit's nephew Robin. In fact, sometimes it even gets into Herbivore Confusion.
Celebrity Paradox: Played for laughs in the 'stars of Star Wars' episode, as per Celebrity Star below. Luke Skywalker and his actor each made several appearances in the episode, but never appeared on screen together. The end of the episode, however, reveals that Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker are in fact separate people.
Celebrity Star: Straight and subverted — one episode featured a member of the production staff, writer Chris Langham, as the "guest". Langham, however, had to fill in for Richard Pryor.
Another spoof of sorts came when Peter Sellers was the guest star. Kermit says that backstage, Sellers is free to be himself and not a character, but Sellers says he cannot do so: "There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed." Sellers helped the writers create this skit because he simply wasn't willing to be himself, and it became one of his most famous quotes. In the "15 seconds to curtain" opening bit, he appears in character as Inspector Clouseau. In Real Life, of course, this was Sellers' particular neurosis - making it Harsher in Hindsight.
Initially a subversion, as the original "guest star" of the Hamill episode was a Muppet named Angus MacGonagle, the Argyle Gargoyle, whose talent was gargling Gershwin ("Gorgeously!"). Then the Star Wars cast bursts into his dressing room and Scooter decides they would be much better guest stars, so MacGonagle is tossed out. He later storms onto the stage, arguing his case with Kermit, who remains unimpressed. Later, though, MacGonagle sneaks back on stage to do his act — with Mark Hamill joining in. Kermit finally has to resort to siccing Animal on the gargoyle.
There was also the time Señor Wences guest starred. He was a puppeteer himself, so Kermit decides to do something "new": a puppet show.
"When the show first started, the producers would call upon friends in the entertainment business. However, about half-way through the second season when Rudolf Nureyev appeared, his appearance gave the show so much positive publicity, that other celebrities came to the producers instead of the other way around." (from Wikipedia). Nureyev had seen the show whilst staying in London and liked it so much he actually called them up and asked if he could appear.
Circling Vultures: Before performing the famous "Telephone Pole Bit", Fozzie tells Scooter that "we are gonna die" (meaning the skit is going to bomb), and as Scooter asks what makes him think that, the camera focuses on two vultures looking down on them.
Clip Show: Not in the original run, but in The Eighties the Jim Henson's Muppet Home Video series of ten VHS tapes were clip shows linked by newly-shot material with the regular characters. Notably many of the U.K. spots were included (thus making their U.S. debuts), as well as at least two Season One musical numbers ("All of Me" and "You've Got a Friend", the latter being the finale from the Vincent Price episode) that would not appear on the Season One DVD set due to music rights issues. Similar compilations appeared in The Nineties.
Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For: In the episode where Steve Martin guest starred, Statler and Waldorf debate whether they should leave after the show is canceled to hold auditions. Waldorf insists that they stay as they've paid for the tickets. When Statler points out that the tickets were free, Waldorf replies, "And overpriced, at that!"
Newcomer Annabel Sue Pig tells Miss Piggy of her lifelong admiration of her. "I've been a fan of yours ever since I was a little girl!"
Pretty much everything Danny Kaye says to Miss Piggy in his episode, including another go-round of "I've admired you for years and years". Eventually, this verges close to Passive-Aggressive Kombat territory.
Corpsing: In the John Denver episode, Denver explains the dangers of camping in the swamp to Piggy, who lets out a high-pitched nervous whine. John absolutely loses it at this point.
Couch Gag: Many, the most famous being Gonzo's gong (Season 1) or trumpet note (Seasons 2-5) at the end of the theme song. Others are: Statler and Waldorf's opening (Season 2) and closing (entire run) comments, Fozzie telling a joke during the title sequence (Season 1), the "15 seconds to curtain" reveal of the guest star (Seasons 2-4), Pops the doorman greeting the host (Season 5).
Cross Over: Sesame Street's Ernie and Bert make a guest appearance in the Connie Stevens episode. Big Bird guest-stars in the Leslie Uggams episode. And at the climax of the Arabian Nights-themed Marty Feldman episode, most of the Sesame Street cast turns up for the finale as a pun on "Open Sesame!"
When Roger Miller guest stars, he sings a song about various kinds of hat, each of which is worn by one of the backup singers; there is a verse about a derby, and a corresponding English gentleman muppet in a Dashingly Dapper Derby.
Dead Artists Are Better: In the episode starring Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Gonzo learns a rumour has started that he was killed when his latest stunt went horribly wrong, and decides to go along with it in the hope of becoming, while still alive to enjoy it, one of those artists who become massively successful after they die.
He's still got shades of it that pop up from time to time.
Fozzie: I don't know how to thank you guys!
Kermit: I don't know why to thank you guys.
Rizzo the Rat, after breaking out of his Voiceless role, quickly revealed himself to be one.
Deal with the Devil: In the Alice Cooper episode, there's a subplot about Cooper offering various members of the cast a contract that will give them whatever they want in return for their soul. Kermit rejects the whole thing out of hand; Miss Piggy is tempted to do it for great beauty, until she finds out what Alice Cooper considers beautiful; and Gonzo is unreservedly enthusiastic about the whole idea, but has to pass because he can't find a pen.
Gonzo: I'd sell my soul for a pen! No, I have other plans for that.
Demoted to Extra: Rowlf. As head-writer Jerry Juhl pointed out, Rowlf was mostly consigned to being used in musical numbers and skits, almost completely absent from backstage Character Development. It's not that they didn't like the character, it's that Jim was busy performing Kermit, yet didn't want Rowlf recast. As a result, ideas Juhl had for developing relationships between Rowlf and Fozzie, Rowlf and Piggy, etc., never came to fruition.
In the Sex and Violence pilot the show was hosted by Nigel. When The Muppet Show became a series, Nigel's role was that of the orchestra conductor, and while he was seen fairly often in all five seasons, on the show he only had dialogue in three episodes total, all from the first season.
Double Take: Leo Sayer's reaction when Dr Teeth explains the purpose of the line running across the floor of his dressing room.
And in the little known Muppet special on various types of puppetry, a cow is dropped near the characters in a demonstration on how the Muppet team uses their special effects.
Dying Clue: Played for laughs in the Liza Minnelli episode:
Lew Zealand: Ack! Poison! (collapses to the floor) Fozzie: This man was murdered to shut him up! Bunsen: No he wasn't, he choked on a fishbone! Fozzie: But he yelled, "Poison!" Bunsen: Which, I believe, is the French word for fish!
The show's first season had a different (and far less epic) opening, fewer celebrity interactions with the Muppets, the first two guests were given their own Muppets in their likeness (eliminated in part because of the cost), Gonzo's eyes weren't as expressive, some other characters looked and/or sounded different, etc.
The show was also more gag-centric in the first season, due in large part to Jack Burns being the show's head writer in that season. In the second season, when Jerry Juhl replaced Burns as the show's head writer, the series started to become more character-based.
One character that needed a lot of development then was Fozzie; the producers used as Butt Monkey has a bad comedian who is rather obnoxious and is treated rather cruelly in the early stories. However, the seeds of what would make him a great character in later seasons showed in episode 10 with the "Good Grief, the Comedian's a Bear," sketch when you see him struggle to set up a joke with Kermit and is both hilarious and charming with his innocent goofs and his determination to make it work.
The Muppet Valentine Show and Sex and Violence were hosted by now-obscure Muppets (Wally and Nigel respectively) instead of Kermit. And at the end of the latter, the camera pulls back to show the Muppeteers running around.
Everybody Laughs Ending: Used frequently, especially if the guest was the butt of the joke of the sketch. Said guest would laugh with everyone else at the punchline to show that the sketch was an act and that there were no hard feelings.
Evil Hand: Zero Mostel's hand when he recites the poem "Fears of Zero" virtually becomes a character on its own.
Exact Words: In one sketch, Sam claims that eventually he will receive his "just desserts" for acting as the moral centre of the show. He's immediately hit by a pie. What was it according to the monster who threw it? "Just dessert."
Expospeak Gag: In a 'Pigs in Space' sketch, First Mate Piggy is highly gratified to be told that she alone can "operate the independent heating/unifying element across the horizontal equalizing plane and save the entire crew" — until she works out that this means "iron the laundry".
Expy: Beauregard the Janitor is virtually the exact same character as Wendell the Porcupine from Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, just a different creature.
Extreme Omnivore: Most of the larger Muppet monsters have had moments where they ate things that were not, strictly speaking, food, but there's one in particular for whom this is his main characteristic. He has no name, so he's generally referred to, in memory of one of the things he ate on his debut appearance, as the Luncheon Counter Monster.
Fainting: A Muppet trademark. For the classic example see Kermit, in the John Cleese episode, after nearly being hit by two heavy weights falling from the rafters.
Fake Crossover: A fourth-season episode guest-starred some of the characters from Star Wars, as Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 and C-3PO showed up looking for a kidnapped Chewbacca. The search culminated in a double-length Pigs In Space skit where Luke and the droids took over the Swinetrek in order to search for Chewie, eventually landing on the Planet Koozebane where they faced against Dearth Nadir (Gonzo in a Darth Vader costume). Needless to say, this is not in continuity for the Star Wars franchise.
Falling Chandelier of Doom: A recurring setting is a ballroom with a large elaborate chandelier; sure enough, there is a sketch in which it falls on one of the dancers.
Fantastic Comedy: It was not unusual for curses that force everyone to speak Swedish, diseases that cause people to spontaneously turn into chickens, the guest star trying to sell cast members' respective souls to the Devil, and other such fantastical things to be major plot points. (Not even touching the fact that within the context of the show, the Muppets were normally portrayed as real people, not "puppets".)
"Far Side" Island: In the episode featuring Cloris Leachman, there's a sketch in which she is washed up on one after a shipwreck.
Fashion Hurts: Miss Piggy's shoes in the Carol Channing episode are too small for her, but she wears them anyway because Kermit thinks they look good on her.
Fauxreigner: It was lampshaded on at least two occasions that the Swedish Chef is not actually speaking Swedish (presumably in case any really slow viewers were offended on Scandinavia's behalf). His real language is mock Japanese.
Flat "What.": A flat, disbelieving "What." is a common reaction from Sam the Eagle when the show's wackiness manages to sneak up on him - for instance, when he hears Kermit introduce Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat major... played by Dr. Teeth.
Le Bébête Show was the first French satirical puppet show. It represented major French political figures as characters similar to those of The Muppet Show, with, for instance, President François Mitterrand portrayed as a frog named Kermitterrand (and naming himself God).
Friend to All Living Things: Several of the guests have musical numbers where they're in a forest and have a backing group of animals. Depending on the guest and the song, this may be played straight, or twisted in some way (as in the case of Leo Sayer, whose animal companions spend half the time singing backup and the other half trying to eat him).
Galley Slave: In the Elke Sommer episode, the closing number is Elke singing "Row, Row, Row" in a galley, with the galley slaves as the backing chorus. Animal plays the role of the guy beating time on a big drum, which causes problems when he gets bored halfway through the song and starts upping the tempo.
Gentle Giant: In the Julie Andrews episode, she sings one of her songs in a graveyard while trying to dodge several enormous ugly monsters with sharp fangs that keep pursuing her all over the set. It turns out that they're all big fans of hers, and just want her autograph.
The very fact they got away with titling the second pilot episode for what was considered a family show "Sex and Violence."
Rowlf and Sam's duet on "Willow, Titwillow". Whether or not the mammary definition of "tit" was in W.S. Gilbert's mind, Sam's chagrined reaction hints that he's thinking it.
Gladiator Games: Sylvester Stallone appeared as a gladiator fighting a lion. When the lion realised who he was, it tried to escape, and failing that turned the fight into a rendition of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off".
Grand Finale: While not technically an episode of the series, 1981's The Muppets Go to the Movies was meant to serve as this to The Muppet Show — aside from a few clips from the second Muppet movie, the special is an extended theme episode focused on movie spoofs and tributes, with two guest stars (Lily Tomlin and Dudley Moore).
Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: One of Gonzo's outre stunts involves reciting the seven-times table while holding a grand piano over his head; partway through, he gets lost and stops to count on his fingers — and the moment he realises this means he's no longer holding the piano (but not a moment before) it falls on him.
Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Fozzie Bear only wears a trilby hat and polka-dot tie, which was once the basis for one of his routines. ("Good grief, the comedian's a bear!" "No he's a-not! He's a-wearin' a neck-a-tie!") Rizzo the Rat wears a jacket and ballcap but no pants, as does Pepe the Prawn. Of course, most of them are never seen from the waist down, so it's usually a moot point.
In The Great Muppet Caper Fozzie and Kermit play twins. Nobody recognizes them as such until Fozzie removes his hat. Later on Kermit is sitting alone and a passerby mistakes him for a bear. Someone else corrects him; "Bears wear hats."
Hamster Wheel Power: Dr. Honeydew once resorted to Beeker Wheel Power to light the studio when the electricity failed.
Handcar Pursuit: In the Loretta Lynn episode, a mix-up leaves Kermit and Gonzo stranded miles from the train station where the show is temporarily set, and they travel back by handcar. At one point they get chased by a locomotive.
Harpo Does Something Funny: Parodied. In one episode, Fozzie Bear decides to script everything so as not to leave anything to chance. When Kermit checks his script for one scene, it simply says 'Rolf and Lew do something funny'
He Who Must Not Be Seen: Scooter's uncle, the owner of the theater. The gag of Scooter mentioning him to get what he wants was gradually phased out. He did actually appear a couple of times during the second season, but on the whole the writers felt that he worked better as an off-screen presence.
High Dive Hijinks: In the Danny Kaye episode, the Flying Zucchini Brothers attempt a daredevil high dive into a bucket of water. While they're on their way down, the theatre's janitor notices somebody's left a bucket of water on stage and helpfully tidies it away.
Hook Hand: John Cleese has one when he's being a pirate. Over the course of the sketch, it switches from one hand to the other, and gets caught in the collar of his shirt, among other indignities.
Horny Vikings: Performing opera during the Rudolf Nureyev episode, and singing "In The Navy" in the Roger Moore episode.
Human Mail: In the episode with Paul Williams, Paul plays a travel agent and a monster asks for the cheapest travel package he has. Paul flattens the monster with a weight, sticks a stamp on him, and mails him.
Hurricane of Puns: The "Veterinarian's Hospital" sketches, and to a lesser extent the entire show.
Hypocritical Humor: One sketch has Sam the Eagle giving a commentary in which he denounces the efforts "namby-pamby conservationists" to shackle American industry "for the sake of a few insignificant animals". He then pulls out a list of endangered species, which he begins to read from mockingly. When he notices that the American bald eagle is one of the animals on the list, he beats a hasty retreat muttering, "This list is now inoperative."
I Always Wanted to Say That: In the Jonathan Winters episode, with a gypsy curse having rendered the entire cast only able to speak (the Muppetverse version of) Swedish, the gypsy who placed the curse on the show introduces the final act (three trolls dancing to "English Country Garden"):
And now, the closing number! (waves her arms Kermit style) Yayyy! (addressing camera as she leaves the stage) I always wanted to do that.
I Am Not Spock: As far as the show is concerned, Christopher Reeve isSuperman. He doesn't seem to mind, though.invoked
I Have This Friend: In the episode where Miss Piggy goes on a diet, she asks the guest star for advice: "I have this friend who is absolutely devastating, except she has an itty-bitty weight problem..."
And the Muppets are constantly eating each other: one of the creepier instances of this was a Muppet eating another, then singing "I've Got You Under My Skin" — while the smaller Muppet, still alive, struggles to escape. (And occasionally takes over the song for a line or two: "I've tried so hard not to give in...")
Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Crazy Harry's appearances were usually presaged by another character making the mistake of uttering one of these.
Kermit: Good work, guys, that sketch was really dynamite!
Crazy Harry: Did somebody say, "dynamite"? (BOOM!)
Incessant Music Madness: The "Salute to All Nations" episode ends with a rendition of "It's a Small World After All" that keeps going and going and going. It can be heard in the background as Kermit does the goodbyes at the end, and then swells again, drowning out the closing theme music.
Incredibly Lame Pun: A staple of the show, some of the sketches like "Veterinarian's Hospital" were made of this trope.
I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Gonzo tries to get out of looking after Miss Piggy's dog by claiming "Oh my god! I left an anvil in the oven!". Of course, this being Gonzo, it's entirely possible he actually had left an anvil in the oven.
Interspecies Romance: Where Piggy intends her relationship with Kermit to go, Gonzo's love affair with Camilla, and implied as part of Scooter's back-story. When Kermit inquires as to his species- "My mother was a parrot. We never knew my father. It was during the war!"
Japanese Ranguage: The 'Japanese' muppets who sing "Yokahama" (as opposed to "Oklahoma") in the Spike Milligan episode:
We know we berong to the rand And the rand we berong to is gland!
Kayfabe: The Muppets have a long-standing tradition in appearances outside the show and in public events. The Muppeteers performing them are never seen and the humans interact with the puppets like regular people. The Muppeteers need to have perfect improv skills in order to say unscripted lines that would be appropriate for the characters.
Knife-Throwing Act: Leslie Uggams inadvertantly becomes part of one as Lew Zealand, Boomerang Fish Thrower gets carried away and starts throwing swordfish. The scene ends with Leslie surrounded by swordfish in a Knife Outline.
Gonzo and Peter Sellers staged one in his dressing room, with Sellers naturally dressed as Inspector Clouseau. (Clouseau: "Fifteen seconds [to curtain]? I should live so long!")
The Gladys Knight episode had a knife throwing act with Fozzie as the unwitting target. Unfortunately, the theatre roof was away at the repair shop, letting a thick fog and the knife thrower, who aimed with his hearing, was randomly throwing knives at the slightest sounds while everyone was ducking quietly for their lives.
Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Sam the Eagle, on the subject of Culture. In the episode guest-starring Rudolf Nureyev, Sam gushes that Nureyev is one of his favourite opera singers. In the episode guest-starring Lynn Redgrave, Sam pronounces himself a great fan of William Shakespeare — why, he's seen The Sound of Music at least a dozen times — and is greatly saddened to hear that Shakespeare is dead.
The Lady's Favour: In the Pearl Bailey episode, the finale is a jousting scene with Floyd and Gonzo as the knights. Floyd gets a favour from Janice; Gonzo gets a favour from Camilla.
Lamarck Was Right: Statler babysits his toddler grandson in one episode, and we learn that he's inherited the same tendency to snark.
Waldorf: I don't think this show is suitable for children.
Grandson: I don't think this show is suitable for anyone.
Lampshade Wearing: Beaker attempts the disguise version in the Elke Sommer episode in an attempt to get out of a particularly hazardous Muppet Labs sketch. It works right up until Beauregard tries to plug him in.
Late to the Punchline: The George Burns episode begins with The Teaser, featuring a silly "burns" pun, followed by the title sequence and then Kermit's opening monologue — and then Waldorf gets the pun.
Laugh Track: Used (much to the annoyance of Henson & co.) in nearly every episode, not only for on-stage segments, where it can be understood as the laughter of the audience (who are all Muppets themselves) watching the show in the Muppet Theater, but in the backstage scenes. An exception is the Steve Martin episode, which features auditions for the show-within-the-show instead of a performance, and the only laughter heard is that of the Muppet performers. (Or at least that was the original intention. In the end, it turned out that Richard Hunt's laughter was so loud, they had to put in a bit of a laugh track anyway.)
Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: One could argue the Muppets fall under this as most are some species of animal, but there's also the Swedish Chef who seems to be human and on equal footing as the animals.
Look Behind You: In a sketch where Cloris Leachman is trapped on a "Far Side" Island with a monster, she shouts "Look! Up there! Quick!". When the monster announces he's not going to fall for that old gag, a coconut from the island's lone palm tree falls on his head.
Loser Protagonist: Although Kermit's company is regularly able to get world famous A-list stars to appear in their theatre, the company is continually insulted, belittled and harassed by outsiders as nothing performers.
Mad Scientist Laboratory: Dr. Honeydew's lab is generally too clean and functional to qualify, but there's an excellent example, with lots and lots of colorful bubbling liquids, in the "Time in a Bottle" sketch.
Meat-O-Vision: Played with in the Pearl Bailey episode's "Pigs in Space" skit — the explorers, hopelessly lost in space, start seeing each other as food... because of a Negative Space Wedgie that's actually turning them into food.
Moral Guardians: Sam the Eagle is a parody of moral guardian types and expressed Strawman Conservative sentiments on occasion, such as decrying nudity while wearing no clothing and endangered species protection while being a bald eagle. He's also the one who gets to introduce Wayne and Wanda (promoting them as "Normal"), but it seems that Wayne and Wanda almost never gets to perform their songs in their entirety as bad luck plagues them throughout their number.
Morphic Resonance: In the Roger Miller episode, the cast is swept by an outbreak of cluckitis, a disease which turns the afflicted into chickens. The Swedish Chef retains his mustache and eye-covering eyebrows. Lew Zealand, Rowlf, Miss Piggy, Floyd, and Janice keep their respective eyes; Kermit does, as well, and even has his pointy collar. Only the main cast retains Morphic Resonance, however, and some don't even get that: extras and even some of the main cast turn into indistinguishable chickens. Maybe they'll have a hat or necklace, which they keep.
The Movie: Creatively called The Muppet Movie, it was so popular that five more theatrical features followed over the next 20 years:
No Fourth Wall: The fact that the series takes place on a stage show seems like justification for the lack of such... until you realise that the Muppets constantly break it backstage. And the audience keeps laughing at everything said and occuring off stage, even though there's absolutely no way they'd be seeing or hearing them.
Noodle Implements: Gonzo once attempts to perform an act using a torch, a tire swing, and a cow. Exactly what he was planning to do with these is never shown, as he was booed off stage before he could start, but he had originally planned to use a typewriter instead of the cow (they didn't have a spare typewriter he could use).
Noodle Incident: On the episode with Loretta Lynn, Scooter tells Fozzie to use the joke about the electricians and the polar bear, saying, "I laughed for days." Sadly, the middle of the joke is lost due to a passing train...
The Sandy Duncan episode: "You never heard of the banana sketch?!"
Oh Crap: Plenty. Beaker's face was even MADE to always be in shock.
Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: A Wayne and Wanda sketch where the two were enacting such a date while singing "Row, Row, Row". It's one of few Wayne and Wanda sketches that make it to the song's chorus, Then the boat springs a leak.
Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: In the Marisa Berenson episode, Miss Piggy plots marriage to Kermit and tells Marisa that her wedding will feature "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something green".
The Sex and Violence pilot has Statler telling Waldorf one of these. "...And so the waiter says, 'Excuse me, but you're dancing with my umbrella!'"
Painful Rhyme: In-Universe in the "Robin Hood" episode; Scooter, doing exposition in the role of Alan a Dale, rhymes "in sooth" with "living fast and looth", prompting a complaint from Fozzie.
Pants-Free: In a "Muppet Newsflash" sketch, the newsreader reads a report about a newsreader who forgot to put on his pants before going on air — then realises that the newsreader in question is himself.
Paper-Thin Disguise: In the "Robin Hood" episode, Robin Hood's disguise for the archery contest is a pair of Nerd Glasses and a bright red false beard. Apart from that, he's wearing the same outfit he wears in every other scene.
Parental Bonus: Tons, which was part of the show's point. Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl saw it as a show aimed at everyone watching, not just children or adults.
Piano Drop: Happens in the Muppet News Flash sketch on the Jaye P. Morgan episode. Here, the Newsman reports that a charter flight carrying the London Symphony Orchestra was forced to jettison some of the musical instruments — including, apparently, a piano that falls on his desk.
Pirate: Notably portrayed by John Cleese and Glenda Jackson in their respective episodes.
A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: One "Pigs In Space" sketch had John Cleese attacking the Swinetrek as a pirate- of the swashbuckler variety. Link Hogthrob informs him that he's a few centuries out of place, which leads to an argument between John and his parrot.
Captain Link: We're on an intergalactic voyage through space! You're supposed to be on an ocean somewhere!
Parrot:I knew it! I told you so!
Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: The one time Fozzie tells a guaranteed hilarious joke, it's the episode at the railway station, and the joke is drowned out by a passing train.
Poor Communication Kills: During the Swedish Chef skit for the Dyan Cannon show, Miss Piggy loses her pet Foo Foo. She asks the Chef where her dog went, and the Chef — who has just finished plopping hot dogs into a pot of boiling water — responds, "De doggies en de pottie!" (In 30-odd years since, who else has put one over on Miss Piggy without getting knocked into next week?)
Quintessential British Gentleman: In the "Salute to All Nations" episode, Sam the Eagle's contribution is to hold a conversation on Anglo-American relations with a "proper English gentleman", who appears dressed in a Dashingly Dapper Derby and pinstripe suit and carrying a brolly. The illusion that Spike Milligan is actually a proper English gentleman disappears as soon as he opens his mouth (if not before that when he started pulling faces behind Sam's back).
Running Gag: Lots of them. Lampshaded in the Rita Moreno episode with a series of backstage phone calls ("Is there no end to this running gag?!").
Perhaps the most spectacular example was Dudley Moore's crazed, robotic music machine, which managed to work its way into virtually every single sketch.
Saw a Woman in Half: Fozzie attempts this trick in the Sylvester Stallone episode, but is unable to find a volunteer and has to settle for a robot in a blonde wig. He ends up cutting into its main power cable, giving himself an electric shock and making the robot explode (for the second time in the episode).
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The Swedish Chef has a live ducknote For the same value of "live" as any of the puppet characters and announces he plans on making Pressed Duck by using a clothes iron on it. The duck runs away, then runs the other direction, picks up the iron in its beak, and drops it on the Swedish Chef's head, then flies away laughing.
Security Cling: The Pigs in Space sketch where Link and Miss Piggy explore the alien planet Koozebane has the exaggerated leap-into-his-arms version — but it's dashing hero Link who leaps into Piggy's arms, much to her disgust.
Luke Skywalker: Listen pal, we're on a mission. There's no way we're gonna be involved in some third-rate variety show!
Kermit(deeply wounded): Second-rate variety show!
Statler and Waldorf exist for this, in-show.
Shameful Shrinking: Guest star Madeline Kahn is in a park talking about how beautiful everything is, when a monster comes and starts destroying whatever she mentions as being beautiful. She turns to the monster and tells him how horrible he is... and how that makes him beautiful, and as she goes on how beautiful his horribleness is, the monster shrinks down to the size of a crochet ball. She tells the audience how "sometimes you have to talk your problems down to size" before hitting the monster away with her umbrella.
Shirtless Scene: Played entirely straight in a long scene featuring Rudolf Nureyev wearing nothing but a towel.
Shockingly Expensive Bill: Gonzo holds a piece of paper that Kermit thinks is Alice Cooper's contract, but turns out to be something worse: a huge bill detailing the cost of the special effects used in the episode.
Shoo Out the New Guy: Fleet Scribbler, an aggressive gossip reporter introduced in season 2. While the British press loved the character, the writers quickly tired of him and he was dropped after just a handful of appearances.
Signature Laugh: Several, most notably Statler and Waldorf's "DOOOHOHOHOHOHO!".
Silly Love Songs: The "Robin Hood" episode includes a love scene between Robin Hood (Kermit) and Maid Marian (guest star Lynn Redgrave) in which Marian brings up the fact that he's a frog and she isn't, and he sings a song to reassure her that he loves her anyway.
Your eyes are not bulgy, you don't live in a swamp, You don't hop, or turn somersaults, Your feet are not webbed, and you never eat flies. (I'm sorry to dwell on your faults.) And yet I still love you, I always will love you You shine in my mind like a dream And yet I still love you, I always will love you Although you are not even green.
Snapback: In one first season episode, the Electric Mayhem threatens to, and eventually quits, leaving Rowlf to have do the closing theme by himself. By the next episode, they're already back.
Sneeze of Doom: In the Leo Sayer episode, Miss Piggy attempts to recite "The Daffodils", with incidental music by Rowlf, but the flowers decorating the set cause a massive sneezing fit that results in parts of the set, and even Rowlf and his piano, being blown away. Then the audience sneezes as one, blowing Miss Piggy away.
The Steve Martin episode focuses on the audition process instead of the resulting show.
In the Loretta Lynn episode, the show takes place at a railroad station because the theatre's being fumigated.
The Lynn Redgrave episode takes the form of a production of Robin Hood, with only backstage skits breaking from the theme.
In the Glenda Jackson episode, pirates hijack the theatre and sail it out to sea (...somehow).
During Cloris Leachman's episode, the show is taken over by the pigs — including pig copies of a few of the regulars.
The Liza Minnelli episode was a Whodunnit murder mystery.
Brooke Shields' episode was a production of Alice in Wonderland. Bonus points to the production team for designing a Jabberwock muppet that was surprisingly faithful to Jon Tenniel's illustrations.
Brooke(at the end of the show): I always wanted to star in Alice In Wonderland. Kermit: Well I hope you get the chance someday.
Marty Feldman's episode riffed on Arabian Nights with Feldman as Scheherazade ("It's a fantasy. You have to use your imagination"). Also toward the end when Fozzie shouts "Open Sesame", assorted Sesame Street Muppets join the main cast.
Sore Loser: The lead-in for a drum battle between Animal and Buddy Rich has this.
Buddy Rich: He looks like a sore loser. Floyd (holding Animal's leash): If this chain breaks, you'll be a sore winner.
Sure enough, at the end when Buddy does some epic drumming, Animal Rage Quits by smashing a drum over Buddy's head.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Miss Piggy and Cheryl Ladd practicing karate and trashing Ladd's dressing room to the tune of "I Enjoy Being a Girl," a song that extols the virtues of traditional femininity and being a Proper Lady.
El Spanish O: In one episode, the Porcelino brothers call their muppet pyramid "el pyramido". (The real word is "pirámide".)
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: In the Marisa Berenson episode, Miss Piggy nearly manages to trap Kermit into marrying her. During the ceremony, the priest does the "speak now or forever hold your peace" bit and there is a long, long pause while Kermit looks around hopefully, but nobody says anything.
Several episodes have normal titles but specially recorded closing credits to reflect the events of the show. These include the Harry Belafonte and Spike Milligan episodes, where the final song continues over the credits; an episode where the band quits, leaving Rowlf to play the closing music on his own; and the Roger Miller episode, where the band (along with nearly everybody else) gets turned into chickens.
Species Surname: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy - just a couple of the most prominent examples.
Spinoff Sendoff: In one of the pilots, Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street show up to perform a skit, where Bert worries that their little kid's show comedy wouldn't cut it on the new show meant for older audiences.
Sting: Lampshaded in the Roger Miller episode when Gonzo asks for a "dramatic sting" when he announces an outbreak of "cluckitis"... and gets it. Later, when Scooter mentions the disease, the sting happens again... and he and Kermit react to it.
The Stinger: Provided each week by Statler and Waldorf.
Strawman Political: Sam the Eagle is a conservative one, though like everything else on the show, it's taken to humorous extremes. His monologue about people being naked underneath their clothing is a good example.
Stuff Blowing Up: Crazy Harry, particularly in the Ben Vereen episode. This trope was a favorite go-to gag for the writers in general, and it's a Running Gag in the first half of the Jaye P. Morgan episode.
Invoked by Fozzie in a sketch in the Roy Rogers episode, where he plays a deputy trying to deal with a gunslinger who's come to kill the sheriff. When the gunslinger realises that the sheriff must be hiding in the somewhere nearby, Fozzie nervously denies that he's in the overnight cell, then locks the gunslinger in when he goes to check.
Take Our Word for It: Kermit the Frog does a virtuoso display of tap-dancing to the tune of "Happy Feet" — filmed, like nearly everything he does, entirely from the waist up.
This also applies to Fozzie and company's roller skating in the Lou Rawls episode.
Take That: Statler and Waldorf raised this to an art form.
The Eeyore: Gonzo in the first season and minor character Droop.
The Ghost: J.P. Grosse, except in the second season.
Another example would be Fozzie Bear's writer, Gags Beaseley.
The Teaser: Every episode after the first season had a brief one featuring the guest star preparing backstage. By season five, the most common cold opening was the guest star greeting Pops, the elderly stage doorman.
The Unintelligible: Beaker and the Swedish Chef. The Chef slips just enough English into his monologues to give the viewer an idea where he's going ("Now ve takin ana boomin de shootin!"), while Beaker just squeaks. Note that Dr. Honeydew has no trouble understanding Beaker, regardless.
Beaker, The Swedish Chef and Animal's rendition of Danny Boy is hauntingly beautiful though...
Verb This!: Piggy usually does this before punching somebody.
Vetinari Job Security: Whenever Kermit isn't around to run the show, things quickly get out of hand — moreso, anyway.
Visual Pun: The show practically ran on these. No Muppet could use an expression without triggering one. Often, especially in the "backstage" parts, the Visual Puns would involve Muppets who walked onscreen just to make the Visual Pun, then promptly disappeared, never to be seen again.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Statler and Waldorf. You can tell that they can't live without each other, although they constantly heckle, make fun of, insult and sometimes even hit each other. Fozzie and Kermit also count.
The Voiceless: Rizzo the Rat, in his early appearances. According to the book Of Muppets and Men, this was because his actor, Steve Whitmire, while a fantastic puppeteer, was in the beginning reluctant to do voices. Whitmire got more confident in towards the end of the show, and Rizzo began getting speaking roles, evolving into the Brooklyn-accented Deadpan Snarker we know him as today.
Walk This Way: In the "Pigs in Space" sketch where Fozzie stands in as one of the crew.
Wanted Poster: In the "Bear on Patrol" sketches, the walls of the police station are decorated with Wanted posters for the members of the band.
Wheel o' Feet: In the Don Knotts episode, there's a creature running around the Theatre — and when he stops running, it turns out it's not just a movement illusion, he really does have a wheel of feet. In the same episode, the creature performs (appropriately) "Windmills of Your Mind (The Thomas Crown Affair Theme)" ("Like a circle in a spiral/Like a wheel within a wheel—")
When Teresa Brewer, who had a number one hit beginning "Put another nickel in / In the nickelodeon", guest-stars on the show, there's a bit that begins with Animal finding a jukebox and inserting a nickel:
Floyd: Hey, now we'll really hear some music! Animal: Yeah... what music? Floyd: "Put Another Nickel In". [Animal inserts another nickel] Animal: I put nickel in. What music? (and so on)
A more notable example happens between Fozzie and Kermit. The duo have agreed that upon Fozzie's saying "hear" at a certain point in his act, Kermit is to rush on-stage and yell, "Good grief, the comedian's a bear!!". Except that Fozzie naturally keeps saying "here" throughout his routine, causing Kermit to keep rushing out before his cue. The confusion escalates until Fozzie comes up with a different prompt.
In the Alice Cooper episode, a William Tell routine was playing onstage, but all that is seen are the stray arrows falling backstage. At the end, the boy walks offstage with an arrow through his head. "You know me. In one ear and out the other."
In the Sylvester Stallone episode, an orchestra performs the William Tell Overture and finishes with the cellist firing the bow from his cello to shoot an apple off Beauregarde's head.
When a Wheel o' Feet critter sings "Windmills of Your Mind" in the Don Knotts episode.
During the cowboy sketch in the Bob Hope episode, as Cowboy Bob rides his horse across the lone prairie.
In the Loretta Lynn episode, as Kermit and Gonzo travel by handcar.
The "Jogging" item in the Danny Kaye episode and the the "Dog Walk" item in the immediately subsequent Spike Milligan episode use the same wraparound background (and the singer from each appears as a background event in the other).
Another cowboy-riding-aross-the-lone-prairie example is the "Four-Legged Friend" bit in the Roy Rogers episode, although this time there's two of them — and they're riding cows.