Dave Goelz (b. July 16, 1946) has been one of the lead Muppet performers for over 40 years, performing Gonzo, Beauregard, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Boober Fraggle, Uncle Traveling Matt, Stinky the Skunk, and Rugby Tiger, as well as succeeding the role of Waldorf from Jim Henson. He is one of the few major performers to have no prior experience as either an actor or puppeteer.
David Charles Goelz was born in Burbank, California. He had an interest in puppetry as a child, including an affinity for the children's television show Time for Beany, but after high school attended the Los Angeles Art Center's College of Design and began work as an industrial designer. The mechanically-minded Goelz worked for such companies as John Deere, American Airlines, and Hewlett-Packard. However, when Sesame Street premiered, he was fascinated by the craftsmanship, as he recalled in a Muppet Central interview:
“I had been a Muppet fan for many years, but now I started getting fascinated with the design process that went into what I was seeing on the screen. Who were these people who created the puppets, costumes and performances that were so evocative? I got very curious.”
As Goelz later told Disney twenty-three:
“I got interested in the Muppets from a very holistic standpoint. I was fascinated with the consistency of character as it was expressed in the words they said-the physical movements, what they wore... everything...Take Ernie and Bert. Ernie is relaxed, wears horizontal stripes, is low contrast, has dark orange skin, soothing oval eyes, and he looks up toward the sky. He's at rest and peaceful. Bert, on the other hand, is harsh. He has a monobrow that cuts across his absolutely circular eyes, has high-contrast hair and skin, wears vertical stripes, and he's not at rest. So as a designer, I looked at this and thought, wow, the people who perform the characters are on the same page as the people who do the costumes and built them. That still fascinates me. Its so cohesive, and it's all about character.”
While working full-time for an electronics firm, Goelz began dabbling with puppet building.
In 1972, Goelz met Frank Oz at a puppetry festival, and during a vacation in New York City, he attended the daily Sesame Street tapings. A few months later, Goelz showed his design portfolio to Jim Henson, and in 1973, he was offered a job with Henson Associates as a part-time puppet builder. His first assignment was to build puppets and design effects for a proposed Broadway show. However, the show was soon abandoned in favor of an ABC pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show, for which Goelz built characters and got his first crack at performing, playing Brewster, whom he also designed.
Upon Goelz's return to California, he learned that he had been replaced by his electronics employer, so he set up shop creating puppets for industrial videos. He performed Ray the Raychem Seal in one such video. The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, for which he built the new host character, Nigel. Working from sketches by Jim Henson, Michael K. Frith, and Bonnie Erickson, he also built Animal, Floyd Pepper, and Zoot, the latter becoming his first major character.Eight months later, in the fall of 1974, Henson offered him a full-time position as a builder/designer, and occasional performer in specials, while still allowing him to keep his industrial clients. Returning to New York, Goelz began work on
The birth of Gonzo
In 1976, Goelz joined the rest of the Henson team and flew to London to begin work on The Muppet Show. In addition to reprising his role of Zoot and playing background roles, as in the earlier specials, Goelz was promoted to "Principal Muppet Performer" with the starring role of Gonzo. The puppet had debuted in The Great Santa Claus Switch, as Cigar Box Frackle, and had made brief appearances in Muppet Meeting Films and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, with different performers. The sad-eyed creation was now given a permanent name and puppeteer. However, in addition to playing Gonzo, Goelz was still employed in the Muppet Workshop.
Goelz recalled the hectic schedule of working full-time behind the scenes and in front of the cameras in a 2004 Film Threat interview:
“So my typical day involved running back and forth between making puppets and performing. And I of course didn’t know anything about performing. At all. I guess I had an aptitude for it, but it was something I hadn’t had any training for. So I was learning on the job, and I found the whole thing very stressful. At the end of the first season, I said, ‘Jim, look, is there any chance I could come back next year and just be a performer, and not work in the workshop?’ And he said ‘yes’. So I sort of blended into the performing world that year.”
Gonzo, that first season, like many of the new Muppet Show creations, was a work in progress, and especially for Goelz, playing his first starring character and major speaking role. When he was assigned the character, he panicked: "I have no voice!"
He thought of the voice the morning before the first taping performance. As recalled later, Goelz thought that he had the worst voice out of all the Muppet performers, and was scared the first time he had to sing.
The early Gonzo, with a permanently sad expression, inspired a similarly depressed portrayal from the novice puppeteer: "The downcast eyes made him easy to play because that was exactly how I felt. I was an impostor in show business. I was learning how to perform and to puppeteer on the job."
In that first season, Gonzo was a misfit and out of place, according to Goelz, which was how he saw himself as a performer:
“When I came to “The Muppet Show”, I found myself suddenly with a different and enormous star every week, and I had absolutely no credentials. I felt so out of place. So that came into the character, and for the first season, he was very self-effacing and he felt like a misfit.”
Looking at the character in retrospect at MuppetFest, he recalled that "over the years, he sort of evolved along with me... I was an impostor in show business. In the first season, Gonzo is always self-effacing and embarrassed. But he knows he has something special." Adding to Goelz's insecurity was the jaded veteran crew members of ATV Studios, who had worked with the likes of Julie Andrews and Bing Crosby, and were thus hard to impress.
Finally, towards the end of the first season, Gonzo had a scene where he had to shout, in amazement, "No!" Jim Henson told him to go bigger, so Goelz obliged with an overemphatic "NO!" This earned his first laugh from the crew members.
“I got another laugh the second season. It was unstoppable now! And I thought, I could make a character of this. Then when I got that first laugh..., I felt limited because he couldn’t look excited. His droopy eyelids always made him look pathetic. So after that first season, I asked Jim if I could build a Gonzo with an eye mechanism. He said ‘sure’, so I went back to New York and did that. Now he could convey his excitement and enthusiasm for his silly acts, and it was much more entertaining. Along with this I was becoming more comfortable with performing. So it started to work better. I think he grew because I was growing, and I was capable of doing more.”
As Goelz increased in confidence, and Gonzo transitioned from a nervous depressed failure to a manic, confident stuntman, other facets of the character fell into place. The second season introduces his romantic fascination with poultry. As the performer reminisced in Of Muppets and Men:
“There was a moment during the second season when I had Gonzo ad-lib a line that was, I think, important for my understanding of his character. He'd been auditioning chickens for the show -- dancing chickens -- and they were all terrible. At the end of the scene I had him turn to the camera and say, 'Nice legs, though.' Something jelled right there. It told me something about him.”
Muppet Show characters
In addition to the starring role of Gonzo, during the first season of The Muppet Show, Goelz also had the slightly less challenging but still time consuming supporting roles of Zoot and another new creation, scientist Bunsen Honeydew.
“It's easy for me to do Bunsen, because I've known dozens of Bunsens. Actually I don't think he's very funny except as a foil for Beaker, who is one of my favorite characters. Zoot is a big puzzle for me. People write to me and say they know people exactly like Zoot. Well, I'd like to meet one of them, because I've never met anyone like that. I found that when the writers gave Zoot lines to speak, I would always try to give them away to other characters, because I didn't know what to do with him. Maybe that helped to define the character. Perhaps it's best that he's so non-verbal.”
In later seasons, a new Goelz character was added, the well-meaning but slow-witted janitor, Beauregard:
“Bo is very similar to a character I performed in Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas. His name was Wendell Porcupine and I had a lot of fun with him . Bo was sort of modeled after him. He's big and strong and clumsy-- I love him-- but he's passive, we've never found a hook for him.”
With the debut of Fraggle Rock, Goelz was cast as one of the five leads, the depressed, pessimistic Boober Fraggle. Boober stemmed from something Goelz had said while working on The Muppet Show, that he was so busy on the show that the only things he had time to worry about were death and laundry. At Muppetfest, Goelz related the process of character creation for the show: "They looked at the performers, and picked out our flaws, and made characters out of them. They denied it... So that's how I ended up with Boober, the suspicious, paranoid character." In the Fraggle Rock: Complete First Season interviews, Goelz also mentioned that "I was cast with Boober, who was sort of grumpy and inflexible, just like I could be a lot of the time." Demonstrating his versatility, he also played the pompous Uncle Traveling Matt, the rat-like Philo, and the cantankerous World's Oldest Fraggle, as well as a variety of guest characters and memorable incidentals, such as the obese Large Marvin. In the Fraggle Rock: Complete Second Season interviews, Goelz talked about how he developed Traveling Matt's character, from the starting point as Matt being simply a misinterpreting chronicler of human life, to determining that Matt was also inherently clumsy and inept, which led to Matt covering up his blunders in his postcards and developing a comedic air of ostentation.
Beyond the original series, Goelz has reprised his main characters for various ancillary appearances. For the Fraggle Rock: Rock On! shorts, produced in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Goelz was cautious about performing puppets, and when the Henson Company offered to send the Fraggle puppets, he declined. Instead, he prerecorded the voices of Boober and Uncle Traveling Matt (while John Tartaglia did the actual puppetry). Goelz will be serving as co-executive producer for the Fraggle Rock revival for Apple TV+.
Movies and beyond
Goelz continued to reprise his roles as Gonzo and Bunsen in feature films, slowly adding more aspects to "the weirdo," and also worked on Henson's forays into "realistic" fantasy, The Dark Crystal (performing the Garthim Master SkekUng and the dog-like Fizzgig), and Labyrinth (playing a variety of roles, notably Sir Didymus).
“I loved the atmosphere on Dark Crystal. That turned out to be a very stimulating project, because it was pretty much unprecedented. On the very first day we filmed, the Skeksis had to file past the deathbed of the Skeksis emperor, performed by Jim. The Skeksis all had ulterior motives as they walked by the bed to pay their respects. In our very first shot, I was inside the Garthim Master Skeksis with another puppeteer doing the right hand. I was totally blind except for a little monitor on my chest, and I just stepped off the platform and we started to fall. Fortunately somebody was there and caught us and pushed us back up."”
As the '80s progressed, in addition to switching between the manic Gonzo and the phlegmatic Boober (a variety which Goelz recalled as "stimulating"), Goelz played occasional new roles in specials, notably Rugby Tiger in The Christmas Toy:
“I had such a good time. He’s just a naive, self-centered and self-satisfied, little tiger cub, and he was just so much fun. He was just completely unaware of the feelings of others. The crew loved him. It doesn’t show up much on the show, but it was just a fun thing to do with the crew.”
1990s to present
Following Jim Henson's sudden death in 1990, and with Frank Oz continuing to focus heavily on directing, Gonzo the character and Goelz the performer gained increased significance, starting with the first new feature, The Muppet Christmas Carol. By performing Gonzo as Charles Dickens as narrator, Goelz (accompanied by Steve Whitmire as Rizzo the Rat, a pairing which would be repeated in subsequent productions) largely dominated the Muppet side of the film, and received top billing as "Muppet Performer" (a distinction which would continue through Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets from Space) "...when we did The Muppet Christmas Carol, [Gonzo] developed a soulful side. He played the part of Dickens, and I just loved doing that. It just paralleled my own growth. Jerry Juhl wrote it as a way of getting Dickensian prose into the movie. But the fact that he chose Gonzo was very satisfying to me. And I think it was because he saw me changing and I think he felt that Gonzo could change too.". Goelz also took over the part of Waldorf from Henson.
Apart from a brief stint operating the face of Earl Sinclair and performing hand-puppet guest characters on Dinosaurs, and reprising Rugby in The Secret Life of Toys, Goelz' most notable new television character was Stinky the Skunk in The Animal Show. Otherwise, the puppeteer remained mostly occupied with Gonzo in movies, videos, and the 1996 series Muppets Tonight, the latter introducing a few new characters such as Randy Pig and Bill the Bubble Guy. Goelz also performed a handful of minor Sesame Street characters, and appeared in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland as Humongous Chicken. Goelz guest starred on Bear in the Big Blue House as Jack the Dog in the two-part Berry Bear Christmas.
- The Muppet Show Characters: Alfredo the Mop Dancer, Ali Baba, Alien, Avocado, Banananose Moldenado, Baskerville the Hound (episode 524), Beauregard, Behemoth (episode 115), Billy the Bear (episode 412), Brewster, Brown Bat, Bullets Barker, Bunsen Honeydew, Dr. Salamander, Geri and the Atrics (Drummer), Gingerbread Man, The Gogolala Jubilee Jugband (Blue Whatnot), Gonzo, Gorgon Heap (episode 119), Inspector LaBrea, Jabberwock, Johnny, Kermit the Pig, Klaus Mueller, Koozebanian Spooble, Lenny the Lizard (episode 103), Sundance, Lubbock Lou, Luis Greco, Luncheon Counter Monster (occasionally), Mackerel, Matador, Mean Mama (episode 202), Mildred Huxtetter (episode 115), Miss Kitty (episodes 101, 103 and 107), Mr. Dawson, Muppy, Otto the Automatic Entertainer, Paul Revere (legs), Pig Minister, Rabbi, Duke, Salzburg Sauerkraut Singer, Signor Baffi, Svengali (episode 103), Timmy Monster (occasionally), Tom, Dick, and Harry (Dick), Walter Tell, Warthog, Wig Trainer, Zoot
- Sesame Street Characters: Piño, The Elephant, Mr. Between, Rocky, China Shop Clerk, Tom Pipersson, Lavender royal sycophant from The Once and Purple King
- The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence: Avarice, Brewster, Zoot, Duke, The San Francisco Earthquake
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: Wendell Porcupine, Will Possum, Catfish
- The Muppets Go Hollywood: Gonzo, Zoot
- The Muppet Movie: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Doglion
- The Great Muppet Caper: Gonzo, Beauregard, Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew
- The Dark Crystal: Fizzgig, SkekUng (both puppetry only)
- Fraggle Rock: Boober Fraggle, Clerk Fraggle, Large Marvin, Philo, Uncle Traveling Matt, 7-Words-Max, Sidebottom, Skenfrith, World's Oldest Fraggle, Wrench Doozer
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: Gonzo, Chester Rat, Bill, Zoot, Penguin, Dog
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years: Gonzo, Uncle Traveling Matt, Talking Food (Grapefruit)
- Labyrinth: Firey 3, Left Door Knocker, One of The Four Guards, Sir Didymus, Wiseman's Hat (all puppetry only)
- The Christmas Toy: Rugby Tiger
- Inner Tube: Jake
- A Muppet Family Christmas: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Boober Fraggle, Uncle Traveling Matt, Zoot, Beauregard
- Wow, You're a Cartoonist!: Gonzo
- The Jim Henson Hour: Digit, Gonzo, Oznog
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Zoot
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson: Gonzo
- Dinosaurs: Earl Sinclair (face, through Episode 207), Grapdelite ("Endangered Species"), General Chow (puppeteer, "When Food Goes Bad")
- Muppet*Vision 3D: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot
- Muppet Meeting Films: Chairman Blodgett, Franklin ("The Meeting That Would Not Die"), Mulligan, Smerdley
- The Muppet Christmas Carol: Gonzo (as Charles Dickens), Waldorf (as Robert Marley), Bunsen Honeydew, Betina Cratchit, Whatnots, Pigs
- Muppet Classic Theater: Gonzo, Randy Pig
- The Animal Show: Stinky the Skunk
- The Secret Life of Toys: Rugby Tiger
- Muppet Treasure Island: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf (as Figurehead of the Hispaniola), Zoot
- Muppets Tonight: Gonzo, Waldorf, Randy Pig, Bill the Bubble Guy, Elvises, Artie, Baby Kramer, Bud, Cupid, Dr. Pain, Gary Cahuenga, Jean-Dodd van Clamme, Morty, Purple Rain Man, Stu,
- Muppets from Space: Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, The Birdman, Zoot
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Humongous Chicken
- Bear in the Big Blue House: Jack the Dog ("A Berry Bear Christmas part 1 and part 2")
- Muppet RaceMania: Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Beauregard
- Kermit's Swamp Years: Waldorf
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf
- Muppets Party Cruise: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Zoot, Digit, Randy Pig
- Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony: Waldorf
- Kermit: A Frog's Life: Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, (also archive footage as Waldorf)
- The Muppets' Wizard of Oz: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Zoot
- The Muppet Show: Season One main menus: Waldorf
- The Muppets on Muppets: Gonzo
- Disney Extreme Digital: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Penguins, Singing Food, Beauregard
- Muppet viral videos: Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Pumpkins, Rabbits
- Studio DC: Almost Live: Gonzo, Zoot, Waldorf
- A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa: Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot
- The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Randy Pig
- The Muppets: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Beauregard, Waldorf, Kermit Moopet, Whatnot Reporter
- Muppets Most Wanted: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Beauregard, Waldorf, Baby
- The Muppets 2015 Presentation Pilot: Gonzo, Waldorf, Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Chip
- The Muppets: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Zoot, Chip
- The Muppets Take the Bowl: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf, Beauregard, Chip
- The Muppets Take the O2: Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf, Beauregard, Chip
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Baffi
- Fraggle Rock: Rock On!: Boober and Uncle Traveling Matt (voice only)
- As a child, Goelz appeared as an extra in the 1961 Disney film The Parent Trap.
- With Steve Whitmire's departure in 2016, Goelz is the last core Muppet performer who worked on The Muppet Show still performing his characters regularly.
- Goelz voiced Subconcious Guard Frank (alongside Frank Oz as Dave) in the 2015 animated film Inside Out.
- Goelz provides the voice of Figment in the "Journey into Imagination with Figment" ride at Walt Disney World. Figment was originally voiced by Billy Barty in the original version of the attraction, "Journey into Imagination."
“The public interest always surprises me. I come to work in these rooms with no windows. At night I go home. I just live my life. I guess I just don't think much about whether people are going to watch. Most of my friends don't know much about what I do, and we don't talk about it. I have a different life away from work. Which is fine, because my work can get pretty intense.”
—Dave Goelz, Interview with Ken Plume, January 2000
“Jim led by example. He was so gentle and kind. And he sought everybody out, to the degree that pretty soon the whole studio was a big team.”
—Dave Goelz, MuppetFest, December 2001
“I have a theory on how I develop characters. I try to look for a character flaw within myself, and then I find a way to amplify it and make it lovable. That process ends up creating foolish characters who are flawed, but you still root for them. The process is therapeutic because you start to love your own flaws and recognize the flaws of others as endearing.”
—Dave Goelz, Disney twenty-three, Winter 2011 issue, page 52
- Entry in the California Birth Index
- Disney twenty-three, Winter 2011 issue, page 50
- Film Threat - The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Dave Goelz Under the Stage (Part 1)
- Muppet Morsels -- episode 111
- Muppet Morsels -- episode 116
- Goelz, Dave. MuppetFest, "Creating the Classic Muppets Panel." 2001.
- Finch, Christopher. Of Muppets and Men. Alfred A. Knopf, 1981. p. 40 (Beauregard quote), 85 (Zoot and Bunsen)
- Muppet Morsels
- Museum of the Moving Image - "Jim Henson's World: Fraggle Rock Rocks On!" livestream (May 23, 2020)
- The Adam Savage Project - 10/13/20 (05:37)
- Interview with Ken Plume
- Film Threat - The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Dave Goelz Under the Stage (Part 2)