Puppet Up! is a show that was started "to demonstrate what happens when the perilous and provocative forms of traditional comedic improvisation are mixed with the art of puppetry." The show was originally titled Jim Henson's Puppet Improv, and also evolved into Stuffed & Unstrung.
The sketches in the live show are not pre-planned, and the shows contain all true improv. The puppeteers in the Henson improv troupe trained with Groundlings performer Patrick Bristow for nine months to perfect their improv skills prior to their first show; and monthly performer training classes continue to this day. Just like the Groundlings, the Henson Improv sketches are performed based on audience suggestions.
The show is strongly advertised for "adults only" and as "uncensored." First introduced in 2006, Puppet Up! was the Henson Company's first project under the Henson Alternative banner, a brand of productions with more mature themes and content than those traditionally associated with Henson Company.
“In terms of The Jim Henson Company, my dad first started with adult-minded comedies very early on. He also worked in an era where most of the airwaves were highly censored. But he was always a very naughty, irreverent performer and this basically captures that same level of naughtiness and irreverence, but in a contemporary setting. Having said all of that, I think it's very important that everybody always knows that this is for adults only. This is our opportunity to let our hair down and get crazy every now and then, even though generally we are very safe with the material we do.”
The troupe performed monthly shows at the Avalon Hollywood until Stuffed & Unstrung began.
Brian Henson, producer of the show, recalled the genesis of the show in a 2006 interview stating, "we began doing puppet improv workshops to hone our comedy skills and realized that we were having so much fun that audiences might enjoy watching too." In the fall of 2005 a show was performed in the sound stage of the Jim Henson Studios for friends and invited industry guests. The two shows were so successful that the group was invited to Aspen for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (March 8-12, 2006) was the show's first public debut. The Jim Henson Puppet Improv performed two shows featuring the talent of Brian Henson, Bill Barretta, Julianne Buescher, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Drew Massey, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman and Victor Yerrid.
In June 2006, Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv began performing under a new name, Puppet Up!. The troupe performed four shows over three nights at the world famous Improv in Hollywood.
In August 2006, Puppet Up! traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 30 shows. Two versions of the show were performed - the regular "adult only" version and, for the first (and only) time, a family-friendly "for kids" show.
Puppet Up! performed two shows in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 2006. These shows were filmed as part of HBO and AEG LIVEs "The Comedy Festival", taking place at Caesar's Palace. TBS produced an hour-long Puppet Up! - Uncensored television special from these shows, that aired five days later on TBS. TBS also ordered 30 web-exclusive episodes of Puppet Up! - Uncensored for their "Laugh Lab" video server on TBS.com consisting of clips from the troupe's various live performances and shows. The web series debuted on TBS.com on Wednesday, March 7, 2007.
In spring 2007, the troupe took the show to Australia, performing at the Big Laugh Comedy Festival in Sydney and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in Melbourne. The performances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival were recorded and presented as Puppet Up! - Uncensored: Live in Melbourne, Australia, a 76-minute film exclusively licensed by the Jim Henson Company to the Center for Puppetry Arts. The film debuted at the Center in April 2009.
Starting in August 2007, Puppet Up! - Uncensored began performing monthly shows at the Avalon in Hollywood.
The show grew and inspired into the stage show Stuffed and Unstrung, which opened in New York City in March 2010. Commercials for the show featuring Bobby Vegan and Samson Knight have aired stressing that the puppets are not Muppets.
In 2019, Puppet Up! Uncensored would become part of the entertainment offerings for the Knotts Scary Farm Halloween event at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, with three performances each night of the event.
- "Puppet Up! Uncensored - Interview with Brian Henson", TBS.com. 2007
- Press Release: TBS Gets Ready to PUPPET UP!