Sesame Street fans have always wondered whether Muppet roommates Bert and Ernie were more than just best friends.
Hoping to put the speculation to rest, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman addressed the rumored relationship during a Tuesday interview with LGBTQ lifestyle website Queerty, saying the audience should trust their intuition that the two puppets are a couple.
“I remember one time that a column from the San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked 'Are Bert & Ernie lovers?' And that, coming from a preschooler was fun,” Saltzman said in the interview. “And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it.”
Added Saltzman, “I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”
Saltzman said his treatment of the characters was reflective of his own relationship with editor Arnold Glassman. “More than one person referred to Arnie & I as ‘Bert & Ernie.’ I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor — if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn’t that be perfect? Bert with his paper clips and organization? And I was the jokester. So it was the Bert & Ernie relationship.”
Saltzman also revealed that he would reference moments from his and Glassman’s own demeanors when writing for Bert and Ernie. “I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic. The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?" he told the outlet.
Despite seeing the puppet characters as a gay couple, Saltzman admitted that he "would never have said that to the head writer" or proclaim "Oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.”
Nonetheless, Saltzman was very aware that Bert and Ernie "appealed to a gay audience." "And [Snuffleupagus], this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted, too.”
In response to the interview, Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, came out with its own statement on Tuesday, in which it characterized Bert and Ernie as "best friends."
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends," Sesame Workshop said in its tweet. "They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves," the Sesame Workshop said in a statement. "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Master puppeteer and director Frank Oz also shared the same sentiments, arguing that "there's much more to a human being" than their sexual orientation.
"It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course," Oz tweeted. "But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness."