Bert, Ernie not gay, Sesame Street producer insists

Well, now we know: Bert and Ernie are gay. Perhaps we can move on, now.

For a few generations now, some people have been obsessed with the relationship between Bert and Ernie, the characters on Sesame Street, as if we had to make that clear. They lived together and there appeared to be no interests in anyone else by either one of them.

Mark Salzman tells the blog, Queerty, that he wasn’t professionally out when he started working on Sesame Street.

He pitched gay content to the producers, but said he was stonewalled enough to make him think it was a lost cause, even though Sesame Street was doing a few edgy things back then.

When he wrote for Bert and Ernie, he says, he was writing his own story and that of his partner, film editor Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003.

Yeah, 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, and I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street. So 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? I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, “oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.” But those two, Snuffalupagus, because he’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…you had characters that appealed to a gay audience. And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted too.

Sesame Workshop, which produces the show, wanted nothing to do with the revelation.

  • Dave Draeger

    “He pitched gay content to the producers, but said he was stonewalled enough to make him think it was a lost cause…”

    I see what you did there.

    • Al

      Well, if that response isn’t straight on, I don’t know what is. I’m guessing Animal, the nonstop woman-chaser, also didn’t have a sexual orientation… right?

      • TBH, I can see Animal as pansexual and polyamorous

      • Ben Chorn

        Those are Muppets though, not Sesame Street characters.

        • Al

          Ah, I was *waiting* for someone to bring up the distinction. You’re right. Kermit never appeared on Sesame Street. Elmo never had a mommy or a daddy, nor did Telly Monster, or Baby Bear, or…

  • jon

    I’ve read that shows that are aired internationally (in places like say Russia) are unable to show same sex relationships due to legal requirements of those countries… to have the largest global audience tv shows need to pretend like homosexual characters aren’t, they can nod towards it, but they can’t come right out and say it, and need to deny it enough to avoid being pulled off the air.

  • lindblomeagles

    OMG. Where is America going? I was born in 1970. Watched Sesame Street through my formative years (0-8), along with the Muppet Show (aired Saturdays at 6 in my home time of Chicago, IL). I even got a Sesame Street Record Player for my 5th birthday. You know what I cared about back then? Laughing. The show made me laugh (and I learned my ABCs and 1,2,3s). Why as adults must we always look for the elephant in the room???? Did Sesame Street really hurt anybody? Did the Muppet Show??? Whatever this writer/film producer tried to explore through their characters Bert and Ernie, Sesame Street was a good show; it was good for children; and it was good for teachers.

    • Al

      Here’s the deal. We, as hetero folks (I’m going out on a limb and assuming, from your response, that you’re hetero too) see ourselves everywhere. We’re the norm.

      When you don’t see yourself anywhere in popular media–because you’re gay, you’re a person of color, you’re trans–you do look for those rare, rare instances where you might see a bit of yourself. And hope for the day you see not just bits, but the whole, and then more than the whole–an entire varied, multi-faceted community.

      We–you and me, the majority, with the power–can laugh and dismiss and say it’s ridiculous that someone would care whether or not Bert and Ernie are gay. But we–you and me, the hetero folks–don’t get to say whether or not it’s important that Bert and Ernie are or aren’t gay. WE don’t have a stake in it like they do. And we don’t get to tell someone else how they should feel.

      • Barton

        but let us not forget that Sesame Street had a very diverse cast – of humans. Yes, it may not have had representation of LGBTA at the time, but it DID have representation of many cultures and ethnic groups. I always wanted Luis and Susan to be on my block. I remember (also a born in 1970) having my parents sit down and discuss the social issues that were brought up on Sesame Street – b/c I didn’t see them, I just saw a cool place to live. I also remember friends in the early 70s who were not allowed to watch the show because of the diverse cast: their parents actually called mine to let them know they weren’t allowed to watch any PBS shows when they were at my house. My parents always made sure the kids watched PBS shows at our house.

        • Al

          And I think we see that in the storytellers and filmmakers who are finally breaking through in the industry today–I’m guessing they’re the kids who watched Sesame Street, saw their neighbors like you and I did, and said, “I’m going to do that when I grow up.”

  • chlost

    And you can almost hear the added comment to the statement from corporate “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.
    Kids don’t care. They just recognize adults and others who care for them and each other, red, green, blue, human, animation, puppetry, or book characters. If only we adults would let people care/love whomever.

  • RBHolb

    Bert and Ernie have been in the thick of the culture wars since day one. When Sesame Street first went on the air, Mississippi’s educational TV agency decided it wasn’t “ready” for an integrated kids’ show.

  • Rob

    Sunny Day,
    Ernie and Bert are gay…

    • The Resistance

      Statler and Waldorf shared more than that box seat in the Muppet Theater.

      But they’re more of the cranky Log Cabin Republican persuasion.

  • Credit Warrior

    I have never watched the show so I don’t know if the characters portrayed are representing gay or straight. I had an interesting conversation with my grandson a few years back when I was at my daughters house. He was 6 years old at the time and was sitting at the kitchen table coloring in a book with many of the muppet characters. He was telling me about the characters as he flipped through the pages. My daughter limits their children’s TV time by having social interaction with others, reading, playtime outside. For every hour of this type of activity earns half an hour of TV. The amount of TV time is capped at 5 hours per week. Sorry I got off of the track…When my grandson came to Bert and Ernie he said they were good friends as they seemed to care for each other in a “good” way which was different than the other characters on the show. I asked him what he meant and he responded that he thought they were “best friends” that cared for each other. I complimented by grandson on his excellent answer. As I read this article I thought about my grandson and our conversation and it is very clear that many children don’t have to be schooled about gays or straights as they can see the good relationships without parental filters if left to their own interpretation.

  • Paul Drake

    Next mysteries to solve: Is Marcie lesbian? Is Peppermint Patty bisexual or pansexual?