The production company and creator behind Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie said Tuesday, the couple is not gay in refuting a comment by a show writer that suggested the characters are homosexual. Creator Frank Oz released his own statement today.
But now the writer, Mark Saltzman, has backtracked a bit, telling The New York Times that his comments had been misinterpreted. Though he reaffirmed that his relationship with his own boyfriend informed many of his “Sesame Street” scripts, he said he never intended Bert and Ernie to be seen as definitively gay.
“As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” he said. “Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”
Even before Saltzman clarified his remarks, Sesame Street came to the defense of its most famous characters.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. 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.”
The confusion began when Sesame Street writer Saltzman – who is homosexual — said he viewed Bert and Ernie as gay when he wrote scripts.
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“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?,’” Saltzman told a gay new website. “And that, coming from a preschooler was fun. And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And 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.”
But Frank Oz, the famous puppeteer who helped create the duo and voiced Bert, said the duo are not gay.
Saltzman hopes “Sesame Street” will eventually feature LGBTQ characters in its increasingly diverse mix, he says they should be portrayed by human actors as opposed to puppets. As for Bert and Ernie, he sees them simply as “two guys who love each other. That’s who they are.”