A report from NPR exploded across the internet last night when former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman confirmed that he based resident Odd Couple Bert and Ernie on his own relationship with his partner.
On Sunday, Queerty published an interview with Mark Saltzman, who worked on the show in the 1980s and 90s, asking him if he thought of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were,” Saltzman said. “So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple.”
Saltzman was in a longterm relationship with another man when he joined the show. “That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate?”
Saltzman told Queerty that even though the inspiration behind his writing was clear, he wasn’t exactly open about it at work.
“I would never have said to the head writer, ‘Oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me,'” Saltzman said.
But this sort of coy “they aren’t, but they really are” hint dropping didn’t go over so well with the Sesame Street Television workshop, who very quickly reiterated their position on Bert and Ernie in a tweet on their official Twitter account:
Please see our most recent statement regarding Bert and Ernie below. pic.twitter.com/gWTF2k1y83
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
“As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” he told The New York Times on Tuesday. “Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”
He also said that the show should include gay characters, but that they should be humans and not puppets. He also didn’t refute the fact that Bert and Ernie have a deep connection.
“They are two guys who love each other,” Saltzman said. “That’s who they are.”
Saltzman, who joined the show as a writer in 1984, kicked off a furor when he told Queerty that the relationship between the two puppets was modeled on his own with long-time partner Arnold Glassman.
“And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [gay],” Saltman said in the interview. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as Bert & Ernie.”
His comments ricocheted around the internet with many seeing it as confirmation of the puppets’ subversive, same-sex relationship. Frank Oz, the famed puppeteer who helped create Bert’s character, went on Twitter to shut down claims that the characters are gay.
“It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It’s fine that he feels they are,” he said. “They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay?”
Sesame Workshop also released a statement on Twitter saying that Bert and Ernie do not have sexual orientations.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the statement read. “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.”