At the festival with Muppet documentary, he urges fans to believe in themselves
Frank Oz came to SXSW with some secrets to reveal about the early days of the Muppets, but he wound up revealing something personal about himself.
He took part in a conversation with Leonard Maltin in the Austin Convention Center, a couple of days after the world premiere of the documentary he directed, Muppet Guys Talking. The discussion turned poignant at the end.
He told a big crowd of admirers -- some of whom expressed awe at seeing Oz in person -- not to draw mistaken conclusions from his current stature.
I didn't think I was any good whatsoever.
"When I was a kid or even an adult I would see guys like me up here who are successful and I’m thinking, ‘Geez, these guys, man, they know what they’re doing. They’re really a success,'" Oz said. "And they don’t get the fact that I thought crap of myself when I was younger, that I didn’t think I was any good whatsoever."
He added, "It’s a struggle and the struggle is really where the value is. If you guys think you’re no good, believe me, you are. Okay?" With that the room erupted into applause.
Oz also had revelations about the Muppet documentary, in which he and four other originators -- Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta and Jerry Nelson -- reunited to remember their work with Muppet founder Jim Henson. (Oz is known for multiple Muppet characters including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Cookie Monster and Sam Eagle). He said the idea for doing the film came from his wife, Victoria Labalme, who is credited as producer.
"She pushed me for about a year and a half until I finally said yes," Oz related. "And the reason I didn’t say yes right away was I was 19 when I joined Jim [Henson] and that’s all I’ve known. So I thought, 'Who’s going to be interested?' This is what I did every day. So that’s why I didn’t say yes.. 'Who would care?'"
He was a singular human being. He really was.
Oz said his wife also convinced him others could learn from the collaborative spirit that characterized the Muppet team under Jim Henson.
"She said, ‘You know, this has value for the world, not just for Muppet performers.' She deals with business people and [thought] this could help teams and leadership. Instead of ‘managing,’ actually play and be leaders because of the person you are not because you can do ‘management.’"
Nonfictionfilm.com spoke with Oz and Labalme at the world premiere of Muppet Guys Talking at SXSW in Austin. He assured us the film contains stories that are new to even ardent fans.
For updates on the Muppet documentary, visit MuppetGuysTalking.com.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.