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Why Interviewing Kermit the Frog Was the Highlight of My Career

Why Interviewing Kermit the Frog Was the Highlight of My Career

Back in 2014, I had one of those too-good-to-be-true jobs that little kids might come up with when they try and imagine what it means to be a grownup. I was a full-time salaried writer for Disney.com, tasked with covering Disney news and events. Like an in-house fan blogger, it was my job to attend movie premieres, theme park ride openings, and other special occasions throughout the company. Yes, that is a real job a person can have.

My role placed me across the table from an incredible array of talented and creative people involved with Disney’s many endeavors, from films and TV shows to theme parks, video games, and even cruise ships. Years later, one of those people stands head and shoulders above the rest in the Disney Legends Plaza of the mind: the one and only Kermit the Frog, as played by Steve Whitmire, who will henceforth be known in my life as “my Kermit.”

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It was just before the release of Muppets Most Wanted, and I was scheduled for a series of one-on-one interviews to promote the film. Director James Bobin and his longtime collaborator Bret McKenzie would be there, daring me to veer off into Flight of the Conchords trivia. Kermit the Frog was also on my schedule, as was Constantine, his evil doppelgänger in the film. None of my interviews would be filmed, only audiotaped–this fact concerned me a bit, seeing how Kermit and Constantine are, well, puppets. (Isn’t the visual of a talking frog half of the fun?) That being said, I was excited to have personal time with a Muppet, to take in the craft from up close.

When my Kermit appointment arrived, I stepped into a hotel room to find Steve Whitmire waiting for me. I had no idea how many of these interviews he had already done that day, but he was cheerful and friendly and immediately struck me as a gentle, gracious person (which is most definitely not the case with everyone you meet in these situations). Steve introduced himself and asked me to sit down, never giving me a chance to focus on him or ask him any questions; after all, I wasn’t there for a Steve Whitmire interview, I was there for the frog. Steve opened up a special case and pulled out Kermit. I turned around for a moment–it felt improper to see the next few seconds–and when I turned back around Steve had taken a seat and perched Kermit on a small table next to me.

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It’s a wild thing to look into a puppet’s eyes and feel it looking back at you. I looked to Steve for some sort of nod or cue on where to look or who to talk to, but it was as if he had left the room. The puppeteer had disappeared, had melted away into the background, leaving me and Kermit alone together. Kermit wasn’t shy, but he sure was damned famous, and I realize now that he simply treated me like he must’ve treated thousands of other star-struck fans and journalists throughout a decades-long career that started before I even existed: gently. For 10 minutes, we sat and talked quietly. Kermit never stopped maintaining eye contact, adjusting his posture, gesturing to me or scratching his head while he thought, details performed for me and me alone.

Kermit was kind, smart, and funny. His answers to my questions mixed familiar jokes with honest advice in a sophisticated fashion, part sly and part sweet, in a proportion that seems impossible in retrospect. It only took three minutes for the intimacy of the thing to completely break me down, leaving me watery-eyed and stammering as he fondly recounted his life’s work.

I asked him if he had kept any mementos from over the years, and he told me how he kept a collection of chicken feathers, organized by project, that he could look back at to remember each day. He had John Denver chicken feathers, Muppet Movie chicken feathers, Muppet Show chicken feathers. “Someday I’m going to take them all and put them inside of a pillowcase and have a wonderful pillow,” he told me. That’s probably the moment my heart broke irrevocably, and I realized I would never publish this interview because it was simply too difficult to capture in any way that would do it justice.

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When the interview was coming to a close, I ticked off some of the usual softball questions you ask at these type of things when you’re too star-struck to think on your feet. I asked Kermit, “Why should people see this movie?”

He told me, “I think it’s a great story. It has comedy, drama, and action.” He added, “I get to be an action star,” before segueing into one of his standard jokes about preparing for his stunts by getting the same haircut as Bruce Willis.

But then his answer took a turn for the blunt, and Kermit said what a lot of us were probably thinking at the time, no one more so than Steve himself. “If you like The Muppets, it’s probably the only way we’ll do more films,” he said. “If you don’t see it, that’s the end of the road.” I wish more people had seen it.

Images: Disney, Alexei Bochenek, Ewen Roberts (via flickr)

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