Sometimes the most important lessons come from voices and bodies that are considered… different. We know that very well here at Bold! And often, messages need to come from a place of innocence, with the goal of education.
“Sesame Street” recently produced a video about racism that was viewed and praised by millions. And their sweet, funny, fabulous counterparts, The Muppets, have plenty to share, too!
Bold is committed to celebrating all groups/identities that need support and love. We are proud to share this interview from our spring magazine, featuring Kirk Thatcher, “The Man Behind The Muppets.” Enjoy Kirk’s ideas about everything from plus-sized representation to the experience of transgender lives in this beautiful interview.
Bold recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kirk Thatcher, writer/producer/director/production designer of film, television and internet videos, as well as a creature creator. Co-writer of several Muppet films, as well as director of over thirty Muppet commercials and web shorts, he shared his thoughts on fat representation, equality and of course, the legendary fat icon, Miss Piggy.
Bold Magazine: Recently a meme has been circulating that shows Earl, from the 90’s TV series “Dinosaurs”, as being prehistoric fat representation. How do you feel about this?
Kirk Thatcher: I feel that it’s great! He wasn’t designed to represent any particular group except a Dino with a “Dad bod”, who was strong but not particularly bright and easily manipulated by the powers that be. Most sitcom dads are portrayed this way, a little paunchy and dopey, so I designed him to be a good-natured sap with a job that focused on his strength and not his wits. His boss, BP Richfield, was an even heavier character, immense really…and that was used to show his power. But as far as representing prehistoric fat body positivity, I am all for it!!!
BM: As someone who works on The Muppets, what is your view on Miss Piggy, and her confidence?
KT: I love Miss Piggy and have been told by hundreds of fans over the years that they not only adore her strength but also her celebration of her curves and her feminine nature. She was created in the 70’s during the height of the women’s liberation movement and she has kept that confidence, energy and drive ever since. She is fun to write for, because, despite her bravado and quick temper, she is still vulnerable and subject to her passions. This makes her a fully realized personality and not just a fat lady joke.
BM: Given that over 70% of the US population is “overweight”, do you think there should be more fat representation in the Muppets?
KT: Ha..I don’t know…We have a number of larger-sized characters. Sweetums, Thog, Big Mean Carl, JP Gross, Howard Tubman, Fozzie Bear, Bobo the Bear, the Swedish Chef and Bunsen Honeydew are all larger, chunkier characters. Actually, there are more heavy Muppets than I even realized!!! A lot of that is to do with how we hide the puppeteers under and inside the puppet! To be honest, I think the Muppets need more female characters! There are really only 3 major ones…Piggy, Janice and Yolanda the rat. We are working on creating more female Muppet characters but it is a complicated process in that you need a puppeteer to work with who vibes with that character intimately to really create a lasting character who isn’t just a gag. Back when I was designing Muppet characters, we tried making a large, Chonky female Cat character, but everyone felt she was too close to Miss Piggy. So to answer your question…I would say the Muppets are pretty inclusive of all body types, especially heavier ones, but could use more female characters!
BM: Has your weight, as a plus size man, influenced the way you write, or the characters you create?
KT: Absolutely. I was a “husky” kid growing up, and was very sensitive about being called fat, or husky, or a big guy, etc. Also being tall, it didn’t sting as much, as I wore the weight all over…but it was a huge part of my internal dialogue and reasons for self-loathing…I hated it. I was so jealous of my naturally fit, thinner friends. So it definitely made me aware of being an outsider and gave me lots of empathy for people and characters who aren’t accepted by the larger group, for whatever reasons. When I started dating and getting into relationships I discovered I had a lot in common with most women due to the pressure society puts on them to be thin… even though I found curvy and thicker women to be much sexier than the media and mainstream culture of the time were presenting as sexy. This self-loathing and dislike of my physical appearance caused me to embrace being funny and witty as a way to be accepted. So I gravitated to comedy, not only to win friends, but to defuse uncomfortable social situations. If anyone commented on my weight I would make a joke about it…usually with me as the punchline. So my approach to writing…using comedy about outsiders was COMPLETELY influenced by my larger size and weight issues. It gave me a perspective and empathy for all my characters and that is very helpful in creating likable protagonists and believable stories.
BM: Have you ever felt discriminated against, because of your weight?
KT: Not really. I am a cis, straight white male and we, as a group have been given a huge amount of leeway when it comes to weight and appearance. So no…I have never felt discriminated against. I probably was passed up as dating material, but not discriminated. Professionally I have been discriminated against for having worked with Puppets for most of my writing and directing career, but that’s a subject for a different interview!
BM: Have you experienced anything like symptoms not being addressed by doctors who only tell you to lose weight instead?
KT: Well, every doctor I have had in the last 20 years has told me to lose weight…for all sorts of health reasons…but I seem to be doing all right, I don’t really have any health issues, save for a cranky gall bladder which I manage with selective eating and natural remedies.
BM: Who’s your favorite plus size model?
KT: Oh jeeze…Besides Lilith Fury!?! Lilli Luxe on Instagram. She is beautiful and also seems gracious and self aware. She doesn’t exude narcissism, which is nice. I don’t really know a lot of plus-sized models’ names, or any models’ names to be honest and I don’t consciously think of any of them as plus-sized…I just see them as beautiful women! It’s like asking who is my favorite blonde model…I don’t tend to categorize in that way…I just like whomever I think is attractive…but I do tend to be attracted to curvier women. I have always said, I like women who you could tell were female from half a mile a way!
BM: Do you have a favorite plus size celebrity?
KT: Again…I don’t categorize celebrities as plus-sized or not…but I love Melissa McCarthy, and John Candy, Chris Farley and James Corden.
BM: How do you feel about the word “fat”? Is it an insult to you, or a descriptive word to reclaim?
KT: I have heard it all my life and when used as a medical or scientific term it’s fine…just like bone and muscle…but I wouldn’t use bony or fat to describe someone I was talking to. I have been called fat by friends and strangers my whole life, both out of cruelty and genuine concern and I guess, after hearing it all these years I have accepted it as a fact…I have lots of fat cells, especially around my mid section, but being a male who is not seeking a career as a model or fitness instructor…it doesn’t bother me much anymore and hasn’t hurt my career as far as I can tell. It’s about the same as telling me I am white or hairy…these are true things that I don’t have a lot of control over…or care to do much about.
BM: What is your proudest achievement?
KT: Jeeze…Somedays I am just proud that I didn’t quit trying and off myself…but I suppose I am proud that I have worked for 40 years in entertainment and have been able to be creative and have fun working with amazing mentors and collaborators…and have had just enough success to not give up.
BM: What’s something about you that most people might not know?
KT: That I am an introvert. An extroverted introvert would be more accurate. Most see me as an upbeat, gregarious happy person…and I am when I am out amongst you humans…but most days of my life I am home, alone with my bird and my cats and very introspective. It’s probably the reason I am so upbeat, happy and downright goofy when I am out working with a film crew or a writer’s room or at a convention meeting people. Like the Labrador retrievers I grew up with, I get super excited to go out and play with the other dogs and lick their faces!! ; ) It is the same high I get from performing or talking to large groups of people. I get so much energy from groups and it is a glorious feeling! But then I need to withdraw and reset. I probably spend 85% of my waking life staring at blank paper or the computer screen, day dreaming or I just lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and experiencing existential dread…You know, kooky artist stuff!! It’s the yin and yang of my life but I have found it very common amongst other comedians and artists…We all need that quiet, contemplative time to re-group and dream, so that we have things to share when we emerge.
BM: What’s something you always wished you’d be asked in an interview?
KT: Would you consider dating my wealthy, intelligent, sex-crazed friend who is looking for a travel partner?
BM: What was the inspiration behind the transgendered gremlin?
KT: She was just a female gremlin. I just did her voice… but she presented and identified as female. I didn’t create her though, so I guess that’s a question for the Director Joe Dante or Rick Baker!
BM: And what are your views on trans rights?
KT: Trans rights are and should be, basic human rights! I really don’t get the push back from various sectors of society at all…even from a religious perspective. To me that’s like discrimination against people who color their hair or wear contacts or get plastic surgery. I have a number of good friends and even a Goddaughter who are trans and it just infuriates me that anyone would treat them differently or deny them anything. It is such a difficult mental and physical process to go through, which I have been witness to, that to believe that they deserve anything other than love and support, is crazy! I can’t for the life of me understand the discrimination and bare faced hatred. Sadly, it’s fear derived from ignorance or hateful religious beliefs that drives much of it in our current Western culture. That’s why I think more media exposure and stories about and with trans characters in films and television that aren’t just used as cautionary tales are helpful and I am trying, in my small way, to help bring those to projects I am working or consulting on….mostly with humor that creates empathy and sympathy. It’s not an easy task, but it is happening…slowly…thankfully because there are good people who want to bring these characters to light.
BM: Did you know that discrimination against fat people is legal in 49/50 states?
KT: I did not know that!
BM: What steps do you think might help in changing that?
KT: Oh, gosh…I have so little experience in changing laws. I suppose doing things like this to bring the issues to light and educating the people in general…As you mentioned, if 70% of our population is overweight, then it shouldn’t be a struggle!
BM: Social media frequently targets fat women for photo and account deletions. Have you, or someone you know been targeted?
KT: Well, I have friends that are often attacked and shamed on social media, so I have seen it happen to people I care about, but I have never
been targeted, most likely due to the fact that cis, straight white males are given a lot of privilege in our current society. Also, attacking guys who write and direct comedy for the Muppets is a pretty quick way to get labeled a major A-HOLE!!!
BM: What projects are you currently working on?
KT: I am developing some comedy shows on my own and always involved in getting more Muppet projects made but I can’t talk about them until they are announced. I never stop dreaming up shows and movie ideas, it’s my affliction.
BM: We always ask this question in an interview- what makes you Bold?
KT: My mother supporting my creativity when I was young and my lack of Shame!