‘Sesame Street’ Says Characters Don’t Have Sexual Orientations, Even If Writer Claims Bert and Ernie Are Gay

For Mark Saltzman, rubber ducky was never really the one.
Muppets Bert, left, and Ernie, from the children's program "Sesame Street," are shown in New York. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Bert and Ernie of "Sesame Street" fame, the stars of "Fraggle Rock" and other puppets, costumes and items from throughout Muppets creator Jim Henson's career have been donated to the Museum of the Moving Image, which is building a new gallery to house them, the institution announcedMuppets Creator Museum, New York, USA
Bert and Ernie
Beth A. Keiser/AP/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATED BELOW. According to Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” Bert and Ernie are still just friends. On Tuesday, Sesame Workshop released an official statement via Twitter, following comments by former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman. An out gay man himself, Saltzman wrote for “Sesame Street” from 1985 to 1998. In a recent interview with Queerty, Saltzman likened his relationship with his late partner to the relationship between Bert and Ernie, and said many of their friends and colleagues did as well.

“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,” Saltzman said. As the couple’s jokester, Saltzman was Ernie, while his partner, the film editor Arnold Glassman, reminded him of Bert. “It was the Bert & Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to ‘Sesame Street.’ So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches… Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.”

Although Saltzman confirmed what many fans of the show have long suspected and joked about, Sesame Workshop swiftly squashed the rumors. “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” reads the official statement. “Even though they are identified as male and have many human traits and characteristics (as most ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Many on Twitter were quick to point out heterosexual muppet couples, including Kermit and Miss Piggy, which would refute the claim that puppets have no sexual orientation. Of course, Kermit and Miss Piggy are not “Sesame Street” characters. Saltzman also said he thought Snuffalupagus “appealed to a gay audience.” “He’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted too.”

Read the full interview with Saltzman here.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday afternoon, Frank Oz, who created Bert and voiced the character for many years, weighed in on the matter, tweeting: “It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”

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