When you get a call from the Muppets, you answer.
While the Muppets themselves may not be very large in size, their legacy is overwhelming. For almost 50 years, these puppets have set the standard of children (and adult) entertainment with their own unique brand of humour and heart. Now, with the release of Disney+’s new series The Muppets Mayhem, the Muppets are back. When asked whether or not they were starstruck by their legendary co-stars, series leads Lilly Singh, Tahj Mowry and Saara Chaudry couldn’t help be overjoyed at the opportunity.
“We were pinching ourselves daily,” Chaudry confesses. “I think there were several times where I asked other people on set to pinch me… a couple of times, actually. Pinch me, because I’m confused.”
“Not to mention, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing many, many other famous people that made cameos also be completely starstruck,” adds Singh. “You’ve had massive celebrities come and turn into four-year-old children.”
The Muppets Mayhem follows The Electric Mayhem Band (Dr. Teeth, Floyd Pepper, Janice, Zoot, Lips and Animal) as they embark on their greatest challenge: recording an album. Although they’ve been touring for decades, the band has never sat down in a recording studio to lay down their music. However, when Nora, a young music executive, realizes a loophole in their contract, she informs the band that the time has come to release an album. But organization and planning aren’t really the Mayhem’s style, frustrating Nora’s efforts and leading to chaos with the band.
With the legacy that they’ve built over the decades, the Muppets continue to impact and shape new generations of children (and adults). When asked what they think the magic of the Muppets truly is, the three stars believe that it stems from their ability to relate to everyone.
“I honestly think that they have a way of reaching everyone,” says Mowry. “Like, it’s kids [and] adults. It’s mind boggling how they do it. It’s magic, really. But they pull you in and you begin to forget that they’re puppets.”
“[I think its] the universality of the Muppets and the band that makes them so special and it’s the secret to their success,” echoes Chaudry. “There’s nothing about them that isn’t relatable while also being the most unrelatable people in the world. They’re so different to us, of course. But, at the same time, they feel the same things we do. They do the same goofy things. They want the same things out of the world”
“You can relate to them,” Singh affirms, “because you’re like, oh, I know what that feels like. I’ll answer the question like this. We had some really long days on set. And, every day, I can genuinely say that, on my drive back home, I said that was so much fun. There was so much joy. I think that’s the power of the Muppets. You can be having the most horrible day and then you interact with the Muppets and you [realize that] it’s really not that serious. It just puts so much into perspective for you.”
Of course, anyone new to the world of the Muppets is bound to learn a lot. For Singh, Mowry and Chaudry, each learned very different lessons from their experience, ranging from production techniques to having patience
“I learned a lot about production, honestly,” begins Singh. “That might be a nerdy answer, but that’s the truth. I feel like shooting with the Muppets is unlike shooting most other things I’ve ever shot in terms of the technicalities of how you actually interact with Muppets. We shoot four feet in the air because we’re on steel decks. So, in terms of actual production logistics, it’s made me a better producer… because I understand production so much more and that was super cool for me.”
“I think the whole experience was a learning experience because, even though it’s a TV show, it’s done very different from anything that I’ve ever done,” Mowry agrees. “I’d say just everything was different, but it was fun and it was pretty quick to pick it up, I think. But my first day was very overwhelming because I’m like, oh cool, I’m actually four feet. Yeah, I can fall.”
“I’m gonna second everything that they said,” Chaudry starts. “Definitely [learned] a lot about production and logistics and the technical side of things. But I think it also taught me a lot about resiliency and love. Like the band and the whole cast and crew, I think the level of resiliency you need to have to achieve something like this and have like the humans on set with Muppets and be four feet in the air and do all these [things], it takes a lot of resiliency and a lot of patience and a lot of love for the people that you’re working with. I’ve worked on some amazing sets before, but the people I worked with here, I love them… They’re like, mom, dad, big sister, big brother. It’s big stuff.”
In the midst of their enthusiasm, the three stars also recognize that the opportunity to work with their Muppet counterparts provided different challenges. (After all, it must be different speaking to a puppet as opposed to another human being.) However, each of them were able to draw from their own experiences to help them feel more present in the moment.
“I’m also a control freak in real life,” laughs Singh. “So, I was also able to accept to my character. I didn’t feel at any time that I had to make myself more kid-friendly or act as if I was talking to kids. A lot of people ask me if [the show is] for kids. It’s for everyone. I think adults will really enjoy the show… If anything, I just have to keep reminding myself that like, even though you’re talking to a Muppet, have the same level of heart and the same type of delivery that you would have if you were talking to a friend that was a human. That was the only thing I had to remind myself is that you don’t have to adjust your human emotions. You’re talking to someone that has those same emotions, that is not a human though.”
“I mean, for me, it was on the page already,” answers Mowry. “So, I just took that and did what I could do with it. But it was very easy to jump into it because, again, our writer’s room on this show is incredible. The show is hilarious. It’s got heart. It was very easy to become Moog because, myself, I was starstruck anyway. So, I was kind of able to use what I was feeling in real life for the character.
“I wouldn’t call it an ‘adjustment’ [but] I think it’s pushing me to be a better performer,” Chaudry reflects. “That’s something that they did is that the Muppets are incredible with improv. They are so wonderful. The cameras will cut and they’ll still be going… and, I think, day one I was thrown into that. It was a scene where I think I was giving Zoot a haircut and he was improving. He was throwing out these one-liners that were hilarious. It taught me a lot about keeping my cool, not laughing, just building off of it, and grounding it in this realness. I went straight to school after we finished shooting and I took a comedy improv class with the most amazing professor. I got to learn the technical side behind everything that they were doing that I just kind of picked up on the job. It was just the most incredible experience of my life to go from doing it in real life on the show to learning all the science behind it. It was really, really, really cool.”
Interestingly, in the Muppets Mayhem, Dr. Teeth, Floyd, Janice and the rest seem to exhibit the very soul of rock and roll. As they bring their music to their beloved fans all around the world, The Electric Mayhem live their lives as free spirits. For the cast though, the meaning of a truly ‘rock n’ roll’ lifestyle means more about being the best version of themselves than it does any freedom of travel.
“I’m an organized person, so my version of Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle is just that I’m gonna wake up today,” Singh exclaims. “I’m gonna just do whatever comes my way. I’m not gonna look at my calendar. But also I don’t know, for me, the ultimate rock and roll is living your true life. I think I’m Rock n’ Roll, even though I’m pretty square. I’m not gonna lie. I’m pretty Type A. I’ll be exactly who I wanna be. I will say exactly what’s on my mind and I don’t care who’s gonna judge me. I’m gonna be my true, weird, wacky self. And so, I think that’s rock and roll.”
“Living your rock and roll lifestyle is about following your heart and your gut,” Chaudry includes “and doing the things that truly just bring you pure joy.”
Having said this, one of the most powerful aspects of The Muppets Mayhem is its passion for representation. Featuring three leads of colour, the series celebrates diversity by bringing it front and centre. The significance of this moment is not lost on the cast, who believe that this is a special moment for both them and the viewers.
“As a person of color in this industry, you always have that in the back of your head,” Mowry explains. “To be able to do it for such an amazing iconic franchise like this, to have your three human leads be people of color is incredible. Representation matters. And again, this show, I keep saying it, every Muppet is a different color. They’re a different size. They all look different, they all sound different. They’re all different, but they all come together in unity and they have fun. Our show is full of color in the cast as well. It’s a colorful show in every way. So, I think it’s super important to keep that in the back of your head.”
“I’ll be like really, really honest about this,” Singh continues. “When I got the audition for Nora, I knew Nora had a younger sister and I was excited, but I was also really stressed. If I’m being honest, I really thought in my heart that, because there was a younger sister, that I wouldn’t get the role. I was like, ‘This is gonna work against me.’ Because they would have to cast two South Asians and they would’ve to find a younger sister as well. So, I truly in my heart though I’m not going to get this role cause it’s gonna be hard. Then I got it and I was super thrilled about that because I knew that it would not just be me. There would be two brown girls on screen, coincidentally also both from Toronto (which is like super important to me), especially when you’re dealing with such iconic IP like the Muppets where, perhaps in the past, there hasn’t been that kind of representation. I think it’s so important to now tell a story where that’s changed. So, it means the world to me personally.
“I think representation on screen has always been incredibly important to me,” Chaudry states. “I do a lot of work in advocacy and activism outside of my work in the entertainment industry. [It] has always just been important to me to make sure that my work transcends just a TV show. I think I found the power over the course of my career in being a person of color on screen, specifically a young woman on screen. At the time when I started acting, I was six. So, a young girl all throughout my childhood and adolescence. I completely agree with Lilly in the sense that having to cast a family or a sibling or something has often worked against me. I think the fact that we’re two brown girls from Toronto that that ended up together on this show, a part of such a big franchise is just so, so, so powerful. I think just us being on the three of us on screen taking up space is a statement in itself. I hope that everybody watching find somebody on screen that they can relate to who they see themselves in and that they love.
The Muppets Mayhem is now streaming on Disney+.