The notion of Gonzo as a character who performs terrible acts but considers them artistic was devised by Jerry Juhl. As Dave Goelz recalled, the character might have been forgotten were it not for Jack Burns, the show's original head writer, who during an early meeting suggested Gonzo perform "these crazy acts like eating a tire to 'Flight of the Bumblebee!'" So, in the show's first episode, Gonzo did exactly that and the character grew from there. Burns also coined the character's name.
Accounts of Gonzo's early life are sketchy and often contradictory. For example, in episode 210 of The Muppet Show, he explains that his mother died before he was born, leaving a note to his father regarding the matter of his name. However, this is contradicted in episode 108 of Muppets Tonight, when Gonzo claims his mother liked his unique college interpretation of Death of a Salesman. Again, it is contradicted on Muppets.com in a video where he answers a question about his first stunt—his birth. He proceeds to explain it as if his mother was giving birth to him.
According to the Muppet Kids book series, Gonzo was later raised by his grandmother and his aunt Grace, both of whom are, of course, the same species as he is. Grace's young son Gander (Gonzo's cousin) is also shown and the four of them live together in a ramshackle house in the suburbs. Another cousin of Gonzo's shows up much later in his career, when Kevin is revealed as his double in an attempt at stage magic in An Audience with Joe Pasquale.
Gonzo, along with his chicken girlfriend Camilla, became a traveling plumber. He met Kermit and Fozzie and joined them in their quest for Hollywood. He started his acting career as a daredevil performance artist, but would later evolve to play dramatic roles, including Charles Dickens.
According to The Muppets Take Manhattan, Gonzo, at one point in time, lived in a cement mixer (which was far inferior to lodging in an airport locker). In the home video Gonzo Presents Muppet Weird Stuff, he and Camilla reside in a mobile home on the Bide-A-Wee Trailer Court.
However, if Gonzo had never met Kermit, he would have ended up becoming a depressed street performer that plays guitar accompaniment for a dancing brick (that ironically does not dance at all), as depicted in Kermit's parallel world in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.
Gonzo's acts frequently attempted to combine bizarre performance art with high culture: "I shall now eat a rubber tire to the music of 'The Flight of the Bumblebee'...music, maestro!" Another famous performance is best summed up by his quote, "I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley." Other acts include dancing "Top Hat" in a vat of oatmeal, hypnotizing chickens, and being hammered feet first into a railway tie by two American Gladiators on Muppets Tonight.
Gonzo's musical performances include his song from The Muppet Movie, "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday," and his affecting rendition of "My Way" that he sang as his finale when he decided to leave the Muppet Theater in Episode 411.
Gonzo had a prominent part at the start of each Muppet Show episode, playing the final trumpet note of the opening theme. In each episode, something different would happen—for example, the trumpet would explode, or spray water, or blow up a balloon. In the first season, Gonzo did not use a trumpet but instead attempted to hit the white space within the "O" in the "Muppet Show" sign like a gong, usually with bad results.
What is Gonzo?
The exact name of Gonzo's species has never been revealed. The character originally evolved from Snarl, a frackle from The Great Santa Claus Switch. However, when "The Great Gonzo" appeared on the The Muppet Show, the frackle species trait did not carry over.
In episode 223, John Cleese referred to Gonzo as "the ugly, disgusting one who catches cannonballs." And in The Muppet Movie, Kermit said that Gonzo looked "a little like a turkey," to which his conscience replied, "Yeah, a little like a turkey, but not much."
In the late 90s, the question was posed in the Ask Henson.com web column, "What exactly is Gonzo?" Dave Goelz responded: "Nobody knows except his parents, and they're not talking. It was always one of those taboo subjects around the dinner table."
In Muppets from Space, it is revealed that Gonzo is an alien and his alien family comes to Earth with a big party for him and before their departure they ask him to return to space with them. Gonzo sadly says farewell to The Muppets but he soon realizes that he would be abandoning his longtime friends who have been like his family all along and declines the Aliens' offer.
As the film gave a definitive answer as to what Gonzo is, the running gag of what his species may be has been semi-retired and is rarely used in current Muppet media.
In episode 124 of The Muppet Show, Gonzo is revealed to have a crush on Miss Piggy, who is disgusted and annoyed by him. He transfers his affections to guest star Madeline Kahn in episode 209 and informs Piggy that he doesn't love her anymore. Gonzo is confident that Madeline will marry him but is crushed when he finds out that she doesn't have any romantic interest in him. However, they agree to be friends. Although Gonzo tells Piggy that he doesn't love her anymore, in the Muppets from Space junior novelization book, when he is saying goodbye to everyone and tells Piggy goodbye, he confesses that he's always had a crush on her.
In addition to the aforementioned episodes, in The Muppet Movie, Gonzo briefly shows interest in the prospect of a romantic dinner with Piggy. He also tries to get Piggy to dance with him in Episode 217, but only because he needs a partner.
In episode 217, Gonzo is briefly attracted to a live cow that appears backstage. However, Gonzo's amorous desires are most often centered on chickens. This poultry passion first surfaced in Episode 204, when he held auditions for dancing chickens. Dave Goelz ad-libbed the line, "Don't call us, we'll call you... nice legs, though!" After this, the writers decided that Gonzo should have an attraction to chickens.
In Episode 217, despite the cow crush, Gonzo's chicken attraction was further developed. In the episode's Talk Spot, he complains to Kermit that Sweetums and Thog were playing badminton with his chicken. He sings "Won't Somebody Dance with Me," looking for a dance partner before settling for a chicken (the video Gonzo Presents Muppet Weird Stuff retroactively claims this was how Gonzo first met Camilla). When Gonzo learns that the cow is missing, he comments that he can still take a chicken out on a date.
Episode 318 introduced Gonzo's regular chicken girlfriend, Camilla. This did not prevent him from developing a brief fascination with Big Bird, however.
Gonzo and Rizzo
Beginning with the 1992 movie The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gonzo would start to be paired with Rizzo the Rat, who has since become his best friend. The two co-hosted The Muppet Christmas Carol (Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo as himself). The team connected with audiences and Gonzo and Rizzo continued to be paired (often as the stars of the show) throughout the 1990's. The two, as a pair, hosted Muppet Classic Theater (1994) and appeared as a team in Muppet Treasure Island (1996). Gonzo and Rizzo have also teamed together for most of Muppets from Space (1999), in which it was shown that the two are roommates in the Muppet Boarding House. In episode 104 of Muppets Tonight, they co-hosted a one-shot segment called "Gonzo and Rizzo's Incredible Discoveries". The segment focused on what happens after a series of painful circumstances (Rizzo gives them all the same response: "It hurts!").
One of their more recent pairings was on the album A Green and Red Christmas, where they sang "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" together. They also sang "Mr. Spaceman" with Jimmy Buffet on the Kermit Unpigged album.
In the "Pepe's Profiles" segment on Gonzo, Rizzo claims they first met in the Muppet Theater, when Gonzo crashed into a wall Rizzo was living in.
Gonzo's style of fashion, according to his bio on the Disney website, includes purple tuxedos, checkered suits and anything with chili peppers on it. Originally, Gonzo wore a purplish-red tuxedo. In The Muppet Movie, he donned a light blue shirt and a black vest, which he occasionally wore in later seasons of The Muppet Show, in addition to his tux. Starting with The Great Muppet Caper and lasting throughout the 1980's, Gonzo's regular outfit was a white button-down shirt and a gray sweater vest. For most of the next couple of decades, his common attire included a variety of loud (often checkered) suits and other unusual clothing elements (e.g. chili pepper patterned shirts).
Gonzo first appeared as Snarl the Cigar Box Frackle in the 1970 special The Great Santa Claus Switch, where he was performed by Daniel Seagren. In 1974, he appeared on the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass special in the musical number "Five Minutes More". He was performed by Jim Henson during this special but was completely silent. Since then, Dave Goelz has been his performer. In 2006, Gonzo was performed and voiced by puppeteer Brett O'Quinn for the Disney Cruise Line's Muppets Ahoy! stage show.
In the first season of The Muppet Show, the character was underplayed with a permanently sad look. The producers noticed that he worked better in a more energetic form, so Dave Goelz modified the eyes to have movable eyelids which helped make him a more active character. As such, he became one of the principal characters in the series. Goelz spoke of the mechanism and how it works;
"They are the same in theory as Big Bird's eyes. I didn't invent that mechanism. I looked at Big Bird and used the same idea. You activate the left eye to open both of them."
In 2008, Gonzo received a new eye mechanism that allows him to lift one eyelid separately. Goelz commented on the origin of the new mechanism;
"When I went on the Today show a few years ago, his eyes malfunctioned. During the bit, I realized that only one eye was opening. It was a fantastic expression. We made it into a funny thing because it just happened on live television. I immediately asked the Workshop if we could incorporate that, and eventually, when they built some more Gonzos, they did do it. So I have the ability to open one eye separately, and it gives you a very perplexed, crazy expression that I love."
Jerry Juhl stated on many occasions that Gonzo was his favorite character to write for and develop. He said he had a special connection with the blue weirdo. Juhl gave a presentation at the American Film Institute talking about long-term character development and used Gonzo as the example. Juhl has said that he really enjoyed evolving and developing the character with Goelz from his debut eating the tire to "The Flight of the Bumblebee" through his evolution up to Charles Dickens in 1992. For this reason, Gonzo has become one of the deepest and most developed characters. Juhl developed Muppets from Space (originally titled "Star Gonzo") as a film to focus solely on the emotional arc and development of Gonzo.
- Bendy Tuxedo Gonzo Doll (1977)
- Gonzo Stick Puppet (1978)
- Gonzo PVC Figure (1979)
- Superhero Gonzo Beanie (1981)
- Superhero Gonzo Dress-up Doll (1982)
- Admiral of the Fleet Gonzo Dress-up Doll Costume (1982)
- Circus Baby Gonzo PVC (1989)
- Baby Gonzo PVC (1989)
- Pirate Baby Gonzo PVC (1989)
- Little Boy Boy Baby Gonzo PVC (1989)
- Standing Baby Gonzo PVC
- Sitting Baby Gonzo PVC
- Disney World Gonzo PVC Figure
- Stuntman Gonzo Action Figure (2002)
- Crash Helmet Gonzo Action Figure (2002)
- Mini Gonzo PVC (2003)
- Gonzo Action Figure (2003)
- Mega Gonzo Action Figure (2004)
- Tuxedo Gonzo Action Figure (2004)
- Cabin Boy Gonzo and Rizzo Action Figures (2004)
- Gold Tuxedo Gonzo Action Figure (2004)
- Dream Date Gonzo Action Figure (2004)
- Gonzo Muppet*Vision 3D Poseable Figure (2004)
- Checkered Suit Gonzo Action Figure (2005)
- Tin Thing Plush (2005)
- Dearth Nader PVC (2008)
- Gonzo photo puppet replica (2008)
Fast Food Toys
- McDonald's Big Wheel Baby Gonzo (1987)
- McDonald's Airplane Baby Gonzo (1990)
- Carl's Jr. Gonzo Car (1992)
- Hardee's Charles Dickens finger puppet (1993)
- McDonald's Cabin Boy Gonzo Boat (1996)
- Long John Silvers' Gonzo Snowball (1997)
- Wendy's Gonzo 3-D Puzzle (1999)
- Wendy's Gonzo Spaceship Sparker (1999)
- Dairy Queen's Baby Gonzo Rocking Horse (1999)
- Gonzo and the Giant Chicken (1982)
- Gonzo Saves London Bridge (1986)
- Gonzo's Big Mess (1989)
- Gonzo the Great (book) (1989)
- Gonzo's Book of Out-of-This-World Puzzles (1999)
- Sigma Christmas ornaments (1979-1981)
- Gonzo Sigma Mugs
- Gonzo Sugar Bowl
- Ceramic Jack-in-the-Box Gonzo Christmas Ornament (1981)
- Gonzo Presents Muppet Weird Stuff (1985)
- Gonzo PEZ Dispenser
- Gonzo Costume
- Gonzo's Head backpack (1998)
- Gonzo's Head Magnet (1998)
- On his bio from the Disney website, Gonzo's likes are being shot out of cannons, balancing pianos on his nose, hypnotizing chickens and tap dancing on roller skates on a vat of oatmeal. His only dislike is insurance agents.
- Also on the short bio, it said that one of his past roles was a trumpet player. We would occasionally see him play the trumpet on The Muppet Show besides in the opening theme. Examples include playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" on the trumpet in Episode 218 and playing the trumpet during the closing theme of Episode 314.
- At a Muppets, Music & Magic Q&A session in June 2007, when Gonzo was asked which Muppet he least liked working with, he responded, "Well, I can't really go into that or she'll karate chop me."
- Gonzo's film appearances in The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets from Space are both owned by Sony Pictures, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is owned by NBCUniversal, the other Muppet movies are owned by Disney (along with the rest of the Muppet franchise).
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