Interview with Noel MacNeal
(starts at the 3:44:11 mark in the download)
Mutt: Well, I guess to close off the show, we're gonna do a live interview, and on the phone right now… lemme go get the phone… we have the one-and-only Noel MacNeal from the TV show Bear in the Big Blue House! Hold on a second! Woo-hoo! Hey, Noel?
Noel MacNeal: Hello.
M: Hey, sir! How are you doing?
NMN: Fine, thanks. How are you doing?
M: Great, welcome to the Funday Pawpet Show!
NMN: Thank you. It's great to be there.
M: Well, thank you very much. So, you live up in New York, correct?
NMN: Yes, I do.
M: Great, great. And, um… I was wondering if you wouldn't mind possibly answering a few of my questions, and maybe even take some live questions from the show.
M: Great. How did you get your start there, Noel?
NMN: Uh, let's see… Well, I always wanted to be a puppeteer. It was since I was a little kid, and I remember a show that probably you guys don't remember called Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Shari Lewis, and then, I remember, it was one night in 1968, I was about six years old, and it was a Sunday night around 6:30, a half-hour show came on hosted by these two puppets named Ernie and Bert, and they were describing this brand-new show that was starting tomorrow morning called Sesame Street. I watched it, and I had been watching it ever since, and as I went through high school, that's when The Muppet Show started around, and I thought, “Well, if this guy Jim Henson can make a living at it, well, maybe I could too.”
M: That's cool.
NMN: And my mom was totally supportive. When it was time to pick that college, I said I wanted to be a professional puppeteer, she didn't blink an eye and said, “Okay, what do we have to do?” I told her about two places, she said “Great, what do we have to do?” So, that was it. She said, “You can always get a job, get a career.” And that's how I got started.
M: Wow. Fantastic!
NMN: Thank you.
M: Well, what was your first show?
NMN: Uh, let's see… Um, my first real show, well, I worked on and off on Sesame Street as like, you know, a background grouch, an extra chicken, right-hand, various little parts like that. But, my first show as my own character was a show that was on Nickelodeon, now it's on Noggin, the re-tread channel, and it's called Eureeka's Castle. And I played a character named Magellan the dragon.
M: Wow. Fantastic!
NMN: So that was my first major character.
M: Ah. And how did you score the role of Bear from Bear in the Big Blue House?
NMN: Oh, I auditioned for it, just like everybody else, and I was like… I was actually the last guy there. So, I just kinda like went it… actually, they faxed me a picture of Bear, and I was like, “Oh, this looks kinda cute.” So I went down, and I thought, “You know what, this is just a courtesy. They've already picked somebody out. You know what, I'm just gonna have fun.” So, I just went in and just had fun and the script said like, you know, “Bear sniffs his nose to the camera.” Well, I actually did it, and apparently they liked that and, well, there you go.
M: Wow. Fanta- and I think the key word there is “have fun.”
NMN: Yes. Which is a major thing because it is a puppet show.
M: And it worked!
M: Well that's awesome! Wow, fantastic.
NMN: You guys have fun down there, right?
M: We're laughing to the point we're almost peeing ourselves every night.
M: We're gonna get some questions from the Internet right here.
NMN: You do?
M: Yes, we do.
M: And, what's your favorite thing about being on the show?
NMN: Um, being on your show right now?
M: No, not this show. Absolutely nothing favorite about being on this show. What's your favorite thing about being on your show?
NMN: I don't have to pay for the call. That's a great factor.
NMN: Are you taking that in? He didn't pay for the call.
M: Make a note of that.
NMN: The great thing about the show, Bear in the Big Blue House, is the fact that not only do I have fun on it, but everybody on the show has fun - the crew has fun, the production staff has fun, the writers have fun, I'm one of the writers, so I definitely make sure we have fun, and it's just a very fun program. Not to mention all the great e-mail and fan mail we get from different people and families, not necessarily people with kids - we got fan letters from people who don't have kids, who just like watching the show. Crazy enough, a demographic of women between 24 and 54 has gone up. I don't know why, but it has.
M: Well, there you go. Hey, Bear is pretty cute!
NMN: Well, if you think about it, Bear is a pretty good catch by today's standards, you know. He owns a home, and stays with kids, he listens, he can talk, he can dance, he has a lot of hair on his back, but you know, all things considered…
M: He's got hair on his back! (laughs) Oh, that's hysterical! And the show is doing very well - in fact, it was just nominated for a Grammy, wasn't it?
NMN: Actually, um… I don't know about a Grammy, it was nominated for three Emmy awards.
M: An Emmy, that's right! Emmy awards.
NMN: And, it won two out of three, which ain't bad. It won Best Directing, and Best Sound.
M: It is an awesome show, without a doubt. Now, you also sing, don't you?
NMN: Yes, I do.
M: You are a good singer. Now, tell us a little bit about the costume.
NMN: Uh, well, let's see… he's about 7'02“.
M: Oosh. Big Bear.
NMN: He is a big Bear. Not as big as Big Bird, but he's a big Bear, and overall weighs about 45 pounds…
NMN: …but it's designed off the hip. It's a work of art, because these people who work in the Muppet workshop are artists, and they sculpted it into a living, breathing costume that, all I have to do is just walk in normally and, well, that's it. There's nothing really special I have to do.
M: Listen to that. Alright, sir, I've seen the show, and I know it's just not just something you do. You do a fantastic job of it. You bring that thing right to life. The Bear's head is actually your hand, correct?
NMN: Uh, yes it is. It's pretty much the same science as Big Bird, so they figured they'd worked for backyard for 32 years, why mess with success, so they basically went with my right arm up inside the head and neck making the head and mouth move, and my left arm is in his left arm, and there is a tiny little television set strapped to my chest with a microphone on top that allows me to see what you see, since I have no way of seeing out. I only see what you see on TV, so everything is like, backwards.
M: So you have no vision inside that thing at all?
NMN: No. Completely none, nothing. It's kinda like if you were blind in your own home, you would get used to like, you know, where everything is and you would develop a certain sensory perception.
NMN: So, next time you watch the show, notice how many rugs are on the floor.
NMN: That kinda gives you an idea of like, “Okay, I'm in the foyer, if I turn this way, I'll walk through the door, and there are a lot of little boards across the bottom just to like, kinda give an idea of where I am.
M: Great. Hey, here is a question for ya.
M: What's the funniest moment on the show so far for you?
NMN: Funniest moment? Uh, let's see… Well, we all have these tapes. All shows do, even Sesame Street. It's called the outtake reel. It's reels where we've often made mistakes, so there are the ones you don't normally see. Let's see…the funniest thing on the show was where when doing the Christmas episode. I don't know if you saw it, but in the very beginning, there's this song they sing called “Getting Ready for a Very Bear Christmas” and there's this last shot where the camera goes, pulls back from the living room out the window where everyone's singing…
NMN: …and then it trucks to the left, to the front door. I then have to run through the living room, into the foyer in order to be there in time. So, it was awfully funny how I always got there, sometimes the camera would get past the front door or just come shy of the front door, so it was actually funny how they were worried about me getting there on time and the camera guy, who was actually just staying there with the camera, kept missing. So, that was pretty funny.
M: That's great.
NMN: So, it's like, “Yeah, the bear is fine, it's the camera guy who's not doing it.
M: Um, what's the most heart-touching moment you've had for the show so far?
NMN: Touching moment? Let's see… Um, we get these fan letters, from all kinds of people, and we get parents of kids with special needs, and we had one letter where a woman wrote in whose little girl had cerebral palsy, and she's five years old, and they were never sure exactly how much vision she had, like how much she could or couldn't see. And so, they finally got Disney Channel on basic cable, and then when they happened to turn it on, Bear sniffed the lens, and the little girl saw this and jumped back, and it was the first time they realized that she could see because Bear sniffed her.
NMN: When you get a letter like that, that's pretty touching.
M: That's heavy. That's great.
NMN: Everyone realizes, for some people it isn't just a puppet show. It's a little bit more than that. So, in fact, um, Bear's going to be down this coming Monday at Disney/MGM Studios…
NMN: …and to celebrate his first anniversary of being down there and meeting new friends. That's the celebration.
M: Man, it seems like…
NMN: It's often nice, the fact that people keep coming in there every single day.
M: The line outside of that show has gotta be one of the longest lines I've ever seen at Disney.
NMN: Uh, yeah, I actually got to go and see it there recently, and it is kinda moving to hear 600 strangers who you'll never see again all singing the goodbye song.
M: Well, they know it.
NMN: So, uh, that's pretty touching. I took my mom down there, and she was pretty weepy.
M: Oh, she must have loved it. That's great. And it was a mother's day gift?
NMN: Yes it was.
M: Wheee! Okay, what's your favorite food - chicken or beef?
M: Beef. Okay, um… do you like to draw?
NMN: Oh yeah.
M: Okay, how about, uh… Ren or Stimpy?
NMN: Uh… Stimpy.
M: Stimpy, cool. Um, let's see, let's see… Do you own any stuffed animals?
NMN: Oh, yes.
M: Cool, more than 10?
NMN: Um… actually, about 10. I live in a New York apartment, so we have to keep it under control here.
M: Do you like “Weird Al” Yankovic?
NMN: Uh, yeah.
M: Cool. Do you like rock and roll?
M: Cool. Um, boxers or briefs?
M: Briefs! Okie-doke. Who's the greatest influence on your life, and why?
NMN: Uh… I'd have to say my mom. 'Cause she's a single mom who raised me and anybody you tell who you want to be a puppeteer to and she doesn't blink an eye, that's pretty influential.
M: Wow. Your mom is a total sweetheart, too. Um, what is your favorite TV show?
NMN: Uh, let's see… well, I guess I have to say outside of Bear in the Big Blue House, the one I happen to be talking to right now.
M: No way! Yay! We love you! Who's your favorite actor?
NMN: Favorite actor? Uh, right now it's Ed Norton.
M: Oh, cool.
NMN: He can do anything.
M: What is your favorite food?
NMN: Favorite food? Ooh… I'd have to say, my wife makes a very good turkey meatloaf.
M: Yummy. What is your favorite cartoon character?
NMN: Ah, let's see… Uh, Disney cartoon character or just a cartoon character?
M: Uh, cartoon in general.
NMN: Uh, cartoon character… Um, I'd have to say right now, it's The Powerpuff Girls.
M: Powerpuff Girls, excellent!
NMN: My favorite Powerpuff Girl being Bubbles.
NMN: She's a blonde.
M: Where would you like to spend your dream vacation?
NMN: Uh, let's see… Actually, for my honeymoon, my wife and I got to go on the Disney Cruise Line for free, so that was pretty cool. Uh, but as for my dream vacation… I don't know. That's kinda hard to say. I'll have to get back to you on that one.
M: Lots of places to go.
NMN: Yeah, lots of places to go. Actually, this year, because of Bear, I've been to England, Germany, and Australia in less than six months, so of course they were all work, so they weren't really vacations, so maybe Australia again.
M: Ah, excellent. We have a lot of budding puppeteers that watch the show every week. What kinds of words of wisdom or advice could you give to everyone out there?
NMN: Don't do it.
M: Yay, I'm outta here! Good night, everybody!… Just kidding.
NMN: Drop the sock, move away from the stage.
M: Excellent. Alright.
NMN: No. Keep it up, have fun.
M: Right. Have fun, enjoy your life. It's a puppet show, enjoy yourself.
M: That's cool, alright, well we're gonna wrap up the show here in… Hey, you know what?
M: I'm not a very good singer, but would you mind singing the goodbye song with us?
M: Aw, fantastic. Well, I don't have any background music, so we can just kinda imagine the songs in our heads playing along with the voices.
NMN: Oh, sure. It always starts without, so you can just join in.
M: I'll follow your lead.
NMN: Okay. Usually he says… “Hey, this was really fun.”
M: “We hope you liked it, too.”
NMN: “Seems like we've just begun.”
M & NMN: “When suddenly it's thro-o-ough.”
NMN: “Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, good-bye.”
M & NMN: ”'Cause now, it's time to go-o-o.”
NMN: “But hey, I say, well, that's o-kay.”
M & NMN: ”'Cause we'll see you very soo-oon, I know. Very soon, I know-ow-ow-ow-ow. Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, good-bye.“
NMN: “And tomorrow's just like to da-a-ay.”
M & NMN: “The moon, the bear, and the big red fox will be waiting for you to come and play. Come and play. Come and play.”
NMN: Bye, now!