Gonzo, formally known as "The Great Gonzo" or "Gonzo the Great," is the resident daredevil performance artiste on The Muppet Show. He is an odd looking, unclassifiable alien creature with blue fur, bug eyes, and a long crooked nose. He takes pride in his uniqueness and enjoys everything that he does -- no matter how painful or ill-advised it may be.
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 little blue creature 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 1985, a collection of Muppet comic strips were released in a book titled "Chickens are People, Too!...But what are Gonzos?". The Muppet Babies also tackled the subject with the book What's a Gonzo?.
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."
Gonzo the "Whatever"
It was in 1981 during The Great Muppet Caper that Gonzo solidified himself as a formal "Whatever." When Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo were shipped to England in crates. Kermit's crate was labeled "Frog", Fozzie's was "Bear", and Gonzo's crate read "Whatever."
"Whatever" was used thereafter whenever Gonzo's species came into question. In one of the later Muppet comic strips, Gonzo is seen walking past a "Men" and "Women" bathroom to enter a third door labeled "Whatevers" (The strip can be seen in Jim Henson: The Works). He was called a "Whatever" in The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppet Treasure Island. In Muppets from Space, Gonzo told Noah to put him down as a "Whatever" in his dream.
Gonzo the "Weirdo"
On Muppet Babies, Gonzo's species was often cited as "Weirdo." However, in the episode "What's New at the Zoo?," Gonzo eventually became worried that he was an endangered species, and briefly imagined himself as an anteater. In "Fozzie's Family Tree," Gonzo imagined that he came from another planet and his family sent him to Earth because everything on his home planet was turning normal, and his parents didn't want him to become normal.
Gonzo the Alien
In Muppets from Space, Gonzo began to have disturbing dreams of abandonment and a feeling of aloneness in the world. He stated that he was "tired of being a one-of-a-kind freak." Gonzo lamented that he didn't know where he came from or what he truly was. Gonzo feels that he is not just a unique and distinct individual, but also part of a species on the brink of extinction. Gonzo is contacted by aliens channeling his breakfast cereal, and a pair of Cosmic Fish soon reveal to him that he is, in fact, an alien from outer space, the planet Oznog according to the novelization. It is later revealed that many "zotons" ago as a baby, Gonzo was lost, and his family has been looking for him.
His alien family has been trying to contact him for some time by placing the message "R U There" all over Earth. After they make contact with Gonzo, they make plans (via a sandwich) to rejoin with their long-lost brother and take him home. They arrive at Cape Doom in their giant spaceship (guided by an egg-like light beacon). The aliens displayed the same general physical characteristics as Gonzo's (such as the nostril-less crook-shaped nose and blue/purple fur). They are a musical culture, and their "most ceremonious of ceremonies" includes blowing the honoree out of a cannon. Gonzo is ecstatic to discover what he is, and considers going with them; however in the end he realizes his true home is on Earth with his Muppet family.
In the years immediately following the release of Muppets from Space, most merchandise labeled Gonzo as an alien (his vehicle in Muppet RaceMania is a spaceship, and in A Very Muppet Christmas Gonzo wrote a letter to Santa Claus about how he learned he was an alien that year) but that direction with the character was soon abandoned and Gonzo was reverted back to being labeled a "whatever".
Even before Gonzo was outed as an alien in 1999, the suggestion that he had otherworldly origins had been made several times, and minor references have continued:
- In The Muppet Movie Gonzo sings "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday", a song in which he recalls his experience flying and expresses his longing to return to the sky.
- In the Muppet Babies episode "Fozzie's Family Tree," Gonzo traces his family to the Soup Galaxy and the planet of Crouton, where millions of weirdos lived. The planet was in the process of quickly becoming normal, and his parents Sor-Elbow and Weirda sent him to the Earth by rocket to be raised by chickens.
- During a dream montage of Baby Piggy's press headlines in "This Little Piggy Went to Hollywood," Baby Gonzo inserts a cover of a tabloid magazine featuring pictures of himself asking the question "Are Aliens Among Us?"
- Gonzo and Jimmy Buffet sing "Mr. Spaceman", song about a close encounter with friendly aliens, on Kermit Unpigged. The track ends with a spaceship landing and Gonzo wanting to leave with Jimmy and the aliens for space (although Rizzo prevents him from doing so).
- In conjunction with the airing of Muppets Tonight on ABC, the Muppets hosted the TGIF programing block. In one bumper Clifford introduced the premiere of Aliens in the Family with the help of not one, but two Gonzos.
- Clifford: Just wait until you see the premiere of Aliens in the Family. You see, half of this family is from another planet.
- Gonzo #1: What's so weird about that?
- Gonzo #2: Sounds perfectly normal to me.
- In Muppet RaceMania, Gonzo's vehicle is a flying saucer with the special move of abduction. The character's description reads:
- "Borrowed from his alien relatives, Gonzo zooms through space and time in his Flying Saucer. Also borrowed from his relatives is the special Alien Abduction move, guaranteed to make every other race take an unceremonious time out!"
Gonzo the "Thing"
Despite Muppets from Space's seemingly definitive answer as to what Gonzo is, the movie, as with any other Muppet movie, leaves some room for interpretation. Interviews with Gonzo suggest that the events of Muppets from Space were "just a movie" and his designation is still up in the air.
At MuppetFest in 2001, Gonzo speaks about his origins:
- "Y'know, when you're a new Gonzo, and you're a block of foam, and you're in the middle of it... They're just rolling you around on the table. And then you hear some snipping, and you know you're in there, but they haven't gotten to you yet. And then you see a little bit of light... and then Jane nicks you! Ow! A little off the tip of your nose. You can see it getting lighter and lighter, and then she's doing your nose - and you can see it, it's right in front of your eyes... And then you're born."
In the 2002 BBC documentary, I Love Muppets hosted by Gonzo, he welcomes the viewer to the show, "an hour of company with your favorite pigs, frogs, dancing cheeses, lobster banditos, and uh... [looks at himself] er, things."
In episode 124 of The Muppet Show, Gonzo falls in love with Miss Piggy, who is disgusted and annoyed by him. He transfers his affections to guest star Madeline Kahn in episode 209, and informs Miss Piggy that he doesn't love her anymore. Gonzo is confident that Madeline will marry him, and 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 Miss 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 Miss Piggy. He also tries to get Miss Piggy to dance with him in Episode 217, but only because he needs a partner. On Muppet Babies, Baby Gonzo has an ongoing crush on Baby Piggy, going so far as to view Baby Kermit as a rival.
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. "Don't call us, we'll call you... nice legs, though!"
In Episode 217, despite the cow crush, Gonzo's chicken attraction 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 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.
Gonzo and Rizzo
Beginning with the 1992 movie The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gonzo has been 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 1990s. The two, as a pair, hosted Muppet Classic Theater (1994) and appeared as a team in Muppet Treasure Island (1996). Gonzo and Rizzo were 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 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.
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 1980s, Gonzo's regular outfit was a white button down and a gray sweater vest. For most of the next couple decades, his common attire included a variety of loud (often checkered) suits and other unusual clothing elements (e.g. chili pepper patterned shirts). In Muppets From Space, he wore a similar outfit, consisting of a vest and a tie with a chicken on it. In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, he wore a ordinary grey suit jacket with a blue-white stripe pattern shirt and golden necktie.
- 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 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. He also played 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".