For the past 48 years, Big Bird, a friendly mainstay on Sesame Street, has been educating children all around the world. But recently, the puppeteer inside Big Bird came forward with new information about how he controlled the suit that will blow your mind: The man inside Big Bird has revealed that he was only able to control the giant puppet some of the time.
Wow. What an incredible insight into such a beloved show!
In a panel interview he gave at the Paley Center with other puppeteers on Sesame Street, Caroll Spinney explained the process behind controlling the giant puppet and went on to describe how sometimes, before he even got his hand up to move Big Bird’s beak, the giant bird would start speaking all by itself. The legendary puppeteer even got out of his chair to reenact what he would do while inside the suit, but made clear that sometimes the giant puppet would completely override his commands and jerk him around like a doll.
“For some of the episodes, I was able to control Big Bird the entire time, but for others, the giant puppet would go completely off-script with its own lessons,” explained Spinney. “One of the most touching moments on the show, when Big Bird learns about death, was actually supposed to be an episode about learning prime numbers.”
“I did the dancing, but I honestly have no idea how to ride a unicycle. That was all the suit,” added Spinney.
Spinney needed two people to help him get in and out of the giant puppet, and one time in the ’90s, he woke up in the middle of the night to see the suit standing over him, watching him sleep. When the puppet noticed he had woken up, it leaned down really close to Spinney’s ear and said, “L is for liar, motherfucker,” before collapsing to the ground lifelessly. Seriously, how amazing is it to take a peek behind the scenes of one of the greatest children’s shows in the world?
You’ve got to admit this is pretty astounding stuff. The fact that the guy inside Big Bird was only able to fully control the giant puppet around 60 percent of the time isn’t just a fun fact about a children’s show, it’s also a captivating part of history. Thank you, Caroll Spinney!