Sesame Street's Bert & Ernie Were Gay, a Former Writer Confirms
It’s apparently not all sunny days within the Sesame Street universe. A discussion over whether or not beloved odd couple Bert and Ernie are actually in a romantic relationship dominated Twitter on Tuesday after a former Sesame Street writer revealed the two characters were gay and meant to be perceived that way — a claim the current officials for the show quickly refuted.
We should say right now that this isn’t the first time the idea that Bert and Ernie could be more than platonic pals has been kicked around. Given that the two characters, per the Sesame Street canon, have always lived together and have always had a deep bond, adults have speculated whether these two were coded to be gay. However, this may very well be the first time someone with a close connection to the long-running children’s show has claimed it to be true and unabashedly stated it on the record.
In a new interview with Queerty, ex-Sesame Street staffer Mark Saltzman, who contributed to writing for Bert and Ernie, admits that the duo’s relationship was likely informed by his own relationship with acclaimed editor Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003. Per Saltzman, “more than one person referred to Arnie & I as ‘Bert & Ernie.’”
The fact that these iconic characters might be more than just friends was something that other people picked up on, Saltzman said, sometimes to comedic effect.
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked ‘are Bert & Ernie lovers?’ And that, coming from a preschooler was fun,” he said. “And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it.”
But, says Saltzman, he feels as though Bert and Ernie being gay could very well have been an organic sort of self-reflection.
“And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [gay]. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them,” he said, adding that he was very much like Ernie and Arnie very much like Bert. “So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches… Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.”
It didn’t take long for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the show, to respond.
In a statement via Twitter, they wrote, “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Additionally, one of the series’ creators, Frank Oz, took to Twitter to voice his thoughts on the topic.
“It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness,” wrote Oz.
One could argue, naturally, that if the characters’ sexual orientation doesn’t matter (as implied by the Sesame Workshop and Oz) then there is no need to issue a public denial of Saltzman’s personal feelings. One could also point out that the question of being gay or straight does very much matter to people, including some young people, for whom seeing a touchstone on-screen would make a world of difference in helping them understand the broad spectrum of human sexuality.
The conversation over whether or not Bert and Ernie should be considered gay and in a relationship quickly dominated Twitter, with many weighing on with their hot takes on the matter.
Did Sesame Workshop miss an opportunity to simply let people draw their own conclusions about these lovable Muppets? Can't we just let Bert and Ernie live?