Along with having his own Muppet characters (Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama and Bobo the Bear) he has taken over Jim Henson's role of Dr. Teeth (The Muppet band leader), Rowlf, Swedish Chef and has now taken over Jerry Nelson's role of Lew Zealand.
[After being asked on how he got his start in being a puppeteer that led him to become a Muppet legend] Legend? Uh, well yes it's true I first met Brian Henson while working for the Operations department at Sesame Place in Langhorne Pennsylvania. We became friends and tried to stay in touch over the years as we went our separate ways. Eventually after Jim had died I moved out to Los Angeles and during my first six months there, Brian came out to produce the show "Dinosaurs". Since I was a struggling actor at the time I asked if there was any position that I might be able to help with, production assistant, cable wrangler, toilet cleaner, anything to get me closer to the business. He said that there was a character in the show that was a lot like Jackie Gleason from the Honeymooners and that he remembered me fooling around and impersonating him at one time, which was true. I love Ralph Cramden. Anyway, he said there were auditions to be inside of a large rubber suit like the Ninja Turtles film they had done, and would I be interested in auditioning for that type of job. I of course jumped at the opportunity! Since I had been studying as an actor and my training was rooted in interpreting a scene through moment to moment "behavior" (Meisner technique), what better way to apply those skills by being inside of a suit where I didn't have to necessarily memorize the dialogue, but interpret it through what I was doing in the scene. This is kind of an odd thing, but when I heard it was a Dinosaur and that I would be judged on my behavior, I immediately shaved my head (so that I would look more like a reptile) and began practicing how to move like a reptile and incorporating human characteristics.
Anyway, sorry if this is a lot of acting mumbo jumbo, but I auditioned and after they reviewed the tapes and apparently watched the audition with the sound off, (I had to do the dialogue for the audition and improvise as the character) Brian and Michael Jacobs decided that I should play Earl...or they just needed someone really stupid to get inside of an 80lb. rubber suit for 14 hours a day and who seemed excited about the whole thing.
From Dinosaurs I began to mess around with some of the background hand puppets and assist the other puppeteers when I wasn't inside of Earl, which wasn't that often. I had very little experience in puppetry but I knew my lip-sync was pretty good and that I loved creating characters.
As a child my brother Gene, who is four years older than me, used to plan all of our creative activities. Either we were going to make movies, put on some sort of show, get me to jump off the roof of my house or even build puppets. He's really the reason I'm doing what I do today. He always encouraged me to perform and I loved doing it. One day he decided to write to Jim to find out how to make a Muppet. Well, Jim amazingly sent back a great letter and directions on how to do so. I think this may have been 1971? Well, Gene found the closest foam & fabric store near us and got us to start building and performing puppets. I have to say, that period probably lasted for about a year I think, but my mother continued throughout my life to buy me different types of puppets on special occasions, so even though I never thought I would become a puppeteer, somehow she knew.