“…I guess we’ll never know. It’s like a kind of torture to have to watch the show!”
Statler and Waldorf. America’s favorite hecklers. Bless their grumpy old hearts, for they are the comedic greek chorus of The Muppet Show (1976-1981). Those cranky kooks made an art form out of destroying Fozzie’s stand-up acts and the other array of ridiculous performances that graced the show every Saturday night.
But as the title theme goes (see title and opening line of this blog post), Statler and Waldorf don’t actually like The Muppet Show. So why are they always there? More than that, they have season tickets for the most expensive seats in the house. There has to be some reason to put on a suit and go sit through an hour long disastrous variety show, and here are a few theories I’ve heard in my travels.
1. They’re being held against their will.
Yes the idea is dark and farfetched, and no one wants to think of Kermit as some sort of captor, but they have made inferences about being stuck in their seats, unable to leave. Let’s also not forget that they describe the show as “torture.” The idea just brings up images of a Muppet version of Saw (can we make that movie?). Maybe Kermit wants to assure that there will always always be an audience for his performers, by any means necessary. Statler is probably just one phone call away from cutting off his foot and shooting Waldorf.
Getting back on track though, Statler and Waldorf spend a lot of time making their own jokes, and trying to make light of a horrible situation. They don’t have full blown Stockholm Syndrome yet, but they’re doing a lot of mental and emotional compensation as a means of internal protection.
Of course, this idea, as much as I like it, is debunked in a very specific episode in which Statler and Waldorf leave the balcony when they realize that the star of the show is Danny Kaye and not Manny Kaye, the tuned clam player. Floyd Pepper and Janice, however, take over the heckling duties, transforming into pun masters while our favorite old guys are sitting outside in the trash alley. But why don’t they just go home? Are they psychologically tethered to the theatre?
This brings me to the next idea.
2. They’re only there for the celebrities guests.
This is a little thin (as if the kidnapping scenario isn’t). Sometimes they’re pleased to see the celebrity guest, and other times, they’re specifically targeting them as awful. Are they simply opinionated teenage girls clinging to The Muppet Show the way I used to cling to TRL?
Could be. It would explain the disappointment in the Danny Kaye episode. Or why they were oddly quiet during the Raquel Welch episode (too busy drooling). We as a culture are strangely obsessed with celebrity fame. Even though Statler and Waldorf are clearly well off, maybe they too are status focused and want to either rub elbows with talented people or to disparage them for their own personal benefit. Either way, we all anecdotally use tales of our interactions with the rich and famous at parties, and Statler and Waldorf certainly seem like the party types.
3. They’re critics.
Speaking of disparaging for personal benefit, maybe they’re critics. (Oooooh, see what I did there?) On one hand, they probably have the best sets in the house for free, and they could have a weekly column in the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper. There was even a rumor out there that they were based on Siskel and Ebert, but considering that those guys we’re young, hip, and fresh on the scene with their show premiering just one year prior, I think we can consider that debunked.
Additionally, if they’re paid critics, why go back to the same show, weekend after weekend? Clearly they don’t think it’s good, so why is it worth the time, paper, and ink? It can’t be the revolving door of special guests. Once you realize you hate McDonalds, you don’t go back just because they have a new type of quarter pounder.
Lest we forget, also, that there was a show called Muppets Tonight (1996-1998) which included Statler and Waldorf watching the show from the retirement home. Why continue to watch something awful if you don’t have to?
4. They’re paid hecklers.
What if they were paid to interrupt the show? This isn’t impossible. Purposeful, planted hecklers were a part of the vaudeville circuit in the early days, and Milton Berle regularly used a heckler in his 1960s variety show. Kermit could be holding up a long, fine tradition of show interruption for the sake of comedy, and he may or may not be letting poor Fozzie in on it.
And like many people with long and cherished careers, they keep it alive in the retirement home while watching Muppets Tonight and reliving the glory days. Or responding to Muppet YouTube videos. After all, if you’re good at something, why stop?
Or really, they could just find themselves so damn entertaining, and they need fodder. Schadenfraude is a powerful thing, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. We were all happy they put up with the show and kept us laughing at it.
Waldorf: I’ve got half a mind to leave.
Statler: If you had half a mind, you wouldn’t be here.