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Sesame Street has been a beloved show for many years, and plenty of adults watched Sesame Street in their own time before sitting their kids down to watch nowadays. One of the long-standing questions about the show has been whether or not best friends and roommates Bert and Ernie are actually gay. Although Sesame Street has always denied that the two are gay, Bert and Ernie appeared on the cover of The New Yorker celebrating gay marriage. Well, now a former Sesame Street writer has weighed in on their orientation. Mark Saltzman, who won no fewer than seven Emmys for his work on Sesame Street, said this:
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. And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn't have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as 'Bert & Ernie.'
As a gay man in a loving relationship with editor Arnold Glassman, Mark Saltzman wrote for Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street in the context of his own relationship. The two characters were not officially gay when Saltzman was writing for the show, but he wrote them as if they were gay and it simply wasn't something that came up in their Sesame Street segments. Given that he and Glassman were referred to as "Bert" and "Ernie," it's no wonder that he viewed the characters' orientations in the context of his own life.
All of this said, Bert and Ernie were never explicitly established as gay, despite many viewers coming to interpret their living situation and dynamic as those of a gay couple. Despite this, Mark Saltzman couldn't help but use his own relationship as inspiration for the scenes he would write for the two characters. He and his partner's similarities to Bert and Ernie made it only natural for him to jump from one relationship to the other, even if one of those relationships was real-life and the other was between puppets.
Mark Saltzman went on in his interview with Queerty to say this about what drove his writing for Bert and Ernie as well as the mental state of another Sesame Street character:
Yeah. Because how else? That's what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not? I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, 'Oh, I'm writing this, this is my partner and me.' But those two, Snuffalupagus, because he's the sort of clinically depressed Muppet...you had characters that appealed to a gay audience. And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that's sort of Kafka! It's sort of gay closeted too.
The head writer during Mark Saltzman's tenure at Sesame Street was not aware that Saltzman was using his own relationship as inspiration for Bert and Ernie, and Saltzman even dropped some surprising comments about Snuffy. The former Sesame Street writer's comments will undoubtedly come across as confirmation that Bert and Ernie are gay on the show, and it simply isn't addressed explicitly on screen. On the other side of things, Sesame Street has a different outlook on Bert and Ernie's relationship.
In response to Mark Saltzman's comments, Sesame Street shared this statement:
For Sesame Street, the focus should be on Bert and Ernie as best friends despite their differences, with their example teaching youngsters that people don't have to be the same to be friends. Also, Bert and Ernie are puppets and therefore "do not have a sexual orientation." Bert and Ernie identify as male and are roommates, but the official Sesame Street stance is that they're simply best friends.
Longtime Muppet master (and Yoda) Frank Oz weighed in on Mark Saltzman's comments as well, and he too debunked the theory that Bert and Ernie are gay, but that's not all he had to say. Take a look!
For Frank Oz, "of course" Bert and Ernie are not gay. Interestingly, Oz seems to take more of an issue with the fact that Mark Saltzman was asked about whether the two Muppets are gay than with Saltzman's answer. Oz clearly doesn't believe that their orientation should be a focus.
All things considered, we may want to accept that Sesame Street will never establish Bert and Ernie as gay. Their dynamic can still serve to teach children about the value of relationships between two different people, and they'll likely continue to be as beloved as ever. We can at least look forward to more hilarious and adorable Sesame Street parodies like those for Stranger Things and The Walking Dead, hopefully including Bert and Ernie.