Just when you thought the debate over whether “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie are gay had fizzled for good, an executive for the beloved children’s series is suggesting the answer may not be cut and dry.
Brown Johnson, the executive vice president of the Sesame Workshop, was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter for a lengthy “Sesame Street” feature to commemorate the show’s 50th anniversary this year.
In the interview, published Wednesday, Johnson suggested that Bert and Ernie are, in fact, gay ― if viewers choose to interpret the characters as such.
“People can think whatever they want” about Bert and Ernie, Johnson said. “You want to think they’re gay? OK.”
“You want to think they’re not gay? They’re not gay,” Johnson added.
“More than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie,’” Mark Saltzman told the LGBTQ news outlet Queerty in September 2018. He was referring to his longtime partner, Arnold “Arnie” Glassman, a filmmaker and film editor who died in 2003.
“I was already with Arnie when I came to ‘Sesame Street.’ So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple,” Saltzman, who is credited with working on 31 episodes of “Sesame Street” that aired from 1985 through 1998, added. “I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic.”
Though Saltzman later backtracked a bit, his initial comments ignited a media firestorm. “Sesame Street” attempted to quell the controversy in a public statement, saying that Bert and Ernie “were created to be best friends.”
As the new Hollywood Reporter article suggests, however, many still view that official “Sesame Street” statement as less than definitive.
Maybe that’s because Bert and Ernie have endured speculation since they were created by Jim Henson for the 1969 “Sesame Street” pilot, and that the are-they-or-aren’t-they debate is, at this stage, nearly as ingrained in pop culture as the characters themselves.