A longtime “Sesame Street” writer is weighing in on the longstanding speculation that Bert and Ernie are gay.
Mark Saltzman, who worked on the show for more than a decade, says he always viewed Bert and Ernie to be a couple when he penned their scripts.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were,” Saltzman told Queerty in a new interview. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”
Saltzman added that the relationship between Bert and Ernie mirrored his relationship with his longtime partner, film editor Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003.
He says multiple people would call him and Glassman “Ernie & Bert.”
“Yeah, I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor — if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn’t that be perfect? Bert with his paper clips and organization? And I was the jokester,” Saltzman told the outlet. “So it was the Bert & Ernie relationship, and 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. I wrote sketches. . . . Arnie’s OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.”
Saltzman joined the “Sesame Street” staff in 1984, about 15 years after the Bert and Ernie characters were introduced on the show.
He says he never explicitly told the show’s lead writer that he drew inspiration from his own relationship for the characters, but said that definitely was the case.
“That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship,” Saltzman said. “How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert.”
The Bert and Ernie characters have long been considered icons in the gay community and, in 2013, The New Yorker used a photo of Ernie laying his head on Bert’s shoulder on its cover to commemorate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act.
On Tuesday, Sesame Street Workshop — the nonprofit organization behind the popular show — issued a statement contradicting Saltzman’s comments about the characters.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the statement reads. “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 sexual orientations.”