Bert and Ernie singing a song together. Image: HBO
In a recent interview with Queerty, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman, who is openly gay, explained how he drew upon his own relationship with editor Arnold Glassman as inspiration for Bert and Ernie, the show’s most popular confirmed bachelors. This revelation was interesting enough that Sesame Street itself decided to weigh in.
Saltzman recalled that at some point after he joined Sesame Street’s writing staff in 1984, the writers received a piece of mail from a young fan who, having picked up on the queer subtext of Bert and Ernie’s relationship, wanted to know if the puppets were in love:
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 [Glassman] & I as ‘Bert & Ernie.’
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. 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 would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.
The idea of Bert and Ernie being romantically involved off screen has been a topic of conversation for decades at this point, but Saltzman is one of the only people who has worked on the franchise to directly acknowledge and affirm it. That being said, the Sesame Workshop went out of its way (and not for the first time) to put out a public statement regarding the nature of Bert and Ernie’s relationship that directly contrasts with Saltzman’s feelings about them:
As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. 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 a sexual orientation.
Good news, everyone. Bert and Ernie are still puppets, which means they, well, aren’t having sex any time soon!
Look: Saltzman affirming the idea of Bert and Ernie being lovers has nothing to do with their sex lives and everything to do with the fact that theirs is one of the most stable, healthy, and caring relationships in television history — on a show that’s meant for children, no less.
Regardless of what the Sesame Workshop intends for audiences to see, the way that Bert and Ernie have built a life together reads as undeniably queer in a way that has endeared them to generations of Sesame Street fans, to say nothing of the gay kids who grew up seeing themselves in the characters.