I am Noel MacNeal! I'm the Bear in the Big Blue House, John Oliver's resident puppeteer, and creator of the Show Me Show: a puppet show for autistic kids and their friends! AMA!
Hello, Reddit! Nice to meet you!
I'm a professional puppeteer who has worked with Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and many others. I was Bear on Disney's Bear In The Big Blue House, an iconic children's show for the millennial generation.
I'm also the resident puppeteer for John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and I'm currently in development for a puppet show for autistic kids and their friends. It's called the Show Me Show and if you'd like to support, that'd be awesome: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1204190089/the-show-me-show
I'd love to talk to you about being a professional puppeteer, working with legends like Jim Henson, or anything about my years as Bear! I'd also love to answer any questions about the show I'm creating for autistic kids and their friends as autism is an issue dear to my heart. TBH, I didn't even know about Reddit until a friend of mine told me about it an I'm PUMPED! Sooooo, Ask Me Anything!!
My Proof: https://twitter.com/Noelyourhost/status/728309942180962305
First there are no stupid questions. Bear world the same way as Big Bird; my right arm was up thru his neck into his head. My four fingers on the to of the mouth palette and my thumb under it to make him talk (called li sync). So I would just extend my arm forward into the camera for him to "sniff."
Hi, Noel! It's Erik from the first class in Texas. I'd hoped to go this year, but I'm slowly recovering from carpal tunnel release surgery. Have you ever had hand problems? What have you or others done about them?
Hi Erik! So sorry about your hand. I have not had problems with my hand. Puppetry and lip sync are a little different from holding a computer mouse; you are flexing and moving the hand muscle and not locked in one position. That doesn't mean you don't eventually get tired. But I've done exercises to strengthen my hand for endurance for puppetry.
Thanks! My endurance in that hand is pretty well shot right now. Any specific exercises for that?
Take a rubber band and put it over your finger tips. Then open and close your fingers.
Hi Noel! I truly appreciate your work, and Bear in the Big Blue House was such a treat for my childhood.
I have autism myself and am wondering if what you're project is focused is similar to how Thomas the Tank Engine accidentally stepped into the scene in helping autistic children with expressions. I watched a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine as a child, and feel that the facial expressions of a seemingly lifeless being suddenly having facial expressions and emotions helped me in reflecting that to my peers in school, which led to friends that I have been able to relate to and have held dear since elementary school.
Are you looking to follow this sort of endeavor that Thomas the Tank Engine grew into? I can absolutely see this being done with positive outcomes, as puppets are set in the real world rather than in a cartoon world, and that blends wacky, animated, and semi-estranged behavior with reality.
Thank for doing this AMA, and thanks for your time!
Thanks for coming and asking me this. I've gotten fan email from parents of kids with autism who grew up watching Bear, thanking me and saying how they still watch it. I realized that there isn't a show like that (or Mr Rogers) on network TV. Sincere, genuine and not in your face. SO that is why I'm creating THE SHOW ME SHOW. I'll be the human host and will interact with the puppets Fynnias, his sister Taylor, and Nona the Yak (and many other puppets that will be in the show). Dealing with issues such as social cues, change in plans, and recognizing emotion in other and in yourself, will be key.
What are your current thoughts on the ABC Muppets show?
I really like the last half after it got tweeked
How were you able to see outside of the Bear suit? Does it function similar to Caroll Spinney's Big Bird suit where there is a monitor in the suit showing you what's being filmed, or are there hidden eye holes somewhere?
Yes. Its the Big Bird tech and I had a monitor attached to my chest. So the view you saw at home is what I saw inside.
What are some of your fondest memories on daytime TV as Bear?
Getting to go on other shows such as Hollywood Squares and talk shows such as Wayne Brady and Donny & Marie. But the best were the hospital visits I would do. Whenever we traveled I always asked to go to a childrens hospital, including Give Kids the World in Orlando Florida.
Hey Noel! Thanks for doing this AMA.
What was it like on the set of Eureka's Castle? Was Magellan a walk around like Bear and Big Bird? What's your favorite memory of working on that show?
It was my absolute favorite show growing up. I remember seeing the set on a Nickelodeon back stage tour at Universal Studios.
Magellan was my first character on a show; I'd done background characters and "right handing" on Sesame. He was a walk around and worked the same way inside (with a monitor and a mike). But legs were never built for him. Best memories was working at the Nick Studios in Orlando for the second half of season 2. And calling over at wrap to see if there was still time to ride Back to the Future. We'd often have to race across the park to be the last ones on.
Follow up: How do you feel now that they've replaced the Back To The Future ride with a Simpsons Ride? hahaha
I haven't been on the Simpsons ride but BTTF was SUCH a great ride. Too bad it wasn't brought back for the anniversary last year.
How did you get involved with John Oliver's show?
That is thanks to my friend, actress and puppeteer Stephanie D'Abruzzo. She texted me if I was free on Sunday (in May of 2014) cause they needed puppeteers for John's new show. Of course I texted YEEEEEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!
Hi, Noel!! My favorite part is when you start every episode sniffing around until you find the camera and then tell the audience that they smell nice! My little boy thinks it's the funniest thing in the world, too! Who came up with that? You, or the writers?
That was from the beginning from creator Mitchell Kriegman. It was always the intent the Bear would "sniff" and find the viewer. What I did at the audition was JAM the nose right into the camera and then pull it back; and that's what stuck ;-)
Is Bear your favorite of all the characters you've played?
Yes. I've been lucky to be so many other characters of other shows but Bear has been my favorite.
Hi Noel! Are there any cool stories or memorable fan interactions you've had during the time you played Bear?
It was always fun to have kids visit. In fact, for the final season we had so many requests hat we set aside Wed morning from 10:00am oil 11:00 for visits. We'd stop whatever we were doing and set up for the visits, with kids walking thru the set and meeting the characters (with the puppeteers hidden) and finally Bear in the living room on the swing. We'd run camera the whole time and give them a copy of the visit (on tape; remember tape? ;-)
Hey Noel! Love you work.
My first question would be, do you think there's anything in store for the future of Bear in the Big Blue House again?
Never say never. So you never know ;-)
Hi, Noel! I'm a big fan of your work and was sorry to hear illness prevented you from coming to a puppet showcase here in Austin, Texas recently. It was a great show. Anyhow, I was wondering if you have any specific or especially fond memories of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, or Jerry Nelson?
Hi! Yes I was disappointed I had to miss the show. But I will be back next month to co-teach Beyond the Sock IV. First, it was an honor to work with and learn from all three of these men. Jim was "the boss you wanted to please," you wanted to get that smile and approval from him. And Frank and Jerry were both gracious enough to contribute to my puppet making book 10 MINUTE PUPPETS (Jerry even did the intro; he and his wife came to our wedding ;-)
First off, just wanted to say that I am a parent of a child with autism that still loves Bear. Can't begin to tell you how much "Just Say Ow and it's Over" has helped during Dr. visits.
My question is regarding the Kickstarter. The project is to raise money for the first episode. What is the go forward plan to continue after the first episode is funded?
This first episode will be available to for download but then it's also a "pilot" to shop around to online services such as Netflix and Amazon that might be interested in producing it. Having it downloadable also allows the viewer a "choose your own adventure" style of interactiveness.
I remember Bear in the Big Blue House as a child! From what I can recall, the movements were very... bear-like, especially the nose. How did you control the nose while Bear was smelling things?
Forgive me if that's a stupid question, I know absolutely nothing about your art.
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