Rizzo the Rat: Radical Rodent

I never thought I’d ever be so anxious to see a rat again as I do Rizzo. He and I have had a very strange relationship. There are times where I’ve found him to be as annoying as Piggy, but if he’s not there, it feels like there is something very much missing. I generally find characters that fulfil Rizzo’s archetype to be intolerable, which makes my connection to him even stronger because I’ve been able to overcome all that in order to observe our similarities.

To me, Rizzo is the Muppet equivalent of that guy we all know who suffers from small-man syndrome in a very big world. Always upfront with everyone they come across, very snarky, very loud for someone their size, but at the end of the day, when confronted, they would much rather avoid the conflict. What I enjoy about Rizzo is that he more often than not breaks the mould with his open heart and loyalty to those who care about him. I’m quite happy to overlook his scheming and rather…ahem…ratty exploits with his family and other Muppets because I know he’ll always make the right choice in the end.

Tonight, I’m going to keep things fairly simple and share with you some of my favourite rodent-centric moments. I do apologise for not keeping up my usual posting rate this past week (that’s what happens when your birthday comes around!), so hopefully this will keep you entertained for the time being.

This is one of the only redeeming moments of Muppets from Space for me. The delivery of his lines along the timing of Rizzo being pummelled in the face with the boxing glove cracks me up every single time. I can relate to this kind of scenario. You go into something, believing that you’re too intelligent to fall for any tricks, only to discover that not only are you ill-prepared, but you’re going to get a decent ass-whooping for being so. Rizzo’s paranoia that second time around is 100% accurate. Doesn’t mean it stops him from making the same mistake!

It’s less than two minutes long, but this clip demonstrates everything I love about Rizzo. He clearly dragged Rowlf out there as part of a scheme to make a video that will upstage Tyson (let’s face it, Rowlf can talk and he is far more adorable), but gets distracted by food because…well…..pizza. Rizzo ends up completely missing the moment he had set-up to film, but that doesn’t matter because his friend just hurt himself. He immediately forgets everything else and runs to Rowlf’s aid. Even if he is a bit sketchy, you can’t fault the rat as a friend.

As a side note, I love how this clip was shot and I really wish the Muppets would do more of it. Not only is it cheap, it’s very inclusive and personal too. 

Is it bad that I wish Steve Whitmire had shot this at 2 o’clock in the morning while drunk off his ass? It just seems like something an intoxicated puppeteer would do.

This isn’t the full clip, but it’s still worth showing here. I really don’t have much to say about it other than I loved hearing the story from James Bobin about Steve sending it to him in mock protest. Rizzo really had taken a backseat during that time-period, so it was a relief to see him get some attention in the 2015 show. The clip itself is amusing and adds a lot of meta-humour to Muppet-lore with Rizzo pointing out that his character has been ignored.

Rizzo-bashing is best bashing.

I love this moment as much as the next Muppet fan, but I’m mostly adding this to the list as to not get a heap of flack for ignoring it. You can bet that when I watch Muppet Christmas Carol in December, I’ll be quoting it every 5 seconds until someone gets me to shut up.

I added this song to a previous list and it certainly deserves to be added to another. One talent that Rizzo shares with my beloved Wembley Fraggle is his fantastic scatting abilities and it’s a shame Steve didn’t get another chance like this to show it off (nor with any of his other characters). The scene is just….fun. ‘Rat Scat’ just adds to the playfulness of the happenings on screen. Who cares if it’s just there to show off some creative puppetry? It’s world-building off-set to the rhythmic ramblings of a radical rodent.


Gah! I swear there was a clip of this on YouTube not too long ago, but I can’t find it!

If you haven’t seen this episode of The Muppet Show, Rizzo and the other rats decide to protest against doing a Pied Piper-themed skit with Jean-Pierre Rampal. If I remember correctly, it’s the children of the village that end up being musically exorcised from the village instead. This was obviously very early in Rizzo’s character development and he is just as much of a kid as Steve was.

(I swear if I ever find a clip of it, I will update this article ASAP!)

Crikey, how early in the 90’s was this? Kermit and Steve still had a lot of bonding to do!

There were better examples I could have used, but this will do because it explains my point better than I could write it out. Gonzo and Rizzo are only second to Kermit and Fozzie in terms of Muppet friendships for me. It was such a natural progression for these two characters to cover for the Frog while he was recovering from the loss of his performer. The Steve/Dave dynamic had already been tested and proven with Wembley and Boober, so of course, the Weirdo and the Rodent were going to work out just fine.

Just watch as these two effortlessly bounce off each other in this clip. It’s exactly what you want when representing a real friendship. You’re slightly irritated with the other person, but you put up with them anyway because you have come to the conclusion that they are worth the effort. Rizzo and Gonzo get each other in ways that outsiders clearly don’t understand. Rizzo is constantly baffled by Gonzo’s strange exploits and may mock them, but he’ll never completely dismiss them, because it’s what he loves about his best friend. Plus, it makes life colourful for a guy that grew up in the grungy, dirty sewers.

Sure, Rizzo also has a strong bond with Pepe, but it’s Gonzo who gets Rizzo on a personal level. Personally, I think Gonzo sees Rizzo as someone he can call his own. Like I said at the beginning of this post, the rat is a small guy in a big world. Gonzo is the only Whatever he knows, so he understands how it feels to be isolated from the people around you. By being friends, they compliment each other and make the other feel less estranged.

It’s actually a sweet thought to consider.

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Whoever has been chosen to take over Rizzo as of 2017 had better tread carefully because one slip-up could mean the end of our beloved rat as we know it. I may no longer feel anger at the current Muppet Performer situation, but I would be lying if I said that I am okay with someone picking Rizzo up. It’s going to be extremely painful so see him return, even more so than Kermit. If he has the wrong voice, if his body language isn’t as fluid, even if he loses the slightest bit of sarcasm, Rizzo the Rat will cease to exist.

He’s not like Piggy who was created from a joke, nor is he like Fozzie, who’s conception was based on the need to give Kermit a sidekick. His origins came straight from his creator. Steve wasn’t the user of a source for the character, he was the source and remains to this day. Rizzo’s backstory, wants and needs, dreams and aspirations, remain with him. Can a new performer pick all of that up and use it properly? Only time will tell.

You can re-tell a joke, but you can’t re-tell Steve. Simple as that.

Muppet Articles

Marni Hill View All →

Muppet Enthusiast, Film Lover, Book Adorer. No one original, but (hopefully) providing brand new perspectives for the world to process. Currently a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate at Deakin University.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. It’s funny…a year ago I didn’t particularly care about Rizzo one way or the other, and now I’m dreading the day that he’ll be recast, if not for my sake or for Rizzo’s sake, then for Steve’s sake because (as you correctly point out) Rizzo is 100% Steve’s character.

    Part of me wishes that Rizzo not be recast at all, but with him being the mascot of that Disney World pizza place, that doesn’t seem very likely. I was doing some research today and realized that the PizzeRizzo thing actually opened in November of last year, i.e., after Steve’s unwarranted dismissal.

    In other words, they kick him out and then immediately turn around and capitalize on a character he created. I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but no wonder Steve’s still upset.


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