Puppet Up! – Uncensored Comes To Avalon: Win Tickets + Five Questions With Puppeteer Paul Rugg

Loved for its Muppets and lesser known for its blue comedy, the Henson Company has been performing a live, adult-themed improv puppet show to capacity crowds at festivals all over the globe for the last year. They bring the show home to the Avalon this Friday, in the first of what will become a monthly residence. Behold:

The Jim Henson Company’s renowned puppeteers demonstrate what happens when traditional comedic improvisation is mixed with the uninhibited anarchy of live puppet performance. Not your average night of improv and definitely not for children.

“’Puppet Up! – Uncensored’ is like a high-wire act. It combines the technical challenges of puppeteering with the quick-thinking needed for each sketch – along with the high stakes of performing in front of a live audience. It is quite an adrenaline rush and a lot of fun,“ says Brian Henson, co-CEO of The Jim Henson Company and producer of the show. “We have been thrilled with the excellent response the show has received around the world and we are excited to partner with Avalon Hollywood to bring ‘Puppet Up! – Uncensored’ to a local audience.” (Brian Henson, producer and co-CEO of The Jim Henson Company)

We speak today with Paul Rugg, a founding member of the ACME Comedy Group in Hollywood and a Puppet Up! – Uncensored performer whose non-puppet credits include Animaniacs and Pinky and The Brain. Find out how to win a pair of tickets to Friday’s performance at the end of the article.

Paul, we’re looking to derive a ratio: What’s the amount of time you have been performing Puppet Up! – Uncensored compared the total amount of time you have been involved with puppets in general? E.g., you’ve been working with puppets for 15 years and Puppet Up! – Uncensored for the last year of those 15…your ratio would be 1/15. Whattaya got?

I’ve been performing Puppet Up! for the last two years, and…my puppet experience is also two years. So, two. And two.

The ratio is a full is 100%!

You got it.

Moving on. In these performances, you guys are all improvising live while manipulating puppets. Meanwhile, a giant screen onstage shows the puppets but not the performers, much as they would be seen on something like the Muppet Show. Do you find that the audience pays more attention to the action on the screen, or the activities of the performers?


It’s kind of funny. At first everybody’s watching the screen intently, watching the show above. The eyes eventually wander down and then they realize they’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on. So they get to watch what we’re doing, how we interact…they get to gauge our reactions when a joke bombs.

They’re getting both sides of it.

Both sides.

You rehearse on the Henson lot. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen on the lot? Performance… puppet… piece of trash… something on fire…

(Pauses to think) I really can’t say. I mean I’ve seen lifeless & dead puppets…I guess I’m surrounded by such weirdness all day that it blends in. It’s a blend. I’m numbed by weirdness.

That’s the quote. Paul, we will now test your street skills. Let’s say you have to get from the Santa Monica Pier to the Henson lot at 5pm on a Friday. What time do you leave, and what’s your route?

I leave at 4 on the dot. Scratch that. I leave at 330. I go down the 10. I exit…National and loop back to Sepulveda. Go up Sepulveda to Sunset. Down Sunset to La Brea, take a right on La Brea and there you have it. There’s your route. The key is to avoid the 405. I wouldn’t recommend that.

Sage advice. Probably could not have said it better without charging you money and divulging a couple of alley shortcuts. Speaking of sage advice: any parting advice for would-be puppeteers?

Don’t be afraid, and practice holding your hand above your head for long periods of time. If you can master those two things…you’ve got it down!

Back row: Patrick Bristow, Allan Trautman, Brian Henson, Paul Rugg
Front row: Julianne Buescher, Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid

L-R: Drew Massey, Ted Michaels, Paul Rugg, Victor Yerrid, Julianne Buescher, Brian Henson, Allan Trautman, Tyler Bunch

After critically acclaimed standing-room-only performances in Aspen, Edinburgh, Sydney and Melbourne, “Puppet Up! – Uncensored” begins its monthly residency at the Avalon this Friday, August 17th. Update: Contest closed. Winner will be drawn at random, 4pm Thursday. Not feeling lucky? Purchase tickets here.