The 18 ‘Muppet Show’ Sketches That Disney+ Slapped A Content Warning On

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Image: Disney

When we heard that the entire 1976-81 “The Muppet Show” library was coming to Disney+, we predicted that Disney would censor several “Muppet Show” scenes because they were too racy for their squeaky clean streaming service. We were wrong! Disney+ kept most of the scenes intact, but instead put a “Content Warning” before the episodes with sketches that, umm, have not aged well.

Screenshot: Disney+

You can see the content warning above. “This content includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the warning says. “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather then remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” (It’s the same content warning they put on their streams of Dumbo, Peter Pan, and Jungle Book and other legacy cartoons that do have racist depictions.)

Note: Content Warning! We’ve listed all 18 “Muppet Show” episodes that have the warning below. In order to illustrate the nature of the depictions, we’ve also included screenshots of some of the offending skits. Most of these skits do not involve that episode’s human “Muppet Show” host, and the hosts themselves generally do not have patterns of problematic behavior.

Screenshot: Disney+

SEASON 1 (1976)

Episode 3, Jim Nabors

Muppets Wayne and Wanda try to perform a number called “Indian Love Song” which is interrupted by a stereotypically depicted Native American Muppet.

Episode 5, Joel Grey

A seemingly Turkish Muppet performs the Soupy Sales song “Pachalafaka” in a turban. There is also some cigarette smoking in Joel Grey’s “Wilkommen” number.

Image: Disney

SEASON 2 (1977)

Episode 7, Steve Martin

Before a dance routine, Gonzo homophobically rants at Kermit, “You don’t expect me to dance with a male, do you?”

Episode 18, Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers does a gypsy number rife with stereotypes about Roma people. There is also a cover of the song “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild Wild Women.”

Episode 23, Cleo Laine

Rowlf and two other dog Muppets perform the song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” which is chock full of ethnic jokes.

Screenshot: Disney+

SEASON 3 (1978)

Episode 4, James Coco

James Coco does a fortune teller sketch that dabbles in Persian jokes and accents. 

Episode 15, Spike Milligan 

In perhaps the most racist “Muppet Show” ever, Kermit plans that the show be an “international extravaganza,” which ends up being a 22-minute mishmash of crude cultural stereotypes.

Screenshot: Disney+

SEASON 4 (1979)

Episode 5, Kenny Rogers

The subplot of this episode is that Scooter’s uncle has sold the drilling rights to Kenny Rogers’ dressing room to Arab Muppets, who keep interrupting Kenny’s ability to get ready for his numbers. “Before we start drilling, where should we park the camels?” is the show’s opening joke.

Episode 4, Crystal Gayle

Several Oktoberfested-out German penguin Muppets sing Al Jolson’s “Swanee”, a  traditionally blackfaced minstrel number.   

Episode 9, Beverly Sills

As Kermit introduces the show, Statler and Waldorf mock him from the balcony: “What do you got tonight, a Chinese gorilla ballet? Oh, ho ho ho ho!” A very racist caricature Chinese gorilla Muppet then storms by yelling “Moo goo gai pan!”

Episode 19, Jonathan Winters

The backstage subplot of the show is that a gypsy Muppet has put a curse on the show so terrible things keep happening. At the end, we find Statler and Waldorf paid her to place the curse.

Episode 24, Alan Arkin

A crew of forest creature Muppets sings “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which is from the Disney film Song of the South, a film with such bigoted portrayals that they won’t even put it on Disney+ with a warning.

That said, the number features an Alan Arkin “Jekyll and Hyde” gag whose rabbit-attacking is really quite good physical humor.

Screenshot: Disney+

SEASON 5 (1980) 

Episode 4, James Coburn

The finale number with James Coburn, geisha Muppets, and hillbilly Muppets has some pretty cringe-y Japanese voice impersonations, and depictions of rural people as missing many teeth

Episode 7, Joan Baez

Joan Baez (of all people!) finishes her rendition of “The Night They Drove old Dixie Down” by looking for her copy of a book on nonviolence by Mahatma Gandhi. A baby Muppet is holding it and refuses to give it back. Baez grabs it back and then deadpans to the camera in a comical Indian accent, “That’s what happens when you take Gandhi from a baby.”  

Episode 14, Johnny Cash

The Confederate flag is displayed prominent;ly in several of Johnny’s numbers.

Episode 17, Debbie Harry

Blondie’s 1980 hit single “Call Me” was the theme to the film American Gigolo, a crime drama starring Richard Gere as male escort. Debbie Harry wrote the song from the Richard Gere character’s perspective. And then she did that number on the “Muppet Show,” with no lyrics or content censored. 

Episode 20, Wally Boag

Balloon sculpture artist Wally Boag ends the show with a rendition of “Pecos Bill,” a Roy Rogers song featuring the lyrics “He gave those redskins such a shakeup/That they jumped out of their makeup/That’s how the Painted Desert got it’s name.”

Episode 22, Marty Feldman

The last ever episode of “The Muppet Show,” which did not air in the US until May 1981, is an episode-long interpretation of “Arabian Nights” that is rife with Arab stereotypes. Also, Marty Feldman does Scheherazade in drag smoking a cigarette. 

As the Muppet Wiki points out, two “Muppet Show” episodes do not appear at all on Disney+. A Brooke Shields episode cannot appear over a music rights dispute over numerous Wizard of Oz songs, and a 1980 Chris Langham-hosted episode was scrubbed after Langham’s 2006 child pornography charges. Several other individual song numbers were also removed over music rights.

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Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

1 Comment

  1. Drew
    April 7, 2021 at 10:48 pm — Reply

    I think the biggest offense of the “ Pachalafaka” skit is the transphobic gag at the end when the woman, who had been flirting with the male singer, lowers her veil and it is revealed she was a mustachioed man all along.

    Nothing like a good old fashioned, “but she was a man all along,” trope to remind you that even the Muppets didn’t get it right.

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