Puppet Up! - Uncensored, also known simply as Puppet Up! and originally titled Jim Henson's Puppet Improv, was started "to demonstrate what happens when the perilous and provocative forms of traditional comedic improvisation are mixed with the art of puppetry."
The sketches in the live show are not pre-planned, and the shows contain all true improv. The puppeteers in the Henson improv troupe trained with Groundlings performer Patrick Bristow for nine months to perfect their improv skills prior to their first show; and monthly performer training classes continue to this day. Just like the Groundlings, the Henson Improv sketches are performed based on audience suggestions.
The show is strongly advertised for "adults only" and as "uncensored." First introduced in 2006, Puppet Up! was the Henson Company's first project under the Henson Alternative banner, a brand of productions with more mature themes and content than those traditionally associated with Henson Company.
“ In terms of The Jim Henson Company, my dad first started with adult-minded comedies very early on. He also worked in an era where most of the airwaves were highly censored. But he was always a very naughty, irreverent performer and this basically captures that same level of naughtiness and irreverence, but in a contemporary setting. Having said all of that, I think it's very important that everybody always knows that this is for adults only. This is our opportunity to let our hair down and get crazy every now and then, even though generally we are very safe with the material we do. ”
- - Brian Henson 
The troupe performed monthly shows at the Avalon Hollywood until Stuffed and Unstrung began in 2010.
Brian Henson, producer of the show, recalled the genesis of the show in a 2006 interview stating, "we began doing puppet improv workshops to hone our comedy skills and realized that we were having so much fun that audiences might enjoy watching too." In the fall of 2005 a show was performed in the sound stage of the Jim Henson Studios for friends and invited industry guests. The two shows were so successful that the group was invited to Aspen for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (March 8-12, 2006) was the show's first public debut. The Jim Henson Puppet Improv performed two shows featuring the talent of Brian Henson, Bill Barretta, Julianne Buescher, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Drew Massey, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman and Victor Yerrid. Julianne Buescher designed/built/redressed a new cast of puppets.
In June 2006, Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv began performing under a new name, Puppet Up!. The troupe performed four shows over three nights at the world famous Improv in Hollywood.
In August 2006, Puppet Up! traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 30 shows. Two versions of the show were performed - the regular "adult only" version and, for the first (and only) time, a family-friendly "for kids" show.
Puppet Up! performed two shows in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 2006. These shows were filmed as part of HBO and AEG LIVEs "The Comedy Festival", taking place at Caesar's Palace. TBS produced an hour-long Puppet Up! - Uncensored television special from these shows, that aired five days later on TBS. TBS also ordered 30 web-exclusive episodes of Puppet Up! - Uncensored for their "Laugh Lab" video server on TBS.com consisting of clips from the troupe's various live performances and shows. The web series debuted on TBS.com on Wednesday, March 7, 2007.
In spring 2007, the troupe took the show to Australia, performing at the Big Laugh Comedy Festival in Sydney and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in Melbourne. The performances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival were recorded and presented as Puppet Up! - Uncensored: Live in Melbourne, Australia, a 76-minute film exclusively licensed by the Jim Henson Company to the Center for Puppetry Arts. The film debuted at the Center in April 2009.
Starting in August 2007, Puppet Up! - Uncensored began performing monthly shows at the Avalon in Hollywood.
The show grew and inspired into the stage show Stuffed and Unstrung, which plans to open in New York City in March 2010.
In July 21, 2016, Puppet Up! - Uncensored began performing monthly shows at Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
In September 19, 2019, Puppet Up! - Uncensored will be performed at Knott's Scary Farm for the event's 2019 Halloween season.
Starting in January 2020, Puppet Up! - Uncensored will transform two-act shows into a celebrity game show.
Each show typically features between 8 - 12 performers, along with host and director Patrick Bristow. Shows are often introduced by Mr. Guy and his dog Piddles, two original characters created for Puppet Up! (Piddles created and performed by Julianne Buescher), however occasionally this introduction is done by the show host. During the introduction it is explained that Puppet Up! is really two shows in one - a live improv puppet show seen on the screens behind the stage and the live chaos of the puppeteers beneath the puppets. The audience is told that since it is a live puppet show, they should forgive and ignore any stray heads or arms that may sneek into the frame during the improv. It is also explained that although the puppeteers are looking at monitors, it is so they can frame the puppets for the camera, not so they can get jokes from writers backstage.
The show is made up of various improv games and skits. The style of the games are varied - some featured all the performers, while others featured fewer. As each game is introduced the host calls upon the performers involved to "puppet up", to which the audience shouts out "Puppet Up!" The number and type of games played varied from show to show. However, some games have become more common over time, while others have faded from use. New games have been created throughout the run of the show. Some games, such as "Repeats", are based on traditional improv games, while others were uniquely created for the show and utilize the unique puppets or puppetry techniques.
While all games are designed to test the performer's improvisational skill, some also test other skills, such as singing or doing impressions. Puppet Up! features a number of musical games, which often feature the show's music director Willie Etra playing live backing music.
Most games require suggestions or topics from the audience. The host will call upon to the audience for suggestions that a game requires. Director Patrick Bristow is very diligent about not accepting suggestions that the troupe has used before. The host also controls the ending of each skit, calling "black out", which ends most games.
- See Puppet Up! puppets for listing of puppets used in the show.
Early on the improv show featured many puppets recycled from past Henson Company projects. As the show grew, new and original puppets joined the show. In 2006 many new Puppet Up! puppets were introduced to the show's cast. The original puppets were designed by Julianne Buescher and Drew Massey; and were built by Buescher, Massey, Patrick Johnson, and Sean Johnson with help and guidance from veteran Muppet designer/builder Jane Gootnick. New puppets continue to join the show's stock, as new characters, performers, and improv games are added to the show's repertoire.
Host and Director
- Grant Baciocco, Bill Barretta, Julianne Buescher, Tyler Bunch, Kevin Carlson, Leslie Carrara, Brian Clark, Marcus Clarke, Alice Dinnean-Vernon, Peggy Etra, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Melissa Roja, Geneviève Flati, Brian Henson, Sean Johnson, Patrick Johnson, Donna Kimball, Karen Maruyama, Drew Massey, Ted Michaels, Raymond Carr, Alison Mork, Michael Oosterom, Colleen Smith, Carla Rudy, Paul Rugg, Allan Trautman, Victor Yerrid
- ↑ PuppetUp.com
- ↑ "Puppet Up! Uncensored - Interview with Brian Henson", TBS.com. 2007
- ↑ Press Release: TBS Gets Ready to PUPPET UP!
- List of Puppet Up! shows
- List of Puppet Up! puppets
- Puppet Up! merchandise
- Puppet Up! guest appearances
- Stuffed and Unstrung
- Puppet Up! - Uncensored live stage show
- Puppet Up! - Uncensored television special on TBS
- Puppet Up! - Uncensored webseries on TBS.com
- Puppet Up! - Uncensored: Live in Melbourne, Australia film at the Center for Puppetry Arts