It’s not easy being blue but Brisbane puppeteer Brett Hansen makes a go of it
Politicians will talk up, or talk down, the economy, depending on what suits them. But they (and I) hardly need to tell you that plenty of people are doing it tough at the moment and jobs are hard to come by. Just ask Brett Hansen who is a puppeteer. The 34- year-old from The Gap has worked a myriad of occupations, from janitor and dish-washer to market-researcher and admin assistant.
But for the past eighteen months, there’s been nothing. So Brett has created a job by taking matters into this own hands – literally. Turning to his childhood love of the Muppets, he’s designed and created a fluffy blue monster called Troggg– “the middle g is silent” – and launched himself on the Brisbane entertainment scene!
Troggg is unashamedly Muppet-like with his squishy round red nose, ping-pong-ball eyes and black bushy mono-brow blending seamlessly into a bright orange mop of hair. Protruding incisors confirm monster status! “I had him built professionally by an ex-Jim Henson Muppet builder,” Brett tells me. “I wanted one where I could operate his hand. You can’t buy those sorts of puppets so I figured I might as well go all out and have one of my own designed that I could use as the star of all my shows.”
Entertaining is clearly in Brett’s blood. When his hands are not inside puppets, he plays keyboards in a couple of bands (Headkase, Sound Distiller) and with theatre group, ImproMafia. But it’s puppetry that Brett has studied all his life. “[As a child] I would be glued to the screen whenever the Muppets were on. I would sit there with puppets on my hands and mimic the lip-synch and the movements and the way they walk.
“They were always doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things to make them seem real, right down to Jim Henson in a cage under water puppeteering Kermit when he’s singing Rainbow Connection. Filming them outdoors – no one had ever done that before until Henson.” Brett’s become known around Brisbane for his love of puppets: “I’ve been doing a bit of consultancy, which was my official title in Avenue-Q (the musical) last year, but I’ve been working with some QUT students who are doing a web series about an angry rooster so I’ve been helping them with the movement of the puppets.”
And that technique isn’t as easy as you might think. Brett explains: “Eye focus is a big thing but lip-synch is the trick. Also the head moving forward when you emphasise a word. And making sure the puppet remains alive at all times. A lot of people flop the puppet to the side if it’s not talking but just keep it up and nodding and alert and looking around.”
Troggg’s first big break came last month when he was invited to co-host The Late Nite Show on 31 Digital. I was in the 31 studio that night. It felt truly special. Like watching Kermit’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I looked at Brett operating Troggg and couldn’t help but wonder where all this might lead.
Brett enjoyed it too, as did Troggg: “I think he felt at home on television, under the lights with his crazy blue fur.” Of course there’s not much call for puppets on Brisbane television, so Brett is casting a wide net: “I’ve been doing a few kids’ puppet shows, Troggg’s even got an MC gig at a film festival!” He is available for MC gigs at corporate functions, wedding receptions, trivia nights and comedy nights.
Given the enormous success of the adult-concept/themed Avenue Q, perhaps it’s the Muppets’ core fans – the children of the seventies and eighties – that Brett needs to target. After all, look at the way Peter Combe has reinvented himself. These days, Combe still performs his 1980s toddler hits Toffee Apple and Newspaper Mama, but at nightclubs! The audience is the same, just 25 years older.
Brett says he’s open to the idea: “I really enjoyed Avenue-Q. I guess people were reminded of the Muppets and they could relate to the [more adult] subject matter as well. So I can see an adult puppet series happening, either a theatre production that I do with Troggg or a TV series or a film would be nice.” Best of luck to you, Brett, I’m expecting big things from you and Troggg!