Ernie has been one of the stars of Sesame Street since its first episode in 1969. Ernie and his best friend Bert share the basement apartment at 123 Sesame Street. Together they form a comic duo that is one of the program's centerpieces, with Ernie acting the role of the naïve trouble-maker and Bert the world-weary foil.
Ernie is well known for his fondness for baths with his rubber duckie, and for trying to learn to play the saxophone although he wouldn't "put down the duckie." Ernie is also known for keeping Bert awake at night, for reasons such as wanting to play the drums, wanting to count something (like sheep), to observe something like a blackout, or even because he is waiting for his upstairs neighbor to drop his shoes.
Many Ernie and Bert sketches involve Ernie wanting to play a game with Bert, who would much rather do something else (like read). Ernie keeps annoying Bert with the game until Bert joins in—and usually, by the time Bert starts enjoying the game, Ernie is tired of playing the game and wants to do something else. Other sketches have involved them sharing some food by dividing it equally, only for one of them to have a bit more than the other, leading Ernie to make it even by eating the extra piece.
From season 33 until season 36, he and Big Bird starred in a daily segment called "Journey to Ernie". Starting in season 39, Ernie and Bert have appeared in animated form in the Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures segments.
Play with Me Sesame
Ernie was one of the hosts of Play with Me Sesame. One regular segment that he hosted was "Ernie Says", a variation of "Simon Says".
Ernie has appeared in both of the Sesame Street movies. In Follow That Bird, he and Bert searched for Big Bird by plane. Ernie piloted the plane, and eventually, after they found Big Bird, he flew the plane upside-down, singing "Upside Down World". However, after they lost Big Bird, Ernie blamed Bert.
In The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Ernie and Bert served as hosts. Whenever it looked like something unsettling happened, Ernie had to reassure Bert (and the audience) that nothing bad was going to happen.
In Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Ernie decided to buy Bert a cigar box to store his paper clips in. However, as he didn't have any money, he traded his own Rubber Duckie for it. At the same time, Bert decided to get Ernie a soap dish to put his Rubber Duckie in, so that it wouldn't keep falling into the tub, but had to trade his paper clips for it. However, Mr. Hooper could tell that neither of them really wanted to give up their prized possessions, so Mr. Hooper gave them their things back as presents.
Ernie and Bert introduced a montage of Sesame Street clips in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years. Ernie also narrated a Christmas pageant, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, in A Muppet Family Christmas. In that same special, Ernie and Bert had a conversation with Doc, making them the only Sesame Street characters (not counting Kermit the Frog) to have interacted with Doc.
In Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, he and Bert got a new video camera, and he talked Bert into using the camera to record footage of Sesame Street so that they could watch Sesame Street on television.
Ernie is a Live-Hand Muppet (unlike Bert, who is a Hand-Rod Muppet), meaning that while operating the head of the puppet with his right hand, the puppeteer inserts his left hand into a T-shaped sleeve, capped off with a glove that matches the fabric "skin" of the puppet, thus "becoming" the left arm of the puppet. A second puppeteer usually provides the right arm, although sometimes the right arm is simply stuffed and pinned to the puppet's chest. Other puppets of this type include Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear, Beaker and Bunsen Honeydew
Perspectives on Ernie
- "I was fascinated with Ernie and Bert. Everything about Ernie and Bert fit with their characters. Because Ernie was chubby and had horizontal stripes. He had a soft orangy colored skin and black hair. And Bert on the other hand was rigid, and he was upright, and he has vertical stripes on his shirt and light yellow skin with really dark eyebrows. And I just thought this was amazing, to watch them work. Ernie was kind of bouncy, and fun and playful. And Bert was rigid and planted. He was always planted and had dull hobbies."
- Ernie and Bert were the first Muppets to appear in the Sesame Street Pilot Episodes. In the very first, which was released on DVD as part of Old School Vol. 2, Ernie speaks with a voice closer to that of Rowlf the Dog in his first scenes, but has a voice that better resembles his first season voice in later scenes in the same pilot. Ernie's appearances in these early clips show him with more unkempt hair and a different color nose, making the early segments easy to identify when later replayed on the series.
- John Tartaglia performed Ernie in the second season of Play with Me Sesame, in some portions of that show's website, the 2003 Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala, and in Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic.
- In the finale of The Muppet Movie, Ernie was performed by Earl Kress, better known as a writer for animation. Kress recounted his experiences on the film on Muppet Central. A thread about the experience can be found here.
- Ernie's favorite number has changed over the years. In Episode 0001, Ernie says that his favorite number is 2 and his favorite letter is E. Shortly before then (on This Way to Sesame Street) Ernie claims that his favorite number has changed from 2 to 7; however, he may have said this to justify Bert showing the Song of Seven film. Several years later, in the song "Six", he revealed that his favorite number is 8,243,721. In the book My Name is Ernie, Ernie states his favorite number is five because there are five letters in his name.
- Jim Henson's last performance as Ernie was for the 1989 song "Don't Throw That Trash on the Ground".
- For a time after Jim Henson's passing, Ernie's new appearances were limited to brief (usually silent) cameos; as in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, Rock & Roll!, Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake, Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years, the song "Adventure," and the 1992-1998 intro. Steve Whitmire began performing Ernie in 1993.
- For Sesamstrasse's 30th anniversary in 2003, Ernie and Bert appeared on a regular episode, as well as on the show's 30th anniversary TV special. Since 2006, the two are also residents on the German co-production and appear regularly in newly produced local segments.
- For the 2005/2006 season, Sesamstraat moved into a new set. The scenery set was introduced in a television special, for which the American Sesame Street characters Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster and Elmo visited Holland. This occasion marked the first time that the American characters visited Sesamstraat.
- Ernie lists his favorite songs as "You've Got a Friend" and "Bug the One You're With" in the Facebook spoof posted by Sesame Workshop for the 40th season.