North Texas Daily

Talking heads, unseen hands: local puppeteers pursue atypical comedy

Talking heads, unseen hands: local puppeteers pursue atypical comedy

September 27
19:14 2017

At Mark Gale’s touch, the horse springs to life.

Its fiery orange mane and bulging foam eyes become vibrant as it starts to talk, throwing out jokes and annoying the humans nearby.

For Gale, a professional puppeteer and Denton resident, this is an average weeknight. Gale has been a part of puppetry for nearly his entire life, performing on shows like “Sesame Street” and “Between the Lions.”

“I was always fascinated with puppets and animatronic robots like the ones at Disney World,” Gale said. “Learning how to work them was the first thing I was interested in. Later on, I was more interested into developing characters, [the acting] and the writing.”

At 3 years old, Gale showed a special interest and potential in puppetry. Other kids his age sat down and watched the Muppets when “Sesame Street” came on. Gale, on the other hand, showed up with his own.

“My parents bought me a Cookie Monster puppet and when ‘Sesame Street’ would come on, I would work the puppets myself, and I started teaching myself that way,” Gale said.

By the time he was 17, he had joined the Puppeteers of America and was performing at festivals across the country. Gale was a talented kid among a crowd of adults, which eventually caught the eye of main “Muppets” performer Frank Oz. Oz introduced Gale to Muppets creator Jim Henson and the Muppets themselves.

“Early on, it was such a thrill being around the ‘Muppet’ puppets themselves,” Gale said. “They’re such an iconic presence, [and they’re] just sitting on a pole next to you — that was a big thrill.”

Gale soon enrolled at the University of Connecticut’s puppet arts program, which was the only puppetry degree offered in America.

“It was, at the time, the only college in the nation where you could get a degree in puppetry,” Gale said. “I certainly got a lot of raised eyebrows when I said I was going to puppet school.”

Puppeteer Mark Gale adjusts puppet Frank the Horse. Gale has worked with Walt Disney Co. and “Sesame Street” in the past. Rachel Walters

Upon graduating, Gale started his extensive work at Disney World in Orlando. He later worked on shows like “Kermit’s Swamp Years” and “Sesame Street.”

As extensive as his experience goes, Gale says the physical work of operating puppets never gets easier.

“It’s a physical beating,” Gale said. “You’re holding them up in the air under the hot studio lights, and it’s a [pain]. But it’s great when it’s done.”

Now, Gale and fellow puppeteer Ryan Dillon host their own podcast and puppet series called DillonGale, where they chat about pop culture, experiences in the puppet industry and swap personal life stories.

“If you take pop culture for the last 50 years, put it in a blender and wrap it in fake fur, you get a good sense of their humor and aesthetic,” said Patrick Holmes, another fellow puppeteer and longtime friend of Dillon and Gale.

The two started DillonGale a couple of years ago, and they gradually began to create characters that could be incorporated into small skits.

In total, they ended up with 10 original characters, ranging from a crotchety grandpa named Lewis to Gale’s main puppet, Frank the Horse.

“We were spending too much time on the podcast that we weren’t really doing what we wanted to do, which is to do a show,” Gale said. “So we put the podcast on the shelf and started developing skits and routines with the characters.”

These characters are often highlighted with some of their own segments in short clips on their YouTube channel. Every Thursday night, they also hold livestreams with fans, answering them with the same group that they call the “DillonGale Idiots.” “Muppets” puppeteer Frankie Cordero acts as the human moderator for the neurotic puppets on camera.

“Mark has described my role in the livestreams as maintaining a calm and grounded demeanor while these insane characters go on rants, sing and flip out around me,” Cordero said. “This can often be a challenge, as these are two of the funniest guys I know.”

The two recently filmed a pilot for a DillonGale series and are looking for investors to turn it into a television show. Gale said doing the work is difficult, but promoting it is half the battle.

“We’re creative idiots,” Gale said. “Now we’re forcing ourselves to be businessmen, which is difficult, but we’re working on that. That’s the hardest part — figuring how to sell yourself.”

Gale said they still have faith that the show will appeal to different audiences with its Adult Swim-esque humor.

“It’s a little weirder than the ‘Muppets,’” Gale said. “But we think people who like the ‘Muppets’ will love us, too. We’re just a little bit more out there.”

Gale said it can be a slow-going process, but the end goal will be worth it.

“I love the final product that we can look at and laugh at and think [is] great,” Gale said. “[I love] when it’s really funny and we say, ‘Wow, we really made something great.’”

Featured Image: Puppeteer Mark Gale (center) poses with puppets (from left to right) Frank the Horse, Country Smolders, Egghead, David and Dean Marvel. Gale is one half of “DillionGale,” a puppetry duo that creates comedic web content. Rachel Walters

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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