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Will the real Swedish Chef please stand up?

Jerry Juhl squelches rumored inspiration of the Swedish Chef

By Phillip Chapman
July 3, 2001

Jerry Juhl, Muppet head writer since the early 1960's, wanted to squelch a rumor that has been spreading on the net and across the wire services for several weeks about the Swedish Chef's origins.

In an article released via Reuters, Lars Kuprik falsely claimed he was the inspiration for the Swedish Chef.

"Yes, it's me, the Swedish Chef,'' chuckles Lars Kuprik...

In 1969, a 16-year-old Kuprik packed his bags and set off for the United States to work at a Swedish restaurant in Hollywood..

The same year he got the chance to perform live on "Tempo Tempo,'' the forerunner of the popular U.S. morning TV show ''Good Morning America,'' chatting and entertaining while cooking traditional dishes from the Swedish smorgasbord such as gravad lax.

The show was hosted by Regis Philbin, who now comperes the high-stakes TV game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire,'' and he was supposed to coach a nervous Kuprik through the program.

But Kuprik said no one had arrived on stage when the spotlights and cameras were turned on and he stood alone in front of an expectant audience.

"They say: 'You're on live' and there I stand in my chef's hat, shaking with nervousness, clinging to a pastry bag with mayonnaise with the sweat pouring out of me. I'm blocked. I can't speak English or Swedish,'' he said.

"I called out for my friend Kurt from the Viking Horn but the only thing that came through my lips was a strange guttural sound of hu-do-do-bu-du-bu-do.''

The performance was a failure and Kuprik went home without a contract for a cooking show.

Little did he know that Jim Henson, the Muppet show's creator, would see a tape of the show and take inspiration from it for one of his most popular characters."

Jerry Juhl helps to set the record straight that Kuprik isn't the inspiration for the Chef no matter what the claims may be. "I wrote, rehearsed, rewrote, brainstormed, and giggled uncontrollably a thousand times with Jim Henson as we dealt with the Swedish Chef, and I never ONCE heard him mention an actual Swedish chef, especially one that claims to be Charleton Heston's golf buddy! I mean, that's a story Jim would have told!"

"I can't remember where the genesis of Swedish Chef was," comments Juhl. "I think it was an idea with Jon Stone around the "Sex and Violence" show, which I didn't work on. But I do remember that Jim spent a couple of weeks listening to Berlitz tapes while commuting to get his babble perfected. Then, much later, I actually WROTE the babble! Heck, I come from good Danish stock, which Jim and I decided made me an expert in Scandenavian linguistics."

One of the greatest charms about Jim Henson's characters are that we can all relate to some aspect of them. That's what makes them seem so real. However, as Jerry Juhl alluded, the Swedish Chef's inspiration was a culmination of Jim Henson and his creative team, not the result of Lars Kuprik.

The Swedish Chef had this to say about Mr. Kuprik, "Thet doode-a is un impuster throo und throo. Børk børk børk."

Special thanks to Jerry Juhl and Karen Falk for their contributions to the above article.

     
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