CT puppeteer has ties with Elmo, Coldplay and stars in 'Bear in the Big Blue House' on Disney+

He's on Sesame Street and has been traveling the world as part of a puppet-themed band called The Weirdos who perform on stage live with the rock band Coldplay.

Photo of Joseph Tucci

Stratford resident Tyler Bunch has been the voice and hands behind over a hundred characters from popular franchises like "Pokémon" and "Sesame Street" throughout his career.

Bunch said his "big break" came after he was hired to work on the children's show "Bear in the Big Blue House" in 1997. The show focused on a talking bear who had conversations with other characters and related to the emotional struggles they are experiencing. The puppeteer played Treelo (a lemur), Pop (a purple otter) and Doc Hogg (a pig who is also a doctor.)

"I have fond, fond memories of that show. It's where I kind of cut my teeth as far as being a regular season performer," Bunch said. "I learned a lot, especially during the first season of that show, I had to hit the ground running." 

With the show being streamed on Disney+ as of Oct. 19, Bunch said it is nice to see it connect with a new generation as well as "transport" older fans back to their childhoods. He said he is able to see the fan reaction "in real time" over social media, which he couldn't do back when the show was originally released on television 25 years ago. 

"Normally on a TV show, you are kind of doing it in a void and you just kind of have to trust the rating system and every once in a while someone has a big enough feeling about a show that they would write a fan letter or something like that. But nowadays, seeing that same beautiful energy that the show had really is wonderful. It really does speak with this amazing warmth and really connects with kids," Bunch said. 

Aside from "Bear in the Big Blue House," Bunch has puppeteered on other programs including the famous "Sesame Street." He has been a season regular for around 17 years and is most known for playing Elmo's dad, Louie. He used to be a utility player, which is an actor who performs characters outside of the main cast during an episode (like an informational expert, someone struggling with a problem or even talking vegetables). However, as the show became more streamlined to focus on a smaller group of characters, Bunch now focuses on assisting other actors with their puppetry — such as helping them move the hand of a character or helping them walk — as well as playing the role of Louie.

Louie was originally played by puppeteer Bill Barretta and was developed to be used by "Sesame Street" for programs that help support military families, but over time has evolved into a main character on the show. Bunch said over the past few years he has noticed more and more parents turning to Louie for help dealing with new problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I have had a lot of parents express a lot of gratitude for the sort of emotional security and blueprints that Louie has given them over the past couple of years, so that's been very nice," Bunch said. 

Recently, Bunch has been traveling the world as part of a puppet-themed band called The Weirdos who perform on stage live with the rock band Coldplay as part of an international tour. In the band, Bunch plays a guitar-playing monkey, named Sparkman, who only speaks in Opera, puppeteer Brian Henson recommended Bunch for the role to the Coldplay singer-songwriter Chris Martin.

The Weirdos featuring Chris Martin of Coldplay during an interview on Friday, June 10, 2022.

The Weirdos featuring Chris Martin of Coldplay during an interview on Friday, June 10, 2022.

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

"When Chris Martin started thinking about representing some of his music on stage with puppets, he thought it would be fun if when they needed to speak, for instance when we were on 'Jimmy Fallon Show,' that each of the characters had unique aspects," Bunch said. "Since the end of the summer, I've been kind of involved with this silly thing, hiding behind speakers on stage in front of 90,000 people in France. having a guitar-playing monkey over my head." 

Outside of the world of puppets, Bunch has been a voice actor for several animes, including the English version of "Pokémon." He has given voice to Lysandre, who is one of the show's main antagonists, as well as Pokémon like Incineroar (a firey cat) and Hawlucha (a fighting bird). To create the sounds of the Pokémon in the English dubbed version of the anime, Bunch said the actors will make sounds that are representative of the syllables of the creature's name, however, those syllables can be rearranged.

"I can honestly say that it's my Shakespearean training that comes to the floor when these characters need to make all of this emotional expression happen with just a couple of syllables and grunts and moans and battle cries. Imagining the sentence that the character is supposed to be saying in these syllabic formations is easier when you have had to tackle [Shakespeare's works]," Bunch said.

Bunch said he is also working on developing a new project called "The Little Explorers," alongside the Museum at Prairiefire in Kansas, which is about teaching children earth stewardship and respecting nature. He said this new project has helped his life come "full circle" from when he was a child wanting to help animals and nature.

The actor said he originally wanted to become a zoologist, however, while he was spending time with his father — who taught collegiate-level theater courses — he developed a passion for theater. When he was around 15 he decided to pursue a performing arts career. After finishing college with a degree in theater, he moved to New York in 1993 to pursue his theater career. 

"When my parents were divorced and I wound up flailing in a new town for my high school years, the only place that felt like home was theater class. I slowly began to realize that not only was it less struggle than a lot of the science courses that I was having to take to pursue what I thought was my passion. My gift, my participation was more appreciated and I noticed that I had a better handle on everything you needed to do to be a successful performing artist than a lot of my peers, it became the new passion." Bunch said. 

Actor Tyler Bunch with some of the characters he's voiced.

Actor Tyler Bunch with some of the characters he's voiced.

Tyler Bunch

Bunch, who was born in Oklahoma and has previously lived in New York City, said he moved to Stratford to be part of an effort to resurrect the Shakespearean Theater which burned down. He has found that living in the quiet Nutmeg State instead of the big city has given him a "necessary appreciation" for living life rather than constantly grinding to keep his career going. His home in Connecticut is equipped with a recording studio, allowing him to do some of his roles from home.

"Being able to take a break from the grind, where people can live in their own space and have gardens and take lovely walks has helped my peace of mind, which certainly helps my art," Bunch said. 

And he's not the only puppet legacy in Connecticut. Muppets creator Jim Henson also called the state home, and UConn is home to a robust and well-regarded puppetry program.

Despite the fact that many of his characters are part of famous shows, he has been able to live with some level of anonymity since he said most people only recognize his voices.

"I was at a party for a friend a while back, when the adult of the household found out I voiced Incineroar from Pokémon he asked me to go down to the basement and shout in Incineroar's voice to his teenage kids who were playing video games at the time and the looks on their faces was pretty hilarious," Bunch said.