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Emmy-Award winning puppeteer David Bizzaro goes on the road with Mochi

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we want to tell you about two friends who love food.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WAFFLES AND MOCHI")

MICHELLE ZAMORA: (As Waffles) Oh, Mochi, look at all this fresh food.

DAVID BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

ZAMORA: (As Waffles) All this food is made of food.

BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: That's from "Waffles And Mochi." It's a Netflix show executive produced by famous healthy eating advocate, the former first lady, Michelle Obama, to encourage kids to learn more about their food and to eat better. In the first season of the show, Waffles and Mochi learn a lot about food and how to prepare it in order to chase their dreams of becoming chefs. And now in the new series "Waffles And Mochi's Restaurant," the duo travel the country, talking with renowned chefs like Bryan Ford and Marcus Samuelsson.

My next guest plays the adorable sidekick Mochi. David Bizzaro is an Emmy Award-winning puppeteer. He's worked for The Muppets, "Sesame Street" and The Jim Henson Company. And he's with us now to tell us more about his journey and about Mochi. David Bizzaro, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

BIZZARO: Thank you so much for having me. This is really just a delight.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for that. So what drew you to puppeteering originally? The puppeteer is often hidden, I mean, depending on kind of what, you know, part of the business that you're in or what kind of show that you do. So what made you originally want to learn about it, and how did you learn about it?

BIZZARO: I started as an actor when I was about 10 years old. And up until I was about 18, I was doing commercials and community theater, and I struggled as an actor in that realm and as a person of color in that realm. And so I drew back and went into production. And then I - when I was in my early 20s, I reached out to a client and said, hey, you should have commercials like this. And I sent a video that featured a puppet in a commercial and they wrote back, oh, my God, this is amazing. Can you do this? And I lied and said, absolutely, I can. I can do exactly that.

So I came up with an idea, and within a week, I was building and then performing and writing for puppets for this commercial. And seeing my characters come to life in this way really inspired me, and I had to know more. And that led me to moving to New York with my now wife and really pursuing the puppeteers out there, which is what landed me working at The Jim Henson Company.

MARTIN: You know, I can imagine that different kinds of puppets have different kinds of challenges. I mean, I'm thinking somebody, like, huge - and I hope I'm not ruining this for anybody who's listening. So let's just be super careful about how we describe this. But if you're, like, a big character, like a big bird, I feel like that's one challenge. And this is at the other, other end, you know, of the spectrum. Mochi is tiny.

BIZZARO: Yes.

MARTIN: He doesn't have a lot of words. Like, how do you go about expressing who he is?

BIZZARO: So this puppet - this particular puppet really spoke to me because - I made a short film called "The Pits," and it featured an avocado half searching for its other half, and it was a little vegetable on a stick. And it was just like...

MARTIN: I'm sorry for laughing.

BIZZARO: Oh, it's OK. It's OK.

MARTIN: (Inaudible) Oh, yeah, sure. Of course.

BIZZARO: Of course. It's a really sweet story. And the goal of that film was to make something that was relatable, not just to the people that I know or to the kids that I know in the U.S., but also to the rest of the world. And so there was, you know, slapstick comedy in it, and a lot of it relied on physical comedy.

So when I came to the character, I started thinking about that. I started thinking, OK, this guy's, you know - he's got limited speech. He speaks in his own language, and he doesn't have a lot to work with. He doesn't even have arm - he's just a little ball. So what can I do to make him engaging and interesting? And part of that is in the subtext of his sounds, and the other part is thinking about the physicality of him. He's squishy. He can slide. He can scoot. He can bounce. What can I do that is similar to what we've seen before in our Buster Keaton or our Charlie Chaplin that is just physical communication of comedy and emotion and story to this puppet?

And so thinking of that - and of course, speaking with one of my mentors, Peter Linz, I went to him first crying - I was like, he's just a ball. What do I do? And he was like, OK, let's sit down and figure it out. And we went through that thinking like, OK, what can he do physically?

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I was just trying to figure out how I can visit with Mochi for a second.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm trying to figure out - what can - can Mochi...

BIZZARO: He might be around here. Let me see if I can find him. Hang on.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BIZZARO: Mochi, are you in here? Mochi?

(As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

Oh, yeah, he's right over here. He's - let me grab him. Mochi, come here. Come here.

(As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Mochi, are you having a good second season so far?

BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: And is Waffles being nice to you?

BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: No. Oh, OK. Is there anything that you would particularly like people to know about the restaurant?

BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: (Laughter) Well, thank you. Thank you. Let me talk to David again. OK, bye. Nice talking to you.

BIZZARO: (As Mochi, non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Bye.

BIZZARO: Get out of here. Rascal. He's trying to get into my M&Ms, that guy.

MARTIN: I know, right? And that's not the whole - that is, like, the whole - not the point of the show.

BIZZARO: Exactly.

MARTIN: Stay out of the M&Ms.

BIZZARO: It's - I told him it's my interview.

MARTIN: Exactly.

BIZZARO: But he kept trying to butt in. Thank you for letting him blow off some steam.

MARTIN: Right, exactly. Well, David, before we let you go, we would also love to know if you have some advice for people who are - like you, who have a love for this art form but perhaps don't always know the way in.

BIZZARO: For puppeteers coming up - and this is - I think this is good for just anyone who dreams to be a performer. If you see something that you feel really, like, in your gut, you feel inspired by it, take the time to believe in yourself and to do the work. And eventually, you will be that thing that you want to be. And that's exactly what I had to do.

You know, being a Latinx person but also, you know, my mother immigrated here from El Salvador. And having that upcoming in my life really taught me that I had to create my own opportunities. And often, as a puppeteer, because we aren't seen in front of the camera, we have to create our own opportunities. And so that's something that I feel that would be really important for young puppeteers to focus on, is just to believe in yourself 'cause you can do it. And if you keep working hard at it, you will eventually see yourself as what you want to be.

MARTIN: David Bizzaro is an Emmy Award-winning puppeteer. He currently stars in "Waffles And Mochi's Restaurant." David Bizzaro, thanks so much for talking with us. Thanks for bringing Mochi by. And good luck, and keep us posted.

BIZZARO: Thank you. Have a wonderful day.

(SOUNDBITE OF DCS LEFTY AND OLDA'S "THE FINER THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.