There’s a new kid on the block.
“Sesame Street” recently introduced TJ, its first Filipino muppet, on a segment with Kal Penn. TJ and his friend Ji-Young, a Korean American muppet who debuted in 2021, talk to the actor about the word of the day: confidence.
Confidence, Penn explained, is “when you believe in yourself and your abilities, or in the abilities of others.” TJ marvels at Grover’s confidence as he attempts to jump over the Sesame Street sign while riding a unicycle and balancing a tall stack of books. And when Penn shares with TJ and Ji-Young that he leans on others when he doesn’t feel confident, TJ opens up about his own experiences.
“I’m learning Tagalog. It’s a language my Filipino family speaks and I have confidence because I can always ask my lola for help when I don’t know a word,” TJ says.
The character of TJ is voiced by puppeteer and performer Yinan Shentu and created in part by Bobby Pontillas, a Filipino American animator. Pontillas wrote on Instagram that he collaborated with Louis Mitchell, Sesame Workshop’s creative director of character design, on the character. TJ’s appearance, Pontillas said, was based on two of his friends’ children.
Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, also celebrated TJ’s arrival on Sesame Street.
“I’m so proud to help bring some Filipino representation to the neighborhood, and just in time for API Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora,” she wrote on Instagram. “His first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype.”
TJ is the latest addition to a diverse cast of new characters on “Sesame Street.” In addition to Ji-Young, the program’s first Asian American muppet, the show introduced two Black muppets in 2021: Wes and his father Elijah.
Last year, Ameera, a muppet character who uses a wheelchair, made her debut on “Ahlan Simsim,” the version of “Sesame Street” that airs in the Middle East and North Africa.