Mike Judge on Beavis and Butt-Head | Interview
Beavis and Butt-Head return.
Two dudes in Metallica and AC/DC T-shirts mock episodes of Jersey Shore and a music video with barely clad female “construction workers”—cue the salacious sniggering. Yes, after a 14-year hiatus, Beavis and Butt-Head return. In the interim, the mind and voice behind them, Mike Judge, has spearheaded a hit animated series (King of the Hill) and live-action films that have amassed cult followings (Office Space, Idiocracy, Extract). Judge, 49, who lives in L.A. and Austin, Texas, spoke while driving to the studio in Burbank, California, where he’s working on his new MTV series, Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head.
You’ve often said Beavis and Butt-Head is the thing you’re most proud of. Why is that?
Other than some of the episodes that were a train wreck when we were starting up, it’s the funniest thing I’ve done. Beavis and Butt-Head—if I was sentenced to labor and had to work on something forever, it would be that.
In the first series, Beavis and Butt-Head offered commentary on MTV music videos; now it’s also MTV reality shows like 16 and Pregnant. Do you see those shows as a harbinger of the end of times?
There’s always TV shows that people think is the harbinger of the end of times. You can go back 40 years and look at that show Queen for a Day. When I was growing up, it always seemed like TV had hit rock bottom. There’s just always good shows and bad shows, and the bad shows make you think the world is coming to an end.
Has MTV given you guff for taking swipes at the network that’s signing your checks?
MTV has always been really good about making fun of itself. Also, Beavis and Butt-Head got them some great ratings for a long time. We did run into some problems with clearance stuff with some of the producers of those [reality] shows. People involved with those shows weren’t happy about it.
In the ’90s, critics said Beavis and Butt-Head influenced kids to be violent and stupid, but you’ve said, “It’s a show about stupid people, it’s not a stupid show.” Why do you think that criticism had such a hold at that time?
It was just a very trendy thing at the time, blaming TV for everything. It seems to go in cycles. In the late ’50s, they were blaming comic books for juvenile delinquency. Beavis and Butt-Head was on cable TV. I mean, you have to get it installed, you have to meet the cable guy between 9 and 5, and then to blame MTV—to me it’s like leaving a porno magazine on your coffee table and then complaining to the publisher that your kid saw porno. It’s kind of absurd to me that anyone would blame TV, and yet it was all the way up into the Presidential debates and Senate floor.
I read that your friends compare you to Hank Hill. Is he the character you see yourself in?
I’d say that one or the main guy in Office Space. Beavis and Butt-Head are in there, too.
Talking to you now—you have Hank’s stop-and-start rhythm.
Oh, really? [Laughs] My voice sounds closest to Butt-Head, I guess. I never thought about that, but yeah, the rhythm is probably closest to Hank.
You’re fascinated with stupid people.
Where does that come from?
Um, maybe growing up in Albuquerque. [Laughs] It’s everywhere, though. I just remember being in junior high and there were people who literally could not read. And the grading system, instead of going from D to F, they had a thing that was called E, which was minimum passing. I think they created that so that these scary gang members, they could shuffle ’em on through till they could drop out of high school. Getting inside of the mind of somebody stupid can be a lot harder to do.
But how do you ride the line between risking condescension toward your characters—in Idiocracy, uneducated people having lots of kids—and having real affection for them, which you do with someone like Boomhauer?
I do tend to like dumb-dumbs, and I feel like a dumb-ass myself a lot of the time. I tend to not like to hang around a bunch of intellectuals that much.
Is that why you live in Texas?
[Laughs] Oh, there’s plenty of them there, you just gotta run in the right circles.… On King of the Hill, it was always very obvious to me when, okay, you’re now making fun of somebody who didn’t go to college or you’re making fun of this as opposed to laughing at it as somebody who’s in that world, and I think that’s where you draw the line.
The new series has your name in the title. How’d you negotiate that?
My lawyer just said, “Do you want me to ask them to call it Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head?” And I thought that sounds a little too egotistical. But when this started out, it was just me in my house animating these shorts. And when I sold it to them, they changed it to MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head, and I was kind of thinking, Really? You gotta really rub it in like that? If it’s a choice, I’m gonna take Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head.
Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head premieres October 27 at 9pm on MTV.