December 1926, 1996
By Neil Gladstone
Mike Judge remembers his years in junior high all too well. He was the kind of kid who was tormented by playground bullies and losers. Perhaps the best revenge is not only making fun of these types of losers in Beavis and Butt-head, but also making a killing for himself in the process. After years of dreaming about breaking into film, he's finally made his first feature-length, Beavis and Butt-head Do America. Some day the 34-year-old cartoonist would like to direct live action, but for now he's happy to work on the Beavis and Butt-head TV show and a new half-hour animated comedy series, King of the Hill for FOX television beginning in mid-January. In person, he's low-key and almost groggy, but more than happy to momentarily transform into Beavis and Butt-head for a laugh.
For a while there was a lot of talk about filming a live-action version of Beavis and Butt-head. When was the decision made to do a feature-length cartoon?
There was an article about the live-action version of Beavis and Butt-head in the Los Angeles Times and a couple days later a bunch of studios called to inquire. I don't even think a lot of them had seen the show, but they were thinking that there had been Wayne and Garth and Bill and Ted and so they thought, "Oh, we'll just do another one of those."
After some negotiations, I decided I didn't want to start writing a screenplay if it was going to be live action. I love live action movies and someday I'd like to make one, but I just didn't see how it would work.
How did you come up with the original concept for Beavis and Butt-head?
I was trying to draw a guy I went to high school with from memory. I ended up drawing Butt-head's profile. It didn't look like the guy, but it started to look like something else and I just went with it. As for the voice, I had braces in high school and it makes you kind of buck-toothed [he pulls up his lips to demonstrate]. I was a pretty funny-looking kid... still am. When I was doing the voice, I kept in mind the way you talk when you're wearing braces. The wires usually scrape the side of your cheeks [he mumbles in Butt-head's voice] "Uh, Beavis, that was cooool." Beavis was actually an attempt to draw the same guy.
Was any of the personality from your high school friend?
No, that guy was a straight-A student.
Why did you study physics in school?
My family, especially my mom, thought that art and music are OK to fool around with, but science is the way to go. I've always been good with math, just naturally. I didn't have a burning desire to be a physicist. I realized that I would have my tuition and part of my rent paid if I was enrolled in school. Believe it or not, physics and math were actually the easiest thing to get through school with. I got B's.
What were your concerns about adapting this from a short-form cartoon to full-length feature?
With writing for Beavis and Butt-head, you have to keep in mind that they're very one-note. You have to write a story that happens around them. The thing I always compare them to is Peter Sellers' Clouseau. Clouseau was never aware of what was going on and always a complete idiot stumbling throughout the Pink Panther movies.
Was there anything you had to do to keep it to a PG-13 rating?
We were pretty close to a PG-13 rating at first, but we had to take a few silly little things out. The Character Tom Anderson originally said "whacking off" five times and we had to take out three of them.
How do you come up with the various terms like "bunghole" and "dillweed" to take the place of swears?
I guess bunghole wasn't really commonly-used as an insult until this show went on the air. Once every couple of months someone sends me a postcard or T-shirt from Bunghole Liquors up in Boston.
Right up to the beginning production of the show I was still playing music for a living. This guitar player I was playing with was always calling me bunghole. He's actually the guy who writes a lot of VanDriesen's (the hippie teacher's) songs. People used to say dickweed at my junior high, but we couldn't say it on the air so we substituted dillweed. Some of them we just made up, some of them are real.
What kind of mindset do you get into to play Beavis and Butt-head?
I think about people I went to junior high with. There was a time when my friends and I dug a hole in a vacant lot and put boards over it to make a secret underground clubhouse. This guy Fritz came up and said, "You guys have that clubhouse back on that vacant lot on Madison." I said "Yeah." He goes, "We're gonna b-break it. Huh-huh." Sure enough I go out there the next day and it's completely trashed. The next time I see him he says, "We b-broke your clubhouse."
Were there any scenarios you threw away to get to this one?
Yeah there was a Clockwork Butt-head idea floating around. I'd also like to see Beavis get his appendix taken out at some point.
Do you mind that MTV pushed the show's airtime back after some negative response from the public?
Going late was OK with me. I always thought it was going to go on late. As for the show influencing kids negatively, I see cable as something you have to order and pay for every month. It's like buying Penthouse, leaving it on your coffee table and complaining to the publisher because your kids saw naked pictures.
How do you feel about being known around the world for superlative stupidity?
I try not to think about it too much. What's nice is that Beavis and Butt-head are the famous ones. I never get recognized. I have a photo in my office that a National Geographic photographer took at this remote Indonesian Island with grass huts and no plumbing. In the midst of all this, a kid's got a Beavis and Butt-head T-shirt on it kind of makes you wonder.
Beavis and Butt-head Do America opens on Friday, Feb. 20.