Long before he made Silicon Valley for HBO, long before he made the classic movie Office Space or the iconic cartoon King Of The Hill, Mike Judge was the mastermind behind Beavis & Butt-Head, the cutting edge ’toon that paved the way for Family Guy, Superjail!, and Metalocalypse.
In 1996, while he was working on the movie Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, I interviewed Judge for Bikini magazine about the movie, the show that inspired it, and what Mssrs. Beavis and Butt-Head will be like when they grow up.
What follows is a slightly edited version of that interview, most of which has never been published before.
So the first thing I have to ask you, and I don’t know if you’re going to know what I’m referring to, but somebody in my office showed me a calendar of old medical photos, and one of the pictures was of these twin fetuses where one had squeezed the other to death. The funny thing was, they both look exactly like Beavis.
Really? A fetus? How weird.
I’m guessing, based on your reaction, that isn’t where you came up with the idea of what Beavis should look like.
No! I’d like to see this, do you have it?
I think we can get it for you. We’re trying to get it for the story…
No… God…. So, did one of the fetuses make it?
No, they both died. One of ’em inadvertently killed the other one.
Oh, god, its even in character, too. Uh. No, I didn’t see that. Ugh!
So where did you get the idea of what these guys would look like?
Well, I was trying to draw a guy I went to high school with. At the time, I was just starting to try animation. I didn’t draw a lot before that, but I wanted to do animated shorts just to get into comedy, I didn’t want to become an animator. So I was just kind of scribbling to see what would happen, and I was trying to draw a guy I went to high school with. I tried like, four or five times, and none of them really looked like him, but one of them…actually a couple of them, were pretty funny. He wasn’t even like Beavis or Butt-Head, he was actually a nerdy guy who’s now a nuclear engineer. But one of these drawings became Butt-Head and another became Beavis.
So, which came first, the Beavis or the Butt-Head?
I drew Beavis first and then Butt-Head, but they were both attempts to draw this guy. And then, like a year later, when I was doing the storyboard for “Frog Baseball,” which was the fourth short I’d done.
Right. There’s the one about the guy…
…in the office. Yeah, I did that one before that. And then I did one that was just this dumb guy watching a health food commercial, which wasn’t very good, and another with this character named “Inbred Jed,” and that was like so-so. So, yeah, “Frog Baseball” with Beavis and Butt-Head was the fourth short I did.
Though you obviously didn’t know it was going to go this way, of course.
No. [laughs] No, I remember waking up after like…. It took me six weeks of hard work to get that thing done. Back then, I was doing everything myself, literally. I would shoot these things myself on an animation camera that I had. And I can remember waking up the next morning, after it was in the can, with a sick feeling in my stomach, thinking “god, this cartoon is just not any good…stupid, lame thing I’ve done. This is gonna be so embarrassing.” Because it’s just me, laughing like an idiot, [in Butt-Head’s voice], “Light one in his butt, huh-huh.”
But then, when I was editing it, and we started putting the sound on, the editor was just laughing his ass off. By the end of the day I started thinking, “Wow, people really think this is pretty funny.”
Then I overnighted it to a festival, so it played, literally, the next day in San Diego at the Festival Of Animation. And then they called me on Saturday and said it had gone over really great. Everyone was laughing really loud.
So, at that point, I thought it was gonna become just a popular short, maybe, just because of a little reaction, a good reaction I had gotten.
At what point did you realize that the two of them had very distinct personalities?
I think pretty early on. Early on I thought of Beavis as a guy who’s kind of fried and he just kind of sits there going [in Beavis’ voice] “Yeah, yeah! Heh heh.” And you just kind of don’t know what’s going on with him.
Well, he’s obviously got some serious mental problems.
[laughs] I think he started to come into his own as the show went on. Originally, he didn’t get many lines, [in Beavis’ voice] “Yeah! Yeah! Heh heh. Cool. Yeah!” But eventually he kind of ended up being the star. There’s an executive on the movie at Paramount, she’s always saying, “I feel so sorry for Butt-Head, I’m watching him slip into second place.”
Yeah, especially with Cornholio. Speaking of which, is Cornholio based on some ancient religious text, or is it out of Beavis’ sub-conscious? Or is based on that album I saw in your office?
[laughs] No. A girl friend of mine at Anton’s Records did that. It’s actually Cornelio, she just changed the “e” to an “o,” and the “n” to an “h,” and gave it to me a little while ago. He’s just some like flamenco guitar guy.
Oh. So is Cornholio in the movie at all?
Uh, yeah. Very big climactic Cornholio scene in the movie in Washington, DC.
Oh, god! Y’know, the first time I saw him, I was like, “Oh no, he’s finally snapped!”
When I was a kid… In Albuquerque, New Mexico, there’s nothing to do all summer when you’re a kid. It can be a really boring place. I used to get wired up on sugar or whatever, and I’d do this thing where I’d follow my brother or sister around the house talking in this foreign accent. I don’t know where I got it. We had these, it was a combination of these Harry Belafonte albums my parents had, where he had that accent, and then also just a Pakistani kind of accent, and I used to just follow them around the house just saying these weird things. I actually have tapes of it. So, yeah, Cornholio, he just gets on caffeine or sugar or both and just gets into this other plane and just starts going into tongues.
Yeah [laughs]. I mean, obviously its some of what he’s saying comes from what had happened earlier in the episode.
Yeah. I was almost asleep sleep one night when it hit me like a ton of bricks: Beavis should pull his shirt over his head. Why didn’t I think of that before? He should pull his shirt over his head and start babbling, you know? I was going, “God, why hadn’t I done that yet?”
This was around season three, I guess. We were short a script at the end of that season, and I thought about just improvising a script at the recording studio. Chris Brown, the head writer was there too, and we just starting writing stuff. “Okay lets have him go to Stewart’s house, and that’s where he gets all the sugar and stuff,” and then we we’re kind of like, “okay, now he’s at school okay, what’s he gonna do now?” I mean, we kind of like, we just made it up as we went along.
Funny. So have you ever done an episode that you, personally, just hated?
Oh yeah. Plenty of them. There’s a lot that are just out of character. See, it’s important to me that Beavis and Butt-Head aren’t bullies. They’re at the bottom of the totem pole. But like there was one episode in the first season where they gave Stewart a wedgie, and I thought that was wrong. It’s just too…. I mean, going to his house and breaking stuff was one thing, but to put him up like that, that was a little weird, I didn’t like that one.
There’s also been some that just aren’t funny. There’s one in the second season called “Eating Contest,” and its just like no good. I just finally told MTV, “Just don’t air it any more.” There’s just nothing funny in it. I don’t know why I recorded that one.
Yeah, but you kind of have to get those out of the way, though. Somebody once said that everybody’s got 2000 bad stories in them, you just have to write them to get them out of the way.
That’s true, that’s a good point. I mean, there’s just a lot of them that aren’t that good, but then there’s ones that I’m really proud of. I think we have a pretty decent average.
So you’re now making the movie, Beavis & Butt-Head Do America. Since it’s a movie, can you get away with more than you could on TV? Like, can they curse? Because kids at that age would normally be swearing like truck drivers.
Well, the thing is that even in “Frog Baseball” I didn’t have them say like “shit” or “fuck,” and one thing that’s nice about that is that there’s kind of a nice tension you get from that. You know they want to but they can’t. Though early on there was a battle over the word “dumbass” on the show. I was going, “they’ve got to say ‘dumbass’; ‘dumb-dumb’ doesn’t work.”
Now, occasionally, when I’m recording, I’ll be like: [in Beavis’ voice] “Fuck you, Butt-Head!” And its funny. But if he was saying it all the time, it wouldn’t be as funny. To me its funnier to have just really stupid, juvenile things like “bunghole.”
Is there anything about Beavis and Butt-Head that people always miss or don’t understand?
Well, I’ve done a lot of interviews where people think of them as thugs. I’ve had interviews where the first question is “Were you a bully in high school?” and I’m just kind of going, “Huh?!” I get a lot of people that just don’t get that there’s something sort of sad about them. And it’s just because the people doing the interview don’t watch the show enough. I’ll admit, you have to watch it a few times and see the right episodes to get it. If it was a show that was just on the air, and I saw the wrong two or three episodes, I could kind of see myself going “Ahhhh, its not that great.”
Right. It’s like how people think you’re glorifying violence and vandalism, but it’s more like you’re throwing these guys up there and saying, “There are people like this.”
Yeah, it’s observational. That’s another thing that people didn’t get, especially early on. And what really blows me away is that people would expect me to be like them. If you think about it for more than a second, you’d know that to do an animated short like “Frog Baseball,” I had to sit there with exposure sheets and stop watches and figure out what’s happening every frame, painting cells.
There was this Monty Python documentary where Michael Palin was saying that people always expected them to be like druggies and wild and crazy guys, and he was going “look, you don’t just get a guy into a Viking outfit and hit him over the head with a chicken, you have to plan these things.” [laughs]
Once in a while, I will catch myself referring to Beavis and Butt-Head as if they’re real people. Do they seem real to you? Do you sort of put them in situations and then try to figure out how they would react, or do you sort of play God with them and make them do things?
I play God. I try not to think about it too much, because I get a little weird in the head when I do, but nowadays I do sort of think of them as real characters and I kind of block it out of my mind that I do the voices, especially with Beavis. It still doesn’t seem to me like I do the voice of Beavis. I don’t know why.
Yeah, while working on this movie, I’d be talking to the executives and the people working on it and would talk about Beavis and Butt-Head like they’re real actors.
Do you ever think about what these guys are going to be like when they grow up?
For some reason, I can only imagine them being fifty or sixty, and I can imagine them being babies, but I can’t imagine them in their 20s or 30s.
I was thinking that if Butt-Head was to grow up, I could see him going into sales, really low level sales jobs, shoes or maybe used cars. I think he has a real tiny amount of sales talent. And Beavis…I once had a job for just one day tearing apart roofs. Before they put on a new roof they tear up the old one. I remember thinking for the first hour or so, “This is kind of cool.” But after that it’s like, “This isn’t cool anymore.” And I could see Beavis having a job like that. There were guys when I had that job that were too brain dead to realize how awful the job is. It’s like 100 degrees outside, and they’re pounding nails going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Has there been any thought of doing Beavis and Butt-Head as kids?
We have just a tad of that in the movie, a quick flashback. At one point I wanted to do a spin-off series with Beavis and Butt-Head when they were babies…
Like Muppet Babies?
Yeah. Or Tiny Toons.
And you’ve said Rob Zombie has some part in the movie too.
Yeah, there’s a sort of dream sequence/hallucination with Beavis, and it looks pretty incredible on the big screen. And it’s based on Rob Zombie’s artwork, and has a White Zombie song that they did just for the movie. His drawings are like what every teenager wants to draw.
Well, he’s a lot better than a teenager.
Oh yeah. He’s like the king of that kind of drawing. It came out really cool.
Well, musicians love the show. When I interviewed Les Claypool about how one of the videos by his band Sausage was on the show, he said “We so lucked out with that one.” And Alex Lifeson from Rush once told me, “I’d do a video just to be on Beavis & Butt-Head.”
Really? Oh wow.
Of course, then you’d have to show Beavis being all, “Oh god, it’s Rush.”
Right. Ah well.
MTV once call me and said, “Can you please not do Winger stuff anymore, ’cause we have a good relationship with them.” And Aerosmith’s management also came down on us. And it wasn’t Aerosmith themselves, because I did this radio thing with them after the video had come out, and they were fine with it. But then later their management saw it, and it was one where Beavis says something like, “These guys are pretty cool,” and Butt-Head says, “Yeah, even though they’re old.” And their management put pressure on MTV to take it out of there. So we’ve never done any more Aerosmith videos.
Yeah, well, now they’re not Aerosmith’s management anymore.
Oh really? They fired them?
Oh, alright. Nobody likes that guy, man.
I heard a while ago that when you were originally going to do a Beavis & Butt-Head movie that it was going to be live action. Why would you even think of doing that?
Originally, when the show went on the air, the following Saturday there was a pretty big article in the L.A. Times about it. And then, the following Monday, the phones were ringing off the hook from major studios wanting to make it into a movie. And everyone except for one wanted to make it live action. These were mostly people who hadn’t seen the show, they were thinking, “Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth, here we got another one.” And I was blown away by this, we had only been on the air a week. So I wasn’t going to say “no” to anything. I always thought, “I’ll do my thirty episodes, I’ll move back to Texas, and I’ll have enough money to make some more cartoons.”
But I don’t see how live action could ever work, unless it’s something completely different from the show because I’ve found myself in the last year and a half or so finding a lot of similarities to Charlie Brown. And I don’t think you could do Charlie Brown live action, it wouldn’t be any good.
Well, they did do that stage musical back in the ’60s.
Oh yeah, that’s right.
Though I have to say I do like it when Beavis and Butt-Head react with live action, like with David Letterman.
I’d like to do more of that. If there were ever to be other movies, there’s all kind of ideas I’ve had.
Well, if this movie does well…
Yeah, they’re gonna want to do more.
Beavis & Butt-Head Do America 2: Electric Bogaloo.
Beavis & Butt-Head Do Europe.
I’d love to do more with them and live action. I saw that movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, from the ’60, where Don Knotts turns into a fish over live action. I was just thinking it would be really cool to do something like that.
And if there’s a third movie, y’know, Beavis & Butt-Head In 3D [laughs].
It seems like there’d be a lot you could do with them. Beavis & Butt-Head In Space.
Every time we get a submission from someone who’s not a writer, it’s usually them abducted by aliens or them in outer space. Which isn’t a bad idea, but that’s what it usually is.
So are you’re already thinking about what a sequel might be?
I don’t think it’s going to get to that. I don’t know if I could even handle doing another one [laughs]. But it’s fun to think about.