The Light from the TV Shows: Beavis and Butthead are Back!

Yes, kids, your dreams have come true: starting on Oct. 27, your favorite animated dumbasses, Beavis and Butthead, are returning to MTV with their first new episodes since 1997.

First of all, if you’re worried that they might have smartened up some over the course of the past 14 years, let me assure you that, based on the advance trailer for their new season, there is little doubt that they’re as dumb as ever. Secondly, since I know you’re wondering, yes, the Great Cornholio does still need T.P. for his bunghole.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge during this summer’s TCA tour, and we talked about his decision to bring the boys back, what’s changed in their absence, and which recurring characters we can expect to see during the course of these upcoming episodes.

Bullz-Eye: So why bring back Beavis and Butthead – with the caveat that I’m very, very excited that you’re doing so – rather than move forward with a new, original property?

Mike Judge: Well, you know, actually, if you put it that way… [Laughs.] Look, I still like experimenting around and trying different characters, which I’ve done without ever showing it to people, but I’ve also been involved with development on new animated shows, some that never saw the light of day or that people are talking about. I always kind of look at all this stuff, and I’ll think of why it’s not working and what does work, and in the back of my mind, I’m always going, “You know, I actually had a great couple of characters that were working pretty good that I think would still be fun to do.” And I think they’re still fairly unique. I’d like to think so, anyway, just in the way they look and sound. But, I mean, the bottom line is that I really like doing it. And King of the Hill was done, I’d just done a live-action movie and didn’t want to do that again anytime soon, and…it just seemed like it would be fun.

BE: So did you go to MTV, or did MTV pitch you the idea of bringing them back?

MJ: Oh, they came to me. That was the other thing. That’s what really instigated it. My manager called and said, “Hey, man, I just got a call. What would you think about doing new episodes?” And I think he really expected me to say “no,” because I say “no” to a lot of stuff. [Laughs.] But I started thinking about it, and I just thought…I mean, they’d been wanting to do another movie for a long time, but there’s something about doing 24 episodes of a TV show that, even though it’s more screen time than a movie, it seems like less pressure and more fun. At least in this case, anyway. Also, I think Beavis and Butthead…they started on TV, and I like it as a TV show.

BE: I was going to ask you if you had to get back into the right mindset to write the show again, but prepping for Beavis and Butthead would seem to involve more of a lack of a mindset.

MJ: [Laughs.] Well, David Felton, who used to work on the show and wrote a few episodes, said it pretty well once. He said, “You go to that place in your mind where thoughts begin…and then you stay there.” Which is really… [Starts to laugh.] I mean, there is a mindset. It’s harder to write than it looks. But it can be really fun to write. Some writing, you feel like you put a whole bunch in and you get 80% of what you put in, or less. And with this, sometimes I feel like you get more than what you put in. Like, you get to a point where it’s…more downhill. And I mean that in a good way. I feel like Beavis and Butthead kind of carry you through stuff better than some characters, maybe, as far as writing goes.

BE: In regards to writing the show being easier or harder than one might think, I’d actually figure that it would be rather challenging to write a smart dumb show.

MJ: Yeah, that’s true. I remember when I was writing the Beavis and Butthead movie (Beavis and Butthead Do America), and…I hadn’t really written a movie before, so I was going through and, like, realizing that…when you have dumb characters, it’s kind of hard. Things have to happen to them and by accident, because Beavis and Butthead, they’re not characters who can say… [Adopts evil-genius voice] “I have a plan. Let’s go execute the plan.” So it’s kind of hard to do it. I remember looking at…there’s a Cheech and Chong movie – I’ve seen ‘em all, but it was one that played while I was working in a movie theater, tearing tickets: Things Are Tough All Over – and I kind of went into it thinking, “Well, this’ll be good,” but I was kind of humbled by it, because I was, like, “Wow, this movie’s really well put together. That montage makes sense. I’ve got to really figure this out!” So, yeah, it is a little more tough, but…I also feel like, at least for me, anyway, slightly more rewarding than some stuff I’ve done, because when you get it right… [Hesitates.] It’s hard to describe, but I feel like it just bursts out. It pops more than some stuff, maybe. So it’s pretty fun to do it again.

BE: I’ve seen some clips, so I know that some of the classic characters who’ll be returning, but can you speak more specifically to who we can count on seeing?

MJ: I think most of ‘em. We’ve got…well, it’s not in the initial clips – or, at least, I don’t think it is – but Todd is back, the guy who used to kick their ass and drive a muscle car. The hippie teacher is back.

BE: [Crossing fingers.] Stewart, Stewart, Stewart, Stewart, Stewart…

MJ: [Laughs.] Stewart is back, yes. There’s actually at least three episodes with Stewart in them, and then there’s…let’s see, there’s the ROTC buzz-cut coach, the principal. There’s even some random, incidental characters that we’ve brought back. We always had…whenever there was a doctor, it was usually the same guy, and we’ve brought him back. There was a substitute teacher who was in one episode back in the day. He’s back….and, oddly enough, what he’s wearing still makes sense. [Laughs.]

BE: Speaking of wardrobe, and not to be too Stewart-centric, but…is Stewart still sporting his Winger t-shirt?

MJ: Yeah.

BE: Awesome.

MJ: In fact, we actually went to Kip Winger himself, and…he was actually pretty cool about it, I have to say. He was a good sport. Because for some reason, we had to get clearance this time. [Laughs.] And he was happy to do it.

BE: So is that the biggest change about Beavis and Butthead since its original run, then? That you have to get more clearances than you used to?

MJ: [Laughs.] Well, there’s computers and cell phones everywhere now, too. But it’s definitely more clearances, that’s for sure.

As it turns out, there’s another key difference between today’s Beavis and Butthead and the episodes from back in the day: since MTV is barely showing videos anymore, the boys have now taken to offering their commentary on the network’s reality shows, including 16 and Pregnant and, of course, the ubiquitous Jersey Shore.

“Van (Toffler, President of MTV Networks Music Group) actually called me and said, ‘Hey, you should watch Jersey Shore and have them talk over it,” said Judge, during the TCA panel for Beavis and Butthead. “I was a little skeptical at first because we had tried The Real World back in the day, and for some reason it didn’t click. I don’t know why, but at some point, I watched a lot of Jersey Shore. Now I’m hooked on it. It really clicked. It was just pay dirt, actually.”

After the B&B-centric portion of our conversation wound down, I couldn’t resist concluding the conversation by throwing Judge a few one-off questions about various other projects he’s worked on over the years, and, at the very end, I also attempted a quick pick of his brain on the matter of what his future big-screen plans might be.

Office Space: Success After the Fact

“I was lucky up to that point. You know, I had Beavis and Butthead the series, then the Beavis and Butthead movie, and then King of the Hill…I think everybody was expecting this big hit, and it just didn’t do well at the box office. I mean, it didn’t cost a lot of money, so it wasn’t a disaster, but in the eyes of the media, it was, like, a big bomb. And that was a little rough to take, especially because I had fought so hard for the cast, I fought so hard for the music…’cause every decision on that movie, everybody was telling me, ‘You’re making a mistake.’ And then the thing didn’t do well, so it was, like, ‘Yeah, see, you made mistakes. Learn from ‘em!’ And then over time, to be vindicated…very slowly… [Laughs.] …over two or three years, was a really great feeling. Of course, most of the people that said I made all the wrong decisions forgot that they had ever said that. [Laughs.] I didn’t get a really nice “I told you so” moment. But, anyway, it’s still really great.”

The Continuing Cult of Idiocracy

“You know, in the past couple of years…I get people talking to me about it all the time now, so, yeah, it is the same path (as Office Space), actually. But that one was maybe even more brutal, because that was a very…actually, the studio was very supportive for the most part. Through shooting. It was only in post-production that they got really down on it. In post, and during the special effects, they were, like, ‘Oh, my God…’ They panicked. You know, ‘This thing is weird!’ But they were way behind it. We had a test screening where, like, half the effects weren’t in the movie. I mean, there were scenes that were, like, the Washington Monument with all the jet skis and all that stuff, things that eventually got a laugh, they were literally just a piece of paper, a drawing that was blown up. You couldn’t even see what it was, anyway. Or, like, all the Costco stuff was just green-screen, with people walking, and you didn’t know what you were looking at, really. So we had a test screening that didn’t go well, and…it was a hard movie to market, but at some point, they just kind of ditched it. So that was rough.

“Terry Crews was so great. I wasn’t even imagining someone like him for that role. He came in and just stole it. I mean, he read for it, and I was, like, “Oh, my God, this is so great!” But somebody just texted me a couple of weeks ago a ‘Camacho for President’ bumper sticker…and it had his whole name underneath. [Laughs] Actually, Luke Wilson came up with a bunch of those. He came up on the day we were shooting – and, I mean, there were a lot of things in the script where people had products in their name or whatever – but Luke just kind of tossed that up, and everything he did in that one take is on this bumper sticker. So, yeah, that was great.”

King of the Hill: The Movie…?

“That hasn’t come up in awhile. A long time ago, they talked about making a King of the Hill movie, but that hasn’t come recently. I’ve never thought about it, really. I mean, to me, King of the Hill is more like The Andy Griffith Show. A Simpsons movie I understand. Obviously, I understand a Beavis and Butthead movie. [Laughs.] But King of the Hill…? I have a hard time wrapping my head around it as a movie. It just seems like it belongs more on TV.”

Goode Family: Bad Ratings

“It’s hard to say (why The Goode Family didn’t take off). I mean, I was busy doing Extract at the time, and I kind of…I wasn’t as involved as I normally am. But I thought it was a good concept. I thought the writing was great. I think maybe some of the…I don’t know, somehow it just didn’t click, the whole thing. But that happens. I mean, I guess…I’m always going into things thinking, ‘It’s not going to do well,’ anyway. [Laughs.] So I’d say I was more surprised that the other stuff did do well. In the end, I think it just didn’t work. What can you do?”

“After each film I’ve done, I tell myself I’m never going to do it again. But…I probably will. I hope. I mean, if somebody lets me. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t mind. I don’t have any plans to write anything anytime soon, but there’s some other stuff. There are some books that I’ve read that I’ve thought about adapting. I think if I have a good story, I can write the rest of it really well. The story part’s the hardest for me. The rest of the process is easy.”


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