'There was a conscious decision to have nobody grow or learn much,' creator Mike Judge says in the Rolling Stone Hot Issue
A balding 49-year-old multi-millionaire in bluejeans steps up to the microphone and unleashes the inarticulate teenager lurking inside him: "Uh-huh. Whoa! Uh-huh. Huh-huh-huh." This is Mike Judge, creator of the legendary cartoon Beavis and Butt-Head, channeling Butt-Head for a Jimmy Kimmel spot. "You suck, Kimmel!" Judge shouts, in the voice of Butt-Head. He tries the line a few more times, and then flips it around to "Kimmel, you suck!" Judge shakes his head. "For some reason, that doesn't sound like something you'd yell at the TV." Nobody challenges him: Judge may well be this nation's foremost authority on people yelling at their TV.
Beavis and Butt-Head ran on MTV from 1993 to 1997, during which time it became the network's highest-rated program, was the subject of congressional debate and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone three times. The show centered on two idiot teenagers obsessed with heavy metal and "hot chicks." The best part of the show was the pair sitting on their ratty couch, discussing and misunderstanding the music videos they watched. (Butt-Head on videos with onscreen text: "If I wanted to read, I'd go to school.")
Judge, who voiced most of the show's characters and improvised much of the video commentary, was burned out by the end of its run. "It was on every night, as many as you could possibly do without a hiatus," he remembers. So when Judge made the hit 1996 movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, he negotiated a release from the show's last season, moved back home to Austin, went on to create King of the Hill, which ran for 13 seasons on Fox, and wrote and directed the 1999 cult comedy Office Space. He also had some DOA projects, such as the 2006 movie Idiocracy. Sitting in an edit bay in Burbank, California, drinking a Diet Dr Pepper, Judge says he can't distinguish between his hits and flops while he's making them: "I almost always feel like I've made something horrible."
After a 14-year hiatus, Judge can better appreciate Beavis and Butt-Head. "The characters pop," he assesses. "Somehow, you get more out of it than you put into it." When MTV asked him to revive the show, he said yes, bringing the boys back with their worldviews unchanged. "There was a conscious decision to have nobody grow or learn much," Judge says. Beavis and Butt-Head still wear their Metallica and AC/DC T-shirts, although Judge had to get permission from the bands this time around.
The biggest update has come in which videos Beavis and Butt-Head offer their "This rocks"/"This sucks" commentary on: It's now largely clips from reality shows like Jersey Shore and Cuff'd. This is less because of shifting cultural mores and more because the show is now required to get advance permission to lampoon a music video. "It used to be that we could do anything," Judge says, sighing. "Now we have to clear everything. We were going to do a Kanye West video – he wanted it on, and then somebody who owns, like, six percent of the songwriting said no."
Asked if, with age, his sympathies have shifted away from his teen protagonists and toward the adults whose lives they make miserable, Judge smiles. "When the show started, I was already pushing 30, considering a job teaching math," he says. "So from the get-go, I related to the teachers. But I remember thinking that I wanted to teach community college, because in high school you'd have to deal with the worst little shitheads."
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This story is from the November 10, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.