This year’s Comic-Con in San Diego featured Steven Spielberg and the stars of the new Spider-Man and Twilight movies – but the most joyously received guest was Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge, who is bringing the duo back to MTV in October. We caught up with him after his panel, where he debuted the first new footage of the duo in 14 years.
What led to Beavis and Butt-Head coming back to MTV?
They’ve been talking about it for years, especially about making another movie. They’ve been wanting a sequel since the first one came out, but I was just doing other things. But over the years I’ve entertained the idea here and there. I’d occasionally even write down ideas, and I even had two or three ideas for another movie.
This thing started with MTV coming to me recently and asking again if I wanted to bring the show back. King of the Hill was done. I’ve been working in animation for a while and been around the development process and people trying to come up with ideas for cartoons. I started to just think that I had some pretty good characters that were really fun to do. Who am I to turn that down? It was already a hit once, so if it doesn’t go over this time then it’s not a big deal.
How did MTV pitch it to you? I know that their initial idea was having them watch Jersey Shore and other MTV shows.
Yeah, that actually came up when they first pitched it – at least the way my manager told me about it. Part of the reason the show can’t sell in syndication is because back in the day those videos were only cleared for MTV. No one was thinking that far in advance because they just thought that Beavis and Butt-Head were taking the place of VJs. But my manager was saying that the music business is so rough now that we could probably clear a lot of these videos. But after we started getting up and running, MTV said that we should really consider having them watch Jersey Shore and stuff like that.
Back in the day, I had tried to have them watch the Real World. It was kind of hard with dialogue over dialogue, and music videos were already working so well that I didn’t really give it much of a try. But this time I felt like it really clicked. I really feel that between Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, we really hit our stride. It’s just prime territory for Beavis and Butt-Head.
Besides them watching those MTV shows, are there any other differences between this new show and the original one?
It’s set in the modern world, even though Beavis and Butt-Head look and act the same. It’s a little bit different because of the animation. Back in the day it was all shot on film and ink, and now it’s painted digitally – although it’s all drawn by hand. It’s just scanned in. So it gives it a different look. I actually think it looks pretty sharp. They still look the crappy way they did, but now it’s just kind of beefed up – kind of like the movie was.
I take it you never thought about aging the characters or anything, right?
Well, there’s one episode where they’re in their late 80s and in a nursing home. And that’s fun. I wouldn’t mind doing more of that. I like them when they are teenagers and really old. It’s that middle part that I’m not that interested in.
It’s so hard to picture them as adults.
Yeah, it is. I’ve thought about it. But the Simpsons are the same age. If you look at it, how old was Bugs Bunny? You don’t even think about it. I think Beavis and Butt-Head, if I were to give them an age, it would be probably be 15. Even when the show came out, they weren’t real hip. I was brought up to me that AC/DC and Metallica weren’t considered real hip at the time, and they were wearing their T-shirts. So they weren’t particularly of their time when they came out, so I think they can be reacting to the modern world and stay the same characters.
Do you ever find it challenging to write in the voice of two characters that are so incredibly stupid ? I’m sure you often think of great jokes, but they’re just too smart for them to say.
Yeah. That happens a lot. It’s definitely harder than it looks because it’s also hard to describe what’s right and wrong for these guys to say. Sometimes I’ll cheat a little bit, like in some of the music video commentary where I have them saying things that are a little smarter than they ought to be – but I can usually find a pretty convoluted way of saying it that feels right.
So it’s the same teachers? Same friends? Same world they were in before?
Yeah. A lot of those main characters are back. Same teachers. We have one new teacher that’s in a couple of episodes, a female teacher. I never felt like we had a good female teacher character. There’s a also a Middle Eastern guy that’s a car salesman in one episode and tech support in another.
Are you bringing Daria back?
No. There’s sort of a cameo in one episode. That’ll be a surprise.
Nice, but she’s not living in their town anymore?
No. I guess I hear she moved on the other series. I didn’t watch much of it.
How many episodes are definitely going to be broadcast?
At least 12 half-hours. The episodes are 15 minutes, so there’s there’s 24 shows.
Do they watch any music videos, or is just programming off of MTV?
It’s almost 50-50, I think. Or close to it. They are still watching some videos. Those turned out to be harder to clear than we thought. We also have them watching a couple of YouTube videos, but they’re watching them on the TV though – which is something people are starting to do now anyway.
Do you see this going for years and years? Do you have a long-term plan for this?
Oh, not really. [Laughs] Figure, get in, get out, quick. I don’t want to do it for years. I think a year or two. I wanted to just do a few more, so that if they do a syndication thing, they could play the music videos –because that was the stuff I was the most proud of. So it’d be good if it was playing in reruns if some of that stuff was on there, too. That’s partly what I was hoping to get out of it.
You’re really thinking of just doing a year or two? I’m sure it’s going to be huge and MTV will want more than that.
Well . . . [Laughs] I guess I always just think like that. Kind of like alcoholics – “one year at a time.” If I start thinking about several years, it’s kind of crazy. I didn’t think that King of the Hill was going to be 13 years.
It’s funny just how little we know about these characters. You know virtually nothing about their parents, or anything else about their lives.
When we started out, I just always kept it vague. It got to the point where, if you show too much, maybe peoples imaginations are better than what’s there. I kind of liken to to Charlie Brown. I don’t think you ever saw Snoop’s doghouse from the front. I don’t think you ever saw Charlie Brown’s house from the front. You never saw any of their parents, and their teacher’s voice was just “wah wah wah.” They couldn’t even bring themselves to have an adult voice in it. I like that. There’s also Leave It To Beaver. You never really knew what their dad did.
There’s the occasional reference to Beavis’ mother being a big slut or something, but that’s about it.
I just remember that I knew this kid in the sixth grade and he had a single mom– I do imagine Beavis and Butt-Head having single moms – but you never saw this kid’s mom ever. Like, I’d be at the grocery store with my parents and my brothers and sister and there’s Steve, wandering around by himself. I think his mom worked the nightshift somewhere and slept all day. There were kids like that, or maybe they were on welfare. Who knows? But that’s kind of how I look at it, I guess.
I’ve always assumed they were at Butt-Head’s house because he’s the leader, but I could be wrong.
No, I always imagined it was Butt-Head’s house. We did one thing, I can’t remember what it was, but we did show his bedroom once. It was obviously a complete mess, just like matches everywhere. We only did that once.
Can Beavis say “fire” now, or is that still banned?
Yeah, he can say it. In the clips we showed at Comic-con, we had a “fire” in the one where they work in tech support.
Are you working now on any projects besides Beavis and Butt-Head?
Not at the moment. There’s actually a couple of screenplays that my partners are working on. There’s one actually – I don’t think I’m supposed to say – I wouldn’t direct, but I’d produce it. That might be next year around January or February.
It’s hard to imagine a sequel to Office Space, right?
Yeah. I just can’t see…There’s been so many good shows, like the British Office and the American Office. So much good cubicle stuff. Also, it’s been too long. I don’t know.
It’s got to be frustrating that your movies don’t do better in theaters. It seems like Idiocracy is becoming a cult classic, and everybody loves Office Space – but neither of them made a dime when they originally came out.
I’ve been getting a lot of love for Idiocracy recently. I kind of like it. Of the four movies I’ve done, Beavis and Butt-Head was the only hit movie out of the gate. In a way, I kind of like it that way. Especially for Idiocracy and Office Space – it was kind of rough when they came out, but it makes it that much better when people start liking it later. I would rather have a huge number one blockbuster, but hey, I’ll take it.