‘It’s Harder Than It Looks’: Mike Judge on Bringing Back ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’
Thirty years ago, an obscure Texas filmmaker named Mike Judge created the animated short Frog Baseball, in which two heavy metal-obsessed teenagers named Beavis and Butt-Head brutalize an amphibian with a baseball bat. It didn’t seem like anything especially brilliant at the time, especially since it ends with them viciously attacking a poodle, but it somehow gave birth to one of the most beloved shows in MTV history.
Beavis and Butt-Head, which crammed in seven seasons between 1993 and 1997, held a funhouse mirror up to the MTV audience, as the duo spent most of their time watching bad music videos, eating nachos, and failing to understand every moronic situation they found themselves in. The formula never grew stale, and the show wrapped up in 1998 with the hit movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. It then set Judge on a course toward creating timeless works of satirical brilliance like Office Space, King of the Hill, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.
With Silicon Valley now behind him after a six-season run on HBO, Judge is bringing his career full circle by creating a new version of Beavis and Butt-Head for Paramount Plus, which begins Aug. 4. It was preceded in June by the movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, where the duo travel through a black hole from 1998 to 2022. That set up this new season, where they live in the present as the same idiotic teenagers they were when the original show went off the air, though there will be occasionally looks into the future where we finally see them as adults.
We got on the phone with Judge — whose voice sounds like Beavis, Butt-Head, Hank Hill, Mr. Anderson, and Jennifer Aniston’s boss in Office Space all rolled into one, because of the simple fact that he played them all — to chat about the new season of Beavis and Butt-Head, the challenge of writing for characters too dumb to ever learn anything, the possibility of rebooting King of the Kill and Daria, and why his recent attempt to make a live action Beavis and Butt-Head movie never got off the ground.
I really loved the two new Beavis and Butt-Head episodes I saw. A lot of revivals don’t work. Many are pretty awful. That seems less true with animation though.
That’s probably true. You get the added advantage of them looking the same. But, I hadn’t been thinking about doing this. I think it was 2018, I was in the middle of final season of Silicon Valley. I was working with the band Portugal. The Man. We’d used a couple of their songs on the show and they asked me to make an intro for their Coachella set [using Beavis and Butt-Head].
I hadn’t done the voices in many years. I just went and did it and listened back and thought, “Oh, that sounds like Beavis and Butt-Head.” And then I did the animation of them on the couch. It was really fun. I thought, “Yeah, this looks and sounds like them.” Then Paramount wanted to do it and I thought, “Why not?”
You first brought the show back in 2011. Why was that revival so short-lived?
Things didn’t quite click. There were a lot of problems on the animation side of things, trying to get it to look right. I don’t know if that played into it. But it actually did pretty well — the ratings were good. MTV just didn’t want to do anymore.
But this time, with Paramount Plus, there was just more enthusiasm behind it. And we were starting off with a movie, going bigger, rather than, “Here’s episode number 198.” The movie brought a real energy back.
We’re also kind of expanding it, since we’re doing some episodes where they’re middle-aged. Those have been really fun to do.
Back in 2011, you told me that you could picture Beavis and Butt-Head as toddlers, teenagers, and old men, but those adult years were kind of a blank spot in your mind. How did you fill it in?
You see a brief image of them in [Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe] as if they had never gone into space, though we were kind of cheating the age a bit. But in the new episodes, we don’t ever see them in their twenties or anything. We just go straight to them being over-the-hill. It might might be too sad to see them being 20 years old and still losers, but I don’t mind seeing them being 50 and still comfortable with themselves. I’m not sure why exactly.
You spoke recently about a casting session for a live-action Beavis and Butt-Head project that never got off the ground. Can you say a little more about that? What was it like to see actors try to play these characters that you’d voiced for all these years?
It was pretty surreal. I can’t say who read — that wouldn’t be cool, or ethical — but it was all done over Zoom because it was during the pandemic. There were a couple of guys who were funny as Beavis. Butt-Head was harder.
It was just sort of like watching teenagers imitate Beavis and Butt-Head like they did in the Nineties. But for somebody to nail it, I feel like they’d have to really make it their own and not look like they’re imitating something. I just didn’t see that, except for a couple of guys playing Beavis.
Is that what killed the live-action movie? You just couldn’t find the right actors?
That [casting session] was just us doing due diligence. [Paramount] wanted to keep searching. I just said, “Let me do this with an animated movie that kicks off a series. If there’s a live-action idea, let’s not close the door on it. But why don’t we bring the characters back first?”
I think it’s possible [to do a live-action movie]. Office Space was actually based on animated shorts I had done. It wasn’t until we started doing casting for that and Gary Cole read for the character of [Bill] Lumbergh that I thought, “Wow, this really works.” He was imitating it, but he also made it his own. And then Stephen Root nailed Milton. So, I wouldn’t rule it out.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, which kick-starts this new series, sends the boys into a black hole that takes from them 1998 to 2022. Why did you feel the need to do that? Bart Simpson has been 10 years old since 1987 and nobody seems to mind.
Partly, it just seemed like a fun way to make then seem clueless, and it was a fun way to lean into the differences between the Nineties and now. We didn’t want to pretend it didn’t happen. Once we made that the jumping-off point, it seemed like a weight had been lifted.
The 2011 ones I approached like, “The Simpsons has been on forever and they’ve stayed the same age. Why not?” But The Simpsons is a lot more surreal than Beavis and Butt-Head. Maybe that makes it make more sense.
I don’t want to overthink this, but Mr. Van Driessen and Mr. Anderson look exactly the same. Are we supposed to think they’ve aged 24 years? Have they? Does it even matter?
We actually did sort of age Van Driessen a little bit, and then pulled back on it. We just figured, “Let them be those guys that don’t age.” Van Driessen was already kind of an old hippie back then. He’s an old hippie now. Tom Anderson would be I guess about 100. [Laughs.] But I don’t know. Norman Lear still looks about the same.
Are we supposed to think things like, “Why have they enrolled back in school? Wouldn’t Mr. Van Driessen be shocked to see his students from 24 years ago looking the exact same?”
[Laughs.] Originally, we had some stuff like that in the movie. We did a whole thing where we made Van Driessen older and he doesn’t remember them. Then we trimmed it all out and just figured, “OK, this dumb quantum leap through the black hole will take care of everything.
We do finally learn that Beavis’ mom is named Shirley, and that they’ve been at his house all those years. You give the fans a few more crumbs of bio.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Shirley Beavis. I think I said in an interview once that it was Butt-Head’s house.
You told me that in 2011.
[Laughs.] But we never said it in an episode. I also think they both have single moms. Before the first movie, I thought they might be half-siblings, but the moms don’t really know. I knew these half-brothers in high school that had different moms, but they lived together. I don’t know which parent’s house it was. They were just always there.
In Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, we meet those two guys in the desert that seem like their fathers. One said he “scored with two chicks” 15 years ago in their hometown of Highland, implying he’s actually father to them both.
Yeah, but the Beavis dad looks like Beavis. Maybe Butt-Head’s dad doesn’t know.
In the original show, Beavis and Butt-Head just watched music videos. Now, they’re watching videos on TikTok and YouTube. Can you talk about making that change? Also, how do you find these weird, random videos?
We have a crew of people finding the random ones and clearing them. Music videos work well because they’re something you just watch and you don’t have to listen to every single word they say on the screen. But it’s really nice to break it up with something that’s not a music video, and there’s just so much stuff right now. Compared to the Nineties, the world is just flooded with content. And it’s just perfect for Beavis and Butt-Head to watch.
A lot of it was finding something that might give them something fun to talk about, and then a lot of it is what you can clear. Some of these YouTube stars makes so much money and are already so famous that they couldn’t care less about being on this show. A lot of times it’s somebody who thinks it would be cool to be on it, or they don’t have such a following and they could use some money. But we usually can’t pay them what they can get as a big YouTube star.
That stuff has been really fun to me. We look through it and just kick around ideas. With that prison tattoo one [where they watch a TikTok video about how to make a tattoo in prison], it’ll be like, “I can imitate this guy and talk about how he looks like a criminal.” The college admission video [where a teenage girl and her mom freak out when she gets into Harvard] was just the idea that they think that the mom and daughter are actually fighting and not freaking out and hugging each other. We’re just looking for an angle.
Most television shows are about characters learning and growing, even if that growth is very slow and gradual. Is it hard to write for characters that are simply too dumb to ever learn anything?
Yeah, it’s harder than it looks. To me, there are really two categories of TV comedy. I’m always comparing things to classic TV, but on The Beverly Hillbillies nobody really learns anything ever. I just love watching it. It’s just soothing and comforting that they don’t learn anything and everyone on that show is ridiculous. Then there’s shows like The Andy Griffith Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that I grew up on, where they do [learn things]. I love those shows also.
It is hard to write, especially for a movie, characters that are so dumb that they they’re not going to figure something out. When I was writing Beavis and Butt-Head Do America in the Nineties, I went and re-watched three of the Cheech and Chong movies. They’re really well done. People might think of them as just silly, dumb movies, but they’re well crafted, more than you might think.
And then there’s the [Inspector] Clouseau movies like A Shot in the Dark. It’s not like CSI or something. Things have to happen to him and it can’t just be dumb luck. It’s not easy.
Kip Winger was upset for years that Stewart wore a Winger T-shirt. He said you guys spoke about a decade ago and made peace. Do you feel bad that you, however inadvertently, helped make that band a bit of a joke?
Well…[laughs] Kip Winger had songs and great hair and he’s a good-looking guy. I won’t feel too sorry for him. I was probably just jealous. But he actually seems like a nice guy. I think he’s had a really good career.
I also, later in life, met Michael Bolton, too. He’s very nice and a total good sport about the thing in Office Space. We ended up using one of his songs in the new movie. But I think Kip Winger is going to be fine.
To casual viewers, Beavis and Butt-Head basically have identical personalities. That’s really not true, though. What do you see as the key differences between them?
Butt-Head is this ugly guy with absolutely nothing going for him, but he’s somehow still cocky. He still thinks he’s cool. Beavis is a little more fry-brained out, and just looks to Butt-Head for guidance. He’s more out-there.
There’s always the question of what would happen to Beavis if Butt-Head weren’t around. He’d probably be better off. He’s even more naive than Butt-Head. Maybe he has some brains somewhere, but he’s just the crazy one. He’s not malicious. He’s probably nicer than Butt-Head. Neither of them are mean, but Butt-Head just doesn’t care about much of anything. And Beavis just follows Butt-Head.
You haven’t directed a live-action movie since Extract back in 2009. Do you have any plans for another one?
There is one. I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. But there is a possibility of that in the not-so-distant future. Doing Silicon Valley for six seasons and directing a lot of that, I started thinking about doing a movie again. Live-action TV has become more and more like making a movie. You’re not cranking out tons of episodes a year, and you take more time with it. There was really good production values with HBO.
You have this weird curse where your live-action movies are only appreciated years after they leave theaters.
[Laughs.] Yeah. I gotta figure out how to have them be a hit right in their time. Beavis and Butt-Head Do America was a big hit, but people don’t really count that.
There have been rumblings about King of the Hill coming back. Is that happening?
It’s not happening yet, but it could. It’s amazing how long these things take to get going sometimes. It was almost gonna go a few years back and then stopped. There’s a lot of lot of factors. Beavis and Butt-Head is a little easier to get going because it’s just kind of me.
There has also been talk about more Daria. I know you didn’t really work on the Daria show, but she is your character, from your show. Do you have any say over the future of that franchise?
Yeah. It is a spinoff from Beavis and Butt-Head. I wasn’t involved in the original one besides the creation of the character. A lot of the writers were writers I had hired on Beavis and Butt-Head. The show was really good, and when people hear about a possible reboot, they seem to get excited. I think there’s a good possibility something will happen, I don’t know exactly what. I would be involved, but not as much as I am with Beavis and Butt-Head.
You made Frog Baseball 30 years ago now. How would you have reacted if someone told you then that you’d still be making a Beavis and Butt-Head show in 2022, and that they’ve be beloved, iconic characters.
I would not have believed them. I will say that I remember thinking I was onto something, because that was the fourth short I had made. At that point, I was finishing them on film at this place near Dallas. I remember the editor calling people in from the lab to look at it once he started putting the sound on. Everyone was laughing so hard.
But when you make your friends laugh, you don’t really think much of it. I was happy with how it came out, but I didn’t think I was onto something that, 30 years later, I’d be talking to Rolling Stone about, so no. [Laughs.]
You’ve had a ton of success over the years with Silicon Valley and Office Space and King of Hill and even the cult that’s grown around Idiocracy. If the shorthand people continue to use for you is “Beavis and Butt-Head creator,” are you OK with that?
I think so. There’s about a third of the original episodes that I wish I could exclude from it. I feel if you watched the wrong two or three you’d go, “That’s not so great. What’s the big deal?” But if if I could take you know the really good ones, then yeah. I’d be alright with that.