Mike Judge sits in his Austin studio and laughs when he thinks of the spastic, hard-rock music loving punks who used to push him around in junior high.
In fact, that laugh should be familiar to much of the country by now.
“Huh, huh, huh. Hey, Beavis, let’s play frog baseball. Huh, huh, huh.”
“Yeah, Butt-head. Heh, heh, heh. Frog baseball is cool. Heh, heh, heh.”
Since Judge, 33, created two scraggly adolescents named Beavis and Butt-head in an animated film he whipped together in early 1992 with a used $200 Bolex camera, life hasn’t been the same for him . . . or television.
The immature teenagers are featured in 15-minute-long cartoons on the cable network MTV twice a day. They often are sitting on a sofa, picking their noses, discussing snot and flatulence and brainlessly critiquing rock music videos.
They consistently miss the points of lessons taught in school and take pleasure in playing pranks, although they are more geeks than bullies.
Judge, a physics major in college who once worked on testing equipment for the F-18 fighter jet, says the show is comedy--PG-13 entertainment. It’s become MTV’s most successful series because, “Everyone grew up with a Beavis or a Butt-head. They were the kids in your class who no matter how hard the teacher tried to get through to them, they didn’t get it.”
Later this year, the youths will take their slouching to the big screen in “Beavis and Butt-head Do America.” They finally will be leaving their hometown.
“You are going to see them in some spectacular places,” says Judge, who is directing the movie for Paramount Pictures. “There are going to be some surprise cameos. Basically, they are going to be embarrassing America on the big screen.”
Judge, who continues to draw storyboards for the show and does the voices for both Beavis and Butt-head, acknowledges that his show isn’t for everyone, especially young kids and even his own mother, a former high school teacher who currently works as an elementary school librarian.
“It’s pretty vulgar sometimes,” said Judge, who doesn’t allow his four daughters, who are 4 to 1 1/2, to watch. “I don’t mind it being vulgar if it’s really funny. But I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when it’s vulgar and not funny. And that’s when I toss and turn at night and say, ‘Why did I record that line?’ ”
The characters are based on a composite of junior high classmates who tormented Judge, an honor student and trombone player in a youth symphony, while growing up in Albuquerque, N.M.
“Junior high and the early part of high school were the worst years of my life,” he said. “I was a skinny kid who got pushed around a lot.”
The fact that Judge majored in physics at the University of California San Diego, worked as an engineer on F-18s and later was a part-time graduate student in math makes his being the father of Beavis and Butt-head somewhat ironic.
Judge met his wife, Francesca, 13 years ago while he was a physics teaching assistant at UCSD and she was one of his students. He plays classical piano to relax and often finds himself watching the Discovery Channel late at night.
“I don’t mean to sound like an intellectual,” Judge says, almost embarrassed.
Judge’s father is a professor of archeology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.
“I think my dad likes the show. He told me, ‘I’ve been working on archeology research all this time, and now I’m known as the grandfather of Beavis and Butt-head,’ ” Judge said.
Comedy was always an obsession for Judge, an avid fan of Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges and Monty Python. After ruling out life as a stand-up comedian, he determined animation would be his medium after attending an animated film festival in Dallas in 1991.
Boredom had driven Judge from his job as an engineer, and he was playing bass in a band when he dreamed up a short film featuring Beavis and Butt-head. It was his third short film and caught the attention of Abby Terkuhle, who is now executive producer of the show at MTV.
“These characters made me laugh,” Terkuhle said. “I think everyone knows a Beavis or a Butt-head, and I think that’s what has made them so popular.
“I think a lot of people think Mike is Beavis and Butt-head, but they would be surprised upon meeting him. He is very unassuming. It would be fair to say even shy. Success hasn’t gotten to him. I work with a lot of creative people and Mike is a pleasure. He continues to work as hard as he did from day one.”
The success of “Beavis and Butt-head” has brought appearances on David Letterman, a Rolling Stone magazine cover, financial security and a new deal that will have Judge devising TV and movie projects for the Fox Network when his contract at MTV is up in two more seasons. But it also has attracted painful accusations.
Critics and politicians have lumped his cartoon into an entertainment movement they claim is “dumbing-down America.”
And in 1993, the show was blamed for inspiring a handful of fires set by youths, including one set by a 5-year-old Ohio boy that killed the boy’s 2-year-old sister.
The accusations caused MTV to move quickly in removing any references to fire--even in past episodes--that were made mostly by Beavis, who had an affinity for setting things ablaze and saying, “Fire is cool.”
Judge was devastated by the accusations, but defended his use of fire in the show, which always has been preceded by a disclaimer.
“That was awful,” he said. “If someone is accusing your show of causing the death of a child, what can you say? It’s horrible.”
But Judge says he looked into the Ohio incident after initial news reports and has concluded the show was accused wrongly.
“What never came out was that the kids in Ohio were left alone in the house and that the mother didn’t get cable,” he said.
Judge said he was disappointed when MTV moved to strike the fire references so quickly.
“That was kind of admitting that the show had something to do with the fire . . . and I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” Judge said.
“I thought it was an overreaction and a little bit cowardly. The show was making them so much money and had done a lot for the network. I was disappointed they didn’t stand up for it a little bit more.”
As far as dumbing-down America, Judge is adamant against his critics.
“Are you going to say that you shouldn’t do a show about real life?” Judge said. “Should TV be showing all straight A students and people with good jobs? ‘The Cosby Show’ was like a doctor, a lawyer and kids who go to Princeton. After a while, you start feeling inadequate.”
Judge said he and his family moved from New York to Austin a few years ago because he had fallen in love with the city when his band played gigs there.
As for the future, Judge doesn’t see himself slowing down. “I want to write and direct a live action movie,” he said. “There is the possibility of a TV show at Fox, and I would like to make a couple short films just on my own.
“But after the movie this year, I will be ready for a long break. I need to take a break from going into the studio and doing that damn laugh.”