Normally, specializing in stupid would be a dubious achievement. But for Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge, it’s become his enduring cultural contribution. In the fourteen years since his embattled MTV show was yanked off the air, the Austin, Texas, resident found success in his other animated series, Fox’s now-canceled King of the Hill, and directed such cult hits as Office Space and Idiocracy. (“Obviously it’d be great if they were a big hits out of the gate,” he says in retrospect. “But if a movie is good, it will find its audience.”) After those detours, Judge is rebooting his beacon of controversy, which makes its debut tomorrow on MTV. Always game to straddle that fine line between stupid and clever, Vulture sat down with Judge and discussed everything from politics to GWAR to trombones. Heh-heh, we said “bones.”
What do you think of what MTV has evolved into over the past decade and a half?
I don’t watch a lot of it. I have teenage daughters, so I’ll end up walking into the room and going, “Oh my God, what is that?” Jersey Shore: yeah, I like that show. But the first time I saw 16 and Pregnant: “Really? Isn’t that illegal?” But then again, it’s ripe for Beavis and Butt-Head, so
So Beavis and Butt-Head are no longer making fun of videos. That used to be their bread and butter.
They’re still watching some music videos, but over half of it is those shows. And then we’re doing some UFC stuff, which is off network, from Spike.
When Beavis and Butt-Head was in its prime, Kurt Anderson anointed it one of the bravest shows on TV. Did you feel like you were doing something subversive?
I think that was specifically because there they were on the couch, making fun of the audience that was watching them. Actually, doing animation feels cowardly because you’re not putting your face on TV. And that kind of makes you want to do something subversive — that’s why there’s so much subversive animation. But MTV at the time seemed intimidating. I didn’t realize their ratings weren’t doing so well; you didn’t really hear about ratings back then.
As someone who specialized in challenging the norm, what do you think about the Occupy Wall Street movement right now?
I try to read about it. And they’re either really bad at getting their message out, or they don’t have one, because for the life of me, I cannot figure out what their goal is or what they’re asking for. So I don’t really feel one way or another about it. If I knew what the agenda was, I might have an opinion on it.
In the nineties, the show was being blamed for inspiring pranks that caused a few very young kids to die. How does one process that?
That’s what’s really terrible. To me, the worst is the way the media handled it. The two big ones [a 5-year-old setting fire to his home, killing his 2-year-old sister; and an 8-year-old dying after a teen dropped a bowling ball from a bridge] were complete frauds. This thing at the trailer park in Ohio — they didn’t even get cable there. It was just something a woman said because she was about to get arrested for child abandonment. And I kind of wish MTV at the time had just gone and sued these people. But I guess they didn’t want to draw more attention to it. But, yeah, it’s awful. There’s no good way to respond to anything like that. Beavis and Butt-Head came on at a time I guess there was a lack of news going on. Suddenly everything was about TV violence. If it is truly having an effect, you’re going to see a statistic. But I have a statistic: Crime went down all over the country the years Beavis and Butt-Head was on the air. I think it’s back up now. Bringing the show back, I’m hopefully gonna bring it back down and improve the economy
You’re Occupying MTV, is what you’re doing.
[Laughs.] That’s right. I do have an agenda.
What can you do now on the show that you couldn’t do back then?
We can say “fire” again. [Editor’s note: The word was banned after the Ohio incident.] By the time that happened, I was kind of tired of Beavis saying “fire” anyway. But it’s a little more relaxed now. Back then, MTV was big on their “violence is bad” campaign. We had an episode where Secret Service were gonna pull guns on Beavis and Butt-Head. But you couldn’t have cops holding guns. They wouldn’t let us do that.
Because of post–Rodney King fallout?
I guess. No guns! They didn’t apply that to other shows, though. The State had cops holding guns. Anyway, we have an episode where Beavis and Butt-Head tour an army base and wander off. They end up flying a drone thinking they’re playing a video game. They’re flying drones in Afghanistan, firing bullets and crashing them and stuff like that. I was waiting for [MTV] to say, “You can’t do any of that that.” But it was all okay.
Growing up, you played the trombone and were a Cub Scout. Didn’t that make you the type of kid Beavis and Butt-Head would make fun of?
Oh, that’s probably true. Beavis and Butt-Head are really big losers themselves. Their relationship, if you can even call it that, was similar to my brother and me. Me being Beavis. But we were also mostly A students. But I had a lot of weird friends, too. So it’s a lot of bits and pieces.
Speaking of weird, will GWAR finally guest-star?
I love GWAR. Someone at MTV turned me on to them when we were first getting started in production. I just thought, God, this is so perfect. That would be fun to do something with them. We haven’t yet.
And will Daria be making a comeback on the show?
Boy, I keep getting asked that. It’s interesting. I first met Quentin Tarantino way back in ’94, when he came to Austin to premiere Pulp Fiction. I didn’t expect the guy who made Reservoir Dogs to be a Daria fan. He was like, “Oh, I love Daria!” and asking me questions about the character. So I should do more Daria, I guess.
But you can confirm Snooki will be on the show.
She was really nice. She’s not a bad actor in the spot that we did. I think all those people get used to being on the camera and they get acting experience doing that.
Jersey Shore is all about sex. Are Beavis and Butt-Heat still virgins?
[Without hesitation.] Yes. Always.