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Mike Judge Explains His Cultural Influences

Mike Judge’s new HBO show Silicon Valley examines Bay Area start-up culture with all of the earnest solemnity you’d expect from the creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill and the director of Extract, Idiocracy, and Office Space. These are the movies, TV shows, musicians, and cartoonists that inspired Judge during his own incubation stage.

1. Leave it to Beaver
It seemed like a dorky 1950s show, but it was hilarious. I remember an episode where June was telling Beaver he should never lie because God always knows, to which Beaver said, “Yeah, and he has enough to worry about with the Russians and all.” The show is as relevant today as it was then.

2. Robert Crumb
He might be the best cartoonist of all time. If I could draw like anyone, I think it would be him. He’s also a great writer.

3. Dazed and Confused
When I saw it, I’d been thinking about making a movie about being in high school in the ’70s in the Southwest. After Dazed, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I could scratch that off my list since it had already been done so well.

4. Harvey Pekar
He once said something like, “Everyday life has a huge effect on people.” The first American Splendor comic I bought had a cover with Harvey washing dishes and his wife glaring at him for his substandard dishwashing skills. I was hooked.

5. National Lampoon magazine
I discovered this magazine in high school and was blown away. There were all the great writers—Ted Mann, Todd Carroll, John Hughes—but the cartoonists were what really got me: Drew Friedman, M. K. Brown, B. K. Taylor, Mark Marek, Buddy Hickerson, and Mimi Pond, to name a few. These were nothing like the comic strips in the newspapers, and not just because they were R-rated; the drawing styles were rougher and had an edge to them. They were intelligent, inspired, brilliantly funny cartoons. I always wondered why no one was making animation like that.

6. SCTV
This show, along with Monty Python, made me fantasize about doing sketch comedy. There were so many great recurring characters.

7. Chuck Jones
The Wile E. Coyote–Road Runner cartoons have always amazed me, but even more so since I first began animating my own cartoons. Beyond all
the technical stuff and the fact that these great films were meticulously made one frame at a time, it’s simply some of the best physical comedy
of all time—the gags, the timing, their expressions, what he does with speed and collisions. I still think it’s the best animation ever made.

8. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
I first saw it in junior high. I was getting my ass kicked by Neanderthal morons every day, and I thought, Somewhere out there are funny, brilliant people, and they aren’t getting their asses kicked.

9. Life With Father
This movie came out in 1947, and it was a big influence on King of the Hill. I’ve seen it recently, and it holds up. I like the way it’s able to be really sweet and really hilarious without ever getting too schmaltzy.

10. Jerry Lewis
Old Jerry Lewis movies stand out from other comedies of their time completely, like a separate genre or something. When I was a kid, any time one of his movies came on it felt like some kind of miracle. My favorite is still The Nutty Professor. It’s a masterpiece.

11. The Bob Newhart Show
My dad always reminded me of a cross between Gene Hackman and Bob Newhart, and this was one of the few shows we would all watch when I was growing up. I just loved all the characters—Howard the neighbor, Carlin, and all those great patients—and the show still makes me laugh out loud whenever I see it.

12. The Gong Show
When this show came out, it was the closest thing to anarchy that I had ever seen on television. Besides all the great recurring characters like Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and the Unknown Comic, it was fun to watch just because it seemed like everything could just fall apart at any moment.
It almost seemed dangerous at times.

13. Lynda Barry
I used to read her comic strip in the San Diego Reader when I was in college. Years later, when I was doing Beavis and Butt-head, I partly based the character Daria on how I imagine Lynda Barry would have been in high school. I drew Daria dressed like Lynda would dress when she went on Letterman.

14. “The Animation Celebration”
This was a compilation of animated short films from all over the world that would play as a feature-length movie at independent theaters all across the country in the 1980s. I went one year in Dallas at the Inwood Theatre, and that’s when I decided that I was going to try to make an animated film.

15. Bill Griffith
When I was about 23, my brother showed me one of the early Zippy the Pinhead comic books—I think it was Zippy 3—and I was hooked. The character just jumped off the page. I didn’t know that reading a comic book could be like that. It was so spontaneous, almost like crazy improv comedy at its best. I wanted to see it animated. I still do, actually. 

16. Fernwood 2 Night
This is one of those shows I thought could’ve gone on for years. Besides all the great characters that would come on as guests—like Jim Varney, Tom Waits, and Corey Feldman—I could just watch Martin Mull and Fred Willard play off each other for hours.

17. The Beverly Hillbillies
There’s something that has always been comforting to me about watching this show. It has a Zen-like quality for me. The way Uncle Jed and Granny play against Mr. Drysdale is something I could just watch forever, and it kind of says a lot about America, I think—it’s unique to this country. It’s one of those shows that I would take to the desert island.

18. Geto Boys
I wrote the first draft of the movie Office Space in the summer of 1997. The album The Resurrection had come out the previous year, and I would listen to it over and over again in my car. The tracks were so amazing—the guitar riffs and just the whole soulful, angry vibe that it had. It was a big inspiration to me, and I used three Geto Boys songs in the movie. 

19. Do the Right Thing
When I first saw this movie, I had never even been to Brooklyn, but I could tell it was an honest portrayal. It was great to watch something that was just about everyday life. I remember thinking that someone should make a movie like this, but about my suburban white neighborhood where guys stand around the alley drinking beers and sitting on their riding mowers.

20. John Kricfalusi
I think John K. is a brilliant animation director. The first few seasons of Ren & Stimpy were mind-bogglingly great to me. The attention to all the right details made it such a joy to watch. I had just started out making my own animated shorts when I saw Ren & Stimpy, and I realized I would never be as good at that kind of animation as he is. So I went my own direction, but it still was inspiring to me and clearly to a lot of other animators.

21. Cheech and Chong
There’s so much great satire in their movies and albums. Look at the hairpiece scene in Things Are Tough All Over, or Cheech playing his own redneck cousin, Red, in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. They were ahead of their time.

22. Willie Nelson
Aside from being one of the greatest country singers, songwriters, and guitar players of all time, he has the best disposition of a famous, successful person I’ve ever seen. Over the years, I’ve found myself asking the question asked by the Bruce Robison song: “What Would Willie Do”?

*This article appeared in the March 24, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.