Tales From the Tour Bus Creator Mike Judge on Funk, Silicon Valley, and Reviving King of the Hill

In its new season, Tale From the Tour Bus digs into funk history.
In its new season, Tale From the Tour Bus digs into funk history. Photo: HBO

Sometimes it’s good to be Mike Judge. Those times, however, tend to occur later than they should. Judge, who first came to acclaim — and first earned derision — as the creator of the dynamic dumbass duo known as Beavis and Butt-Head, has an unfortunate history of seeing cinematic projects such as Office Space and Idiocracy bomb before transforming into cult classics.

Fortunately, Judge tends toward finding greater success on the small screen. Beyond Beavis and Butt-Head, which ran for eight seasons, King of the Hill enjoyed a 13-season run on Fox that’s now streaming on Hulu, and Silicon Valley has been renewed by HBO for a sixth season. Alas, viewers will have to wait until 2019 to see Richard, Dinesh, Big Head, Gilfoyle, and the rest of the gang again, so it’s a good thing that there’s another returning Judge joint to keep them occupied in the meantime — though his self-described “passion project” is quite different than that tech-world parody.

In advance of Tales From the Tour Bus returning to Cinemax for its sophomore season, Judge spoke to Vulture about why he brought the funk to his animated musical-biography series, when Silicon Valley might end (“I think this could go on another two or three, if everybody wanted to keep doing it”), and how on earth he wound up as a guest on Alex Jones’s show. Yes, that Alex Jones.

Last season, Tales From the Tour Bus focused on country, while season two focuses on funk. Was the genre switch something you’d always planned to do?
Yeah, and funk just seemed right. This is a little passion-project thing for me, so these are genres that I like and know something about.

How was season one received by country fans?
From what I can tell, people loved it — people in the world of country music, anyway. I’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback, so that’s been really, really great. And the actual people who are still around that watched it, I mean, I heard just through mutual friends and family from some of them. Apparently Jerry Lee Lewis liked the machine-gun scene. [Laughs.]

Country music has often been approached either like the super-polite version of it that you’d see on the country music channels, or it’s someone completely making fun of it who doesn’t even like it. I wanted to approach it as a fan and as someone who grew up around it. And it’s the same thing with this. I think funk never really got the attention it deserved. There’ve been very few documentaries made about it, and there was actually a lot I didn’t know about it that I wanted to find out. Like, if you look at the history of what music sounds like and the rhythms, it was pretty much all some version of a swing beat, and then all of a sudden it goes into funk very quickly in the late ’60s. I’ve never seen anybody really delve into that.

It was great that you were actually able to get the artists themselves to participate this time around, like George Clinton.
Yeah, George Clinton was involved a lot, including helping with some of the score with John Frisell. And we got Bootsy Collins, who I had actually met and worked with briefly back in the ’90s [on a pilot for an animated series called The Name Is Bootsy, Baby], so it was great to have him onboard, too.

Do you recall which one changed the most from inception to completion?
I think last season it was Blaze Foley. This season it’s probably Betty Davis. In both cases, they’re the last episode of the season because we thought we’d end with something a little more obscure. Betty Davis, she’s Miles Davis’s ex-wife, and there’s just this amazing stuff she did. Her story, it’s almost part-mystery. I just had no idea.

Was there anyone that you’d hoped to get but couldn’t?
Yeah, sometimes the music’s too expensive or you can’t get the right interviews. I mean, I would’ve loved to do one on Earth, Wind and Fire. I still want to do Dolemite, or Rudy Ray Moore, who’s more kind of a hybrid of music, rap, and comedy. I’m just a huge fan. But then I found out they were making a movie about him, and I thought, “Well, that’s just something for down the road.”

Have you started work on season six of Silicon Valley yet?
No, we’re going to start at beginning of the year.

Do you already have a vision in mind for the story arc?
Not really, although all the stuff that’s happened since the last season … I mean, you never know. A congressional testimony? [Laughs.] Boy, there’s just been so much. I stay in touch with the tech world and, as you know, it moves fast. We haven’t really got anything down yet, but we’re gonna get together soon, Alec [Berg] and I, and just start kicking around ideas.

Do you have any thoughts about the life span of the show, or do you feel like, as long as there’s technology, we can keep it going?
You know, at first I was thinking that we’d end it at six, but I was talking to a person in the tech world — well, I guess I’m signing an NDA, so I can’t talk about it. But just when I think we’ve dragged it on too long without them getting rich, this stuff really happens. There are people that have companies that are valued at hundreds of millions or even a billion, and they still aren’t rich yet themselves, and it’s still stressful and still crazy.

When we started Silicon Valley, I thought, “Maybe we’re too late. They already did The Social Network and that was great, maybe this has passed.” But it’s just been more drama and craziness, and the tech world just keeps fueling stories. You know, originally we thought of it as a show like Dallas or Falcon Crest, but with tech money instead of oil or wine, and those shows went on for however many seasons. I think this could go on another two or three, if everybody wanted to keep doing it.

There’s been talk for awhile about the possibility of King of the Hill coming back. Is that still an ongoing conversation?
Yeah, we’re still having conversations about it. Nothing yet. We’ve just all been busy with other stuff. All the people involved and who we’ve been talking to, I guess I’m not supposed to say. [Laughs.] But we’ve been talking about it over the last year, and I think we might have a way to do it. So yeah, that’s another one we’re kicking around.

Is it true that Dale Gribble was at least partially inspired by Alex Jones?
Not really. Alex Jones was just a crazy guy on cable access back then, and I had put in a VHS tape and started taping him. This was after we’d already done the first season, but I was just showing it to the writers and saying, “Here’s a guy with all of these crazy conspiracy theories.” Actually, the tape I had, he had two guys with him who were equally crazy, and I labeled the tape “Three Dales.” [Laughs.] But the character had already been created, so it wasn’t based on him or anything.

You actually went on his show, right?
Well, he interviewed me at my house once! [Laughs.] We had a bunch of mutual friends in Austin. This was awhile ago, though, before he went completely cuckoo and completely off the deep end. A friend of mine was making a music video and said he would loan me his camera crew if I did an interview, and the next thing I know, it’s a whole thing. Austin’s kind of a small town, and a lot of people knew him back in the day. He was just this kind of local colorful guy.

Speaking of King of the Hill, will the world ever see the fabled live-action Monsignor Martinez pilot?
Probably not. I had it on my editing system in Austin, but my studio got broken into and all of that got destroyed. The only place that may even exist is on some VHS tapes that some people have, and they’re probably not even a good final cut or final mix. But that’s another one that we thought about bringing back, actually, so maybe a new version of it could appear. See, I think the script was one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever been involved with. The script for that pilot is funnier than any of the bits we did for King of the Hill with [Monsignor Martinez], although those were just, like, short little pops. I co-wrote that script with Jim Dauterive and Greg Daniels — Jim had created the character in one of the scripts he wrote for King of the Hill — and it’s something that every few years we talk about again as something that maybe we should try to do something with.

It’s been reported that the Jump to Conclusions mat from Office Space has disappeared and been lost to the ages.
The Jump to Conclusions mat… [Laughs.] When I was an engineer, me and a couple of other engineers, we’d be, like, “Okay, what’s the next Pet Rock?” And we’d come up with really stupid ideas. One was the Jump to Conclusions mat, and then the other one was Bit Soup. It’s like alphabet soup, but with ones and zeroes. I put that one in Silicon Valley, so I managed to find a place for the dumb ideas!

But the mat, I don’t know what happened to it. I have the actual stapler from the end of the movie, and I had one of the Lumberg coffee cups, but I don’t know what happened to it. That might’ve also gotten stolen when my office was broken. So I actually ordered some bootlegs on eBay. [Laughs.]

How do you look back at Beavis and Butt-Head all these years later?
It’s still probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done. I mean, not all of it is good. We did some of them so quickly. But the stuff that’s good I look back fondly on and really like it. I got my foot in the door because of it, so it led to everything. For that reason alone, I’m still fond of it.

Lastly, do you think you and Terry Crews will ever revive President Camacho?
I would like to do something with that again. For the ten-year [Idiocracy] anniversary in 2016, we did a couple screenings. We also did some stuff in 2012. Yeah, we’ve talked about it and we’ve had some ideas about bringing him back. I mean, it’s just so fun to watch Terry do that. He’s even able to improv as Camacho! But the ones we did in 2012, it was too close to the election. We got held up. If it had come out earlier, I think it would have gotten more attention.

Terry actually told me, “Me and Mike, we’re always too early.”
Yeah, I’ve got to figure out how to make something that’s a hit right now!

Mike Judge on Loving Funk and Reviving King of the Hill