Mike Judge has no interest in Beavis and Butthead riding on the fur of nostalgia. He wants his new Paramount+ series to stand on its own, with excellent (and hilarious) stories.
The second revival of the popular cartoon starring two dumb teenage boys (both voiced by Judge) will be released August 4 on Paramount+. Just like the original ’90s MTV show—loved by teens and hated by their parents— Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head will mock videos between stories, but with a twist. In addition to music videos, the bossy duo will also poke fun at viral content from YouTube and TikTok, à la Tosh.0.
For Judge, that was a key aspect of bringing the series into 2022, where Beavis and Butt-Head have changed slightly (Hey, they’ve upgraded to a flat screen TV!), but remain those classic hopeless losers, spewing nonsense as they end up in one unwise situation after another.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter Before the series debuted on the streamer, Judge explained why Beavis and Butt-Head won’t drop F-bombs (although they might now), as well as the difficulties of making the cartoon both in the ’90s and today. .
In the talk below, Judge also reveals that he posted a hidden message in a 90s Beavis and Butthead episode, says whether he still has that “Porky’s Butthole” answering machine tape and shares the terrifying ’90s complaint that caused MTV to get him a bodyguard.
What was the duality of the 90s like for you, so loved by kids and teens and so abhorred by their parents?
(laughs.) During that period, especially in the early episodes of the show, many episodes were just awful. So if I’d never seen the show and watched the wrong episode, I probably wouldn’t like it either. So I had sympathy for parents or older people who didn’t like it. That said, if I were to show two or three of the episodes I’m proud of, and they didn’t like it, I’d say, “Well, I don’t care.” The show is probably my favorite thing I’ve done. (laughs.) What always surprised me was that it was on paid cable. You had to be responsible and pay your bill and have it installed. And then pretending you have no power to take it off your kids just didn’t make sense.
What was your biggest challenge during the 90s series and what will be your biggest challenge now with this new version of the show?
In the 90s I had never done a show. I didn’t know anyone who ever did a show. I was making these animated shorts on my own, in my house, and suddenly had a TV show. And then again, MTV had never actually done a show, certainly never an animated show. They didn’t know what they were doing and then hired an animation studio who didn’t know what they were doing. It was just a train wreck. Then, finally, all the controversy and defending it.
And now I don’t want it to necessarily be this nostalgia, so how do you take it to 2022? One of the things I really wanted to try is that we set up in Beavis and Butt-Head do the universe, is where there’s some sort of quantum entanglement, split universe thing. So there will be episodes where they’re middle-aged, and those are a lot of fun to do. I think it’s just kind of preserving the pure nature of the characters, always has been, but now in modern times. That was a great thought to work with on this. But when it feels good, it is usually good.
Will the rudeness, profanity of the characters stay the same, or could you crank it up now that you don’t have to adhere to networking standards and practices?
You know, way back with Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, we could have said the word “shit” but somehow it just didn’t look like them. I don’t know, like they have something naive and innocent that makes it work. There’s just something funny about a lot of silly phrases like “ass-wagon” and “ass-munch.” We’re not going to play with the F-word; we don’t really change it.
Now that so many years have passed and your children have grown, has your view of these characters changed? Like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if maybe they weren’t such buffoons?”
(laughs.) I was already 30 when my first short show aired on MTV, so I was old, I already had a kid. What changed for me a bit as the characters got really popular and mainstream was that they just had to be horrible, horrifying little monsters. And it was kind of like, “Wow, we’re doing 100 episodes, so we need to find a side of them that’s sympathetic,” which was mostly just a way of feeling sorry for them. I keep them pretty close to where they were [at first], but they did get a little smarter over the years. They’ve gotten a little smarter watching videos than maybe they should be.
I loved the two episodes I was able to show, especially when Beavis talks to the dumpster garbage, and it makes him do positive deeds. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this Mike somehow paying for those kids in the ’90s who allegedly got into trouble with fire and parents blaming the show? “
(laughs.) There may be something subconscious going on there. Someone was pitching for a musical episode and I thought, “South Park did that better than anyone ever.” One of the ideas was that fire would be a character. Then Lew Morton and I started kicking around the idea that the fire isn’t telling him to do anything bad. It was so much fun to write. Actually, in the ’90s, there was still that lingering late ’80s thing about how metal albums were accused of posting backwards. (laughs.) And I had a few instances where Beavis started talking backwards, and if you played that backwards, he said, “Stay in school and go to college.” I knew if I talked to him backwards, someone would go after the show, and that’s what they found.
That is amazing! The other moment in the new episodes that got me rolling was Beavis being a BTS fan. Is the band a guilty pleasure of yours, or how did that happen?
BTS is a guilty pleasure – but maybe not even that guilty: I like them. I have quite a mainstream taste. I think because I used to be a musician, people think I’m going to be a music snob. I’m not at all. I like a lot of sugary pop music. We kind of did that with Bon Jovi in the ’90s, Beavis liked them more than he should.
Of Tosh.0 being gone, there is definitely a void to fool videos. I love that Beavis and Butthead do that. How did that come into the plan?
When we start talking to Paramount+, they just assume we’d have videos in it, like we used to. I thought maybe they wouldn’t want that, so I was glad they did. There are just all kinds of people killing it on YouTube with videos of them watching other videos, so why shouldn’t animated people comment on it? And it’s just really fun to do. Some of those things were hard to clear up because a lot of these people make so much money just posting their videos, so why would they want these two to talk about it?
One of the funniest stories ever told you it was years ago Jimmy Kimmel Live! about the furious phone message you got from someone calling the show “Porky’s Butthole.” And their speech pattern helped you create Boomhauer on King of the Hill. I need to know, do you still have the tape? Is that your favorite complaint? And do you still get complaints to this day?
(laughs.) I still have the tape and have digitized it. I thought about putting it out because I got a lot of questions about it, but then I thought maybe this guy isn’t quite there and that would be mean. It’s definitely my favorite complaint. I still get complaints, but they aren’t as interesting as they used to be. It’ll be someone who just blows me on Twitter and tells you to “rotten” for something. You know, I got some pretty serious death threats. One person even wrote an entire poem that rhymed about how he or she was going to kill me. That was probably my least favorite. (laughs.) MTV got me a bodyguard to go to the studio. Another time someone called and described the inside of my building, in the lobby, as harassing to prove they knew where I lived.
The Beavis and Butthead video game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis was excellent. Have you thought about doing another game?
That hasn’t come up, but that’s actually something that would be fun to do. I’m not a big gamer myself, but we could do so much more with it now. At the time, a company had started to develop – and I don’t know why it fell apart – but it was a hydraulic ride, like Back to the future was at Universal Studios. It was a taxi that Butt-Head was driving, that ran over a pile of shit, and Beavis was in the passenger seat. There would be 3D graphics, all coordinated with all the shaking and rumbling. They would set up the first one in a Chicago baseball stadium.
That’s hilarious! When the show caught fire and merchandise was everywhere, was there one item in particular that wowed you when you saw it?
(laughs.) I wasn’t crazy about many of the T-shirts. One that just comes to mind, I don’t know what you call it, like a pendant you wear around your neck, with a leather strap, with Beavis headbanging, made of pewter. I still have it. They didn’t make many, maybe they were too expensive. One thing, I don’t think it’s merchandise, but it really surprised me, they made a hot air balloon for the ’93 MTV Video Music Awards. It was crazy. It was the MTV logo with Beavis and Butt-Head on either side. I don’t know how that thing ever floated, but it floated for a while – then it caught fire. (laughs.)
Precisely. And you just never heard of it again. It’s very hard to find a trace of it, but there was a photo somewhere online that I once found.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head premieres August 4 on Paramount+.