Beavis and Butthead, the brainchild of creator Mike Judge, was a cartoon on MTV about two teenage delinquents who lived in the small town of Highland, Texas.
Some 15 years ago, these were two of the best-known laughs in America. One begins with an uhhhh that gives way to an airy, affected heh-heh-heh — it could belong to a snob who has had one too many electroshock treatments — while the other is more guttural, a throat-clearing hmm that sometimes shifts to a higher register and back again, like Scooby-Doo being strangled.
Beavis and Butthead were both lollygaggers who lacked any intellect whatsoever and had no goals or aspirations for the future (other than trying to get laid, which they never were able to come close to). Between segments, they would watch real life music videos, either criticizing or praising the artists.
The first belongs to Butt-Head, the second to Beavis, and in their animated show, which MTV broadcast from 1993 to 1997.
that laughter punctuates just about everything the two boneheaded teenagers utter. It’s so automatic that I imagined it had actually been automated and that an engineer pressed a button every time their laughter was called for, and voilà: uhhhh-heh-heh-heh, or hnhnhnhn, or both overlapping.
Beavis and Butthead both made their debut in 1992 in a short film titled “Frog Baseball”, which was based on a demented game that Mike Judge overheard a couple of kids talk about playing as he was taking a walk one day.
Also, last month, inside of a recording studio in Burbank, Calif. I watched as Mike Judge, the show’s creator and now its resurrector of12 new episodes of “Beavis and Butt-Head” will be shown on MTV starting Oct. 27 was discharged line after line and laugh after laugh. He does the voices for both Beavis and Butt-Head, and he was recording their lines in sequence, now repeating a phrase with a different emphasis, now reversing the lines so that Beavis would say what Butt-Head had said, and vice versa.
In the duo, Butthead was usually the leader, who came off as nonchalant. Beavis was usually Butthead’s polar opposite, especially with his alter ego, Cornholio, to which Beavis would pull his shirt over his head after consuming too much sugar or caffeine.
The new episodes, like the old ones, intersperse two short cartoons about Beavis and Butt-Head with clips from music videos that they talk over; this time around, they’ll also talk over clips from reality TV shows, like “Jersey Shore” and “Sixteen and Pregnant.” The reception is bound to be quieter than it was in the ’90s: back then the two became controversial figures, at the vanguard of televised crudeness, but they’ve since been far surpassed in the onscreen moron category. And the world that Beavis and Butt-Head have returned to, with its blogs and its Twitter feeds and its customer reviews, is bloated with dumb commentary.
Beavis and Butt-Head’s comments are dumber and funnier, which has less to do with the message than with the perversely upbeat messengers. For everything in their world that “sucks” (wedding music, exercise, trees), they find something else “cool” (a sadistic bully, a gushing nosebleed, head lice). “It doesn’t get any better than this” is one of Butt-Head’s signature lines. Their topsy-turvy outlook, often very funny in itself, sets up the comedy of the video commentaries, in which Beavis and Butt-Head, who admire all sorts of stupid stuff, nonetheless find certain stupid stuff to be inauthentically stupid, and therefore beneath them.
Then Judge, who incidentally had been fending off a cold, began to do Beavis and Butt-Head doing imitations of the drunken boys’ slurred speech. The resulting voices were so bizarre that they were hardly intelligible. He rewatched the clip and tried again, nailing it the second time. Everyone in the room started laughing.
Judge spends half his time in Los Angeles and half in Austin, where I also live, and although I’d never met him before, it’s a small-enough town that I knew people who had encountered him one way or another. From them I heard that he had no great love for being interviewed, that he was a nice guy, that he was an odd guy and that he was sexy. As for that last claim, I have no real quarrel with it. The other things all turned out to be accurate, too, but in ways different from what I’d expected.
There were also real-life characters. A “really weird” friend from elementary school “was on Ritalin before anyone was on Ritalin,” Judge began. “This guy, when he was coming down off of Ritalin, would just go berserk. He was so beyond hyper. He had this dog, and the dog would kind of feed off his hyperactivity, and when the dog got all wound up, he’d just go, ‘Fire, fire, fire.’ I don’t know why.” Later on, Judge had the pyrophile Beavis start chanting, “Fire, fire,” during a video commentary one day. “Then I remembered later where it came from.”
Judge’s characters tend to be composites, their traits borrowed from real people. For instance, the shaky, sweating Principal McVicker from “Beavis and Butt-Head” is based mostly on a band teacher who had the shakes, but also on a physics professor that Judge had fixated on, and a little bit on someone he accidentally called in junior high and then called back again and again just to hear the man yell at him.
Although there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, Beavis and Butthead lived together in the same shoddy household at too young an age, with absolutely no parental supervision, watched television, and ate junk food. They did however both work at a fast food restaurant called Burger World to help pay the bills. They would screw up on the job constantly, but the duo still kept their jobs at the restaurant, which was almost always understaffed. I watched some of it as a kid even though it was my brother’s favorite cartoon from when he was a kid in the 90’s. Still the show did said it was aired on MTV channel, that was listed under cable network.