Tell us about the genesis of Beavis & Butt-head. How did you come up with the idea?
It started as two drawings, where I was trying to draw the same guy. I tried four or five different times. It was supposed to be this guy that I went to high school with, who is actually nothing like those characters. He was a straight “A” student, but was kind of a spaz. One of the drawings eventually became Beavis, and the other one became Butt-head. I just saw a quality in them that I thought was funny, so I exaggerated that. I’d go back to my sketchbook and start drawing them again. I started making animated shorts and coming up with different ideas, so I looked at these guys and wanted to do something with them. I actually went for a walk, and thought of the names and what the first short was going to be — I came up with it all in five minutes. It started with a two-minute animated short. This was back when I was just animating by myself in my house and drawing.
What have been some of your favourite memories from the show since it first premiered?
I love doing animations. It’s something that I wanted to do, and didn’t get to do until I was about 26 years old. I would say being on the cover of Rolling Stone was amazing. Another favourite moment was when I was in a park when the first episodes were airing on MTV, and people were walking their dogs past me. I heard one of them say, “You need to wash your dog.” And then I heard some other guy say, “Washing the dog! Washing the dog!” — quoting the show. I remember thinking how cool that was. Oh, also hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie True Lies dropping the Beavis & Butt- head reference. True Lies was this big blockbuster movie, and I was just sitting there, and all of a sudden, my little cartoon was referenced. That was also really cool.
From MTV Unplugged to Daria and Jersey Shore, MTV has long been the home of iconic shows. How does it feel that Beavis & Butt-head has become not only an American classic, but a pop culture phenomenon around the world?
I’d say that it feels good! I try not to think about that stuff too much especially when I’m in the midst of doing the show. But it’s always nice to hear that kind of stuff. And it’s also cool because they’re these drawings, and even though it’s my voice, not many people know what I look like. I’m sure if you’re a big actor, it could really mess you up being a big icon, but it’s kind of nice to just have it in these drawings.
During its run in the 1990s, Beavis & Butt-head broke ground in adult comedy as the first hit animation. Now, with “adult-skewing” cartoon series such as South Park being such a success, what continues to make Beavis & Butt- head so different than any other show today?
I think that Beavis & Butt-head is more character-based than joke-based (not to get too analytical here!), but I do happen to think it’s very funny, and there are a lot of jokes. But it’s not really “joke writing”. A lot of it is funny because of the way that things are said, and the way that the characters look, walk and talk — that kind of stuff. I would like to think that the characters are pretty different than a lot of the other animated shows. There are shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill – which are all great shows – but they’re all about families, and Beavis and Butt-head are not a family *laughs*. So, it’s kind of like this old school/Elvis Costello/Three Stooges style.
What is your creative process in making Beavis & Butt-head?
Is it challenging to write jokes that are distinctively clever, but in the voice of two dim-witted teenagers? Since I do the voices, I’ll find that a lot of the time, I’ll be working with writers who are getting too clever where Beavis and Butt-head wouldn’t be smart enough to say something like that, or about that video. I’m usually able to find a way to make it work, though. It’s kind of tricky, and definitely harder than it looks. A lot of people – especially when it first came out – thought, ‘Oh, that’s a dumb show. I’ve had dumb ideas, too, so I should be writing for this.’ And it’s really not as easy as it looks. It is part of the challenge — even with the plots. They aren’t characters that are like, ‘Oh, I have this problem. I will devise a plan and solve it.’ It’s kind of like Peter Sellers — writing where things happen to him by accident, and you can never be successful at what you’re doing. It’s a similar process in writing.
You’ve had such a successful career in animation. When did you first become interested in this field?
I was interested in it since I was probably 8 years old. My uncle explained to me how it works and how animation is done. I remember seeing a little flipbook thing, so I started creating flipbook cartoons in my spelling book at school. In high school, I saved up money working all summer at this drug store, and I was going to buy either a camera (to start trying to animate) or an electric bass guitar. And I think that I thought that the guitar would give me more of a social life, so I bought the guitar. I also looked into the cost of the camera, and realized that I could afford it, but with the cost of the film and developing it, I just couldn’t do it. It took me until I was about 25 or 26 years old that I started again. But I’ve always been into it since I was a kid.
What’s the best advice you were ever given that kept you motivated and passionate as an animator?
One thing that comes to mind was when I was reading an article by Joe Bob Briggs, who wrote drive-in movie reviews. This was when I was living in Dallas and wanted to go into comedy or filmmaking. Joe Bob Briggs had written this op-ed because people were always asking him how to get into writing. I wish I could put it as well as he did, but basically, it was like a “build it and it will come” kind of thing. I was always worried that I didn’t have any connections, that I didn’t know anybody — and why make films if you don’t know anybody to send it to? This guy just kept saying, “All I can tell you is to write. Keep writing, and don’t worry about it, where it’s going to go, or who’s going to see it. Just keep writing. Someone will tell somebody, someone will show somebody, and it will happen in its own if it’s good.” And again, these weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist of this article that he wrote. So in reading that, something clicked in me. And I decided that I’m going to make an animated film because I want to and because it’ll be fun. And if anything happens, then it happens. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but I’m going to do it because I want to do it. I still tell people that. Even though it seems like lame advice, it really is true, especially in animation and filmmaking. Not many people animate a film. It’s an unusual thing. Maybe it’s more common than when I started, but still, it’s something that shows that it took a lot of work.
Have you ever seen Beavis and Butt-head in other countries, where the characters speak French or Spanish? What did you think?
Do you think they captured the voices or at least were close? I saw a Spanish one and a French one once, and it wasn’t close at all. It sounded like guys doing karate movies. The voices were really deep and big and aggressive. It was way off. But what I’ve been told is really good is the Russian dubbing. And I guess it became big eight or nine years ago, but apparently they had a woman doing it, which is actually a really good idea. It’s kind of a tradition in cartoons to have a grown woman doing a teenager boy’s voice because it just works. I think if they keep dubbing, they should look into a woman doing it! *laughs*
What do you think Beavis and Butt-head would think of today’s pop culture, such as today’s celebrities and music?
Probably! It’s always a mixed bag, but I think there are plenty of things out there that I could see them being into. When I started watching Jersey Shore — which I got hooked on myself *laughs* — I was trying to figure out how to approach it. And when it clicked for me, it was cool to have them know the show inside and out, and just have fun with it. I think there’s plenty of good stuff for them to watch now. I think I have a little bit of their tastes, too, like Sons of Guns and Jail — plenty of shows where they just blow stuff up! *laughs*
Do you think there are people as dumb as Beavis and Butt-head? Do you think there are more Beavis and Butt-heads in 2012 than in the 90’s?
I think that’s definitely possible!