How Mike Judge Brought Beavis And Butt-Head Into The Modern Era

Enough time has passed since the invention of Beavis and Butt-Head that describing them requires more than a little context. The characters, created by Mike Judge in 1992, made their debut in a series of sick and twisted animated shorts wherein the two teenage wastoids would explode firecrackers, abuse frogs, fart, and chuckle incessantly at anything that had even the most distant whiff of sexual innuendo. The shorts led to a full-blown MTV animated series in 1993 wherein Beavis and Butt-Head's world would expand to include their high school, the convenience store where they bought nachos, and the people in their lives that they could only barely perceive through the haze of their hormonal idiocy. Also, because of the dictates of MTV at the time, "Beavis and Butt-Head" required a music video element, and the show feature frequent asides wherein the dunderheaded duo watched music videos and offered running commentary. 

Beavis and Butt-Head became the face of Generation X, giving an entire age group a reputation for being messy, unambitious, unintelligent slackers with a short attention span and no skills. If you think Millennials took it on the chin from Boomers, Gen-X got it just as bad. 

Seeing as Beavis and Butt-Head are very much a product of their era, how would a reboot work in 2022 (especially after it had already been revisited in 2011)? Already this year, Paramount+ released "Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe," and another full-blown reboot is on the way. But back in 2011, Mike Judge, in an interview with Collider, addressed the changing demographics of the show, what needed to be retained, and what had wilted over time. 


In 1993, "Beavis and Butt-Head" catered to a very specific crowd: It was a show about slugabed teens who watched a lot of MTV aimed at slugabed teens who watched a lot of MTV. It was a show that pointed an ironic finger at its own audience. In 2011, MTV hadn't shown music videos for many, many years, and the network had even revealed in 2010 that its three letters no longer stood for anything. What, then, was the place of the 1990s Gen-X teens in 2011? 

Judge wasn't concerned, hoping that the show's "dumb" humor would be more important than its 1990s origins: 

"Yeah I mean I hear about the statistics. I try not to care about it at all. I think if you put something good on TV, people are going to find it. You can take 'The Sopranos' and put it on at four in the morning and somebody's going to find it. So, I try not to think of what the audience is watching, because hopefully the people who like it will find it. But I do hear a lot about how their audience is all female now, and so yeah I think it has changed."

That assumption by Judge isn't merely idle speculation or rumor; reports did reveal that women comprised of a larger share of MTV's viewing audience than men. 

Sixteen and Pregnant

Judge was also uncaring when it comes to "crossover appeal," and how hard he would have to work to capture a new audience while pleasing the show's old fans. In a universe as uncomplicated at that Beavis and Butt-Head occupy, it seems paying attention to canon or mythology isn't entirely important. The only updates that were important to Judge were more up-to-date references; modern kids certainly wouldn't understand quoted lyrics to a Silverchair song, for instance. Did he think at all about the tastes of modern MTV viewers? Judge explained:

"I try not to think about it. Well, I do think about it like, 'OK someone's who's watching it fresh who's never seen it before.' I thought about it like that with people who might go see the movie who had never seen the show. But other than that, to me I just think about who the characters are and what's funny to them. I don't think about trying to appeal to this group or that group. But, I was conscious about — well, putting 'Jersey Shore' and 'Sixteen and Pregnant' — and all that stuff in there. I was conscious of someone putting on the TV hoping to see 'Jersey Shore,' at least they'll get to see a little bit of Beavis and Butt-Head talking over it.

Indeed, Beavis and Butt-Head are so mentally uncomplicated that it would be believable that they wouldn't change with the times. There is poetry in seeing them eternally stuck in 1992 when Metallica or AC/DC were still giant, vibrant acts and MTV never stopped playing music videos. If there are nachos and girly mags, they'll be content.

Incidentally, thanks to "Stranger Things," Metallica is kind of back.

Beavis and Butt-Head and Cheech and Chong

Judge said as much. Making a "new" Beavis and Butt-Head wasn't so much an issue as seeing their perspective on the world in 2011 — and again in 2022:

"I don't think about it like changing Beavis and Butt-Head the characters themselves, how they are to the new world, except just putting the new world around them and letting them react to it.

The main challenge had a lot less to do with a new audience or even a shifting generation entertainment ethos. What Judge struggled with was writing "dumb" characters to be fresh and funny. Beavis and Butt-Head certainly follow in a tradition that includes the Three Stooges and other "idiot" characters. In order to get that just right, Judge did some research on his classics:

"It's harder than it looks to write Beavis and Butt-Head because they're so dumb. They can't figure stuff out. Things sort of have to happen to them. I watched a lot of Clouseau movies and Cheech and Chong and that stuff is really well done. Like I say, it's harder to write than you'd think, but I think I'm pretty happy with the way we brought them into the future."

The fundamental rule had everything to do with humor. If it was funny, then everything else didn't matter. Beavis and Butt-Head may have been invented from the mind of a young guy from New Mexico wanting to recreate the foolishness of the kids in his age group, but the comedic underpinnings of the characters remain: "I think it's just finding the stuff that's pure and funny about them," Judge said, "and not trying too hard."

"Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe" is currently streaming on Paramount+.