|Most parents hated them. Some even tried to get them off the air. Schoolteachers were driven insane by kids imitating their incessant laughing. But protests couldn’t kill Beavis and Butt-head—remember, this was MTV, home of the unofficial motto, “If adults hate it, it’s good for you.” Somehow, these two giggling, underachieving, body-part-and-function-obsessed juvenile delinquents wound up being one of the biggest things on cable television.
The show was the brainchild (or doofuschild, as the case may be) of Mike Judge, who first introduced his two antisocial teens in an animated short called “Frog Baseball.” The short film, which played out exactly how it sounds, was an underground hit on the animated festival circuit, earning it a spot on MTV’s animation compilation Liquid Television. There was just something grotesquely funny about seeing frogs get whacked with a baseball bat, PETA be damned. And so, Beavis and Butt-head got a shot at the 30-minute big time.
In their animated segments, Beavis and Butt-head went on one moronic adventure after another. One half-hour episode (usually two fifteen-minute stories) might have B&B spin-drying neighbor Mr. Anderson’s dog, deep-frying rats at their Burger World job, tormenting neighbor Stewart Stevenson (he of the wuss metal t-shirts), or facing another day of school with hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen, sadistic gym coach Bradley Buzzcut, dyspeptic Principal McVicker, and sarcastic classmate Daria. But more often than not, the clueless twosome could be found on their couch. And here’s where the “M” part of “MTV” came into play.
As a regular part of every episode, Beavis and Butt-head passed judgment on MTV videos. What they liked: hot chicks, explosions, trash, heavy metal, and fire. What they didn’t: pretty boy metal and Boy George. When things got too ugly, Beavis went nuts (“This sucks! Change it!”), and the boys flipped to a new video. With this informal video review system, Beavis and Butt-head became the voice of public taste (at least the young, psychotic American male part of the public). A sample evaluation, from a Winger video:
“These guys live on the edge.”
“Yeah, the edge of Wuss Cliff.”
For many, it was like, “Dude! These guys are totally saying what all of us are thinking!” Before long, Beavis and Butt-head was the most popular show on MTV, and fans were frantically working on the perfect Cornholio impression (“Are you threatening me?”).
The Beavis and Butt-head world expanded into merchandise, a music album (including B&B’s rendition of “I Got You Babe,” sung with Cher), and assorted t-shirts and video games. 1996 brought the release of the feature film Beavis and Butt-head Do America, which went on to become the most successful non-Disney animated film ever made (it soon lost the title, but hey, it was fun while it lasted).
But all this success didn’t come without its growing pains. Along with the regular rants from authority figures, Beavis and Butt-head also came under fire for Beavis’ love of, well, fire. His “Fire! Fire!” catchphrase was a favorite of Beavis impressionists, but one little boy took it a bit too seriously, reportedly setting a deadly fire in his trailer home. After the incident, old episodes were re-edited to remove fire references, and all mentions of the word “Fire!” were forbidden from that point on (Beavis did throw in a “Fryer! Fryer!” just to keep it real).
After the success of the movie, creator Mike Judge decided it was time for the two to retire. Beavis and Butt-Head left the MTV airwaves in 1997, and even ended up leaving this mortal world in the final episode, “Beavis and Butt-Head Are Dead.” Daria got her own spin-off series, and crotchety neighbor Mr. Anderson was kind of reborn as Hank Hill, star of Judge’s next series, King of the Hill (the two weren’t related, but they had the same voice and seemed to have the same general outlook on life).
But more important than the spin-offs is the legacy of Beavis and Butt-head themselves. You can pooh-pooh their place in history, but if you try, they’ll always get the last word: “Huh-huh. Huh-huh. You said ‘poo.’”