There are two sides to Mike Judge in Hollywood. There’s the TV star, who took a ton of heat but came out as one of the most daring and biting voices of satire in the 1990′s with Beavis and Butthead, and the successful maistream animator with a thirteen season run of the folksy and engaging King of the Hill. Then there’s the film director, who was cajoled into the theatrical Beavis and Butthead Do America, but has worked in live action ever since. He made two films for 20th Century Fox to see them abandoned theatrically, only for both 1999′s Office Space and 2006′s Idiocracy to now be regaled as cult classics. His most recent film, 2009′s Extract did not set the film world afire (Extract is now available on DVD and Blu-ray), but it showed a less biting Judge doing what he does best: everyday life comedy. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t abandoned, but it’s also a film that may find more of an audience on home video. My dinner with Mike Judge after the jump.
Ron Livingston talked about Judge having enough “fuck you” money that he doesn’t sweat some elements of this, but it was hard to know what to expect from a dinner with Judge. He’s a very funny guy, and it’s hard to know if he’d be personable or relaxed, or what. When Judge joined myself and a handful of online press, he immediately sneezed. And then shook hands (but not the sneeze hand). Everyone was given champagne, and Judge relaxed, even if he was surrounded by a bunch of questioning journalists. It’s hard to know if the wine helped, but we were able to enjoy a rambling discussion over the course of a night of wine and four-course dinner. At one point I said “This has got to be one of your top five press events,” and he agreed as we both were about to dive into our steak and lobster. So he are some excerpts from our chat.
Mike Judge: It’s got a great energy to it, I wish I could have walked around some more.
Q: I counted eight Slave Leias this year.
Judge: That’s Star Wars, right?
Q: Yeah. Did you see anyone in costumes from your stuff?
Judge: No, but I heard about somebody was dressed up as Beavis and Butthead. MTV had people go as them to video conventions, and the way they are drawn doesn’t lend themselves to sculpture or H.R. Puffenstuff kind of things.
Q: I saw a President Camacho (from Idiocracy) this year.
Judge: Oh yeah, that’s really cool, that’s awesome. That’s the first I’ve heard of it.
Q: You’ve got to figure that Office Space is a Halloween perennial now, people going as Milton.
Judge: Yeah, I’ve heard about that. There’s an extra in Extract who I thought looked just like Lumberg who looks just like he’s Gary Cole but with blond hair. I noticed when we were shooting, but didn’t think anyone else did, but people noticed in editing.
Q: The IMDb lists that as a trivia fact, that Cole is in the movie.
Judge: Well, he’s got the same hair, people think it’s him. I wonder if the guy, if that extra did it on purpose. I don’t think he has glasses, though.
Q: I saw the Beavis and Butthead short promoting Extract, how did that come to pass?
Judge: I think we were just in a meeting and someone suggested them watching a scene and commenting about it on the couch, and we couldn’t figure it out, and I had already animated them Masterpiece Theater-style, talking about it like that would be good.
Q: Did Jason Bateman know about their obsession with his name?
Judge: Not when I did it. But he really liked it. They played a cut down version of it on Letterman, and I think there was stuff Letterman would have liked that was cut out of it. Letterman raved about the movie when Bateman was on there, and after, and before.
Q: Well, he’s been a huge supporter of yours, right?
Judge: Yeah, he never said much about King of the Hill or Office Space, but definitely Beavis and Butthead, which was a big deal at the time. And it was a time when everyone was coming down on the show. But he was a big supporter, him, and he would talk about it in interviews, which helped because initially it was “oh this stupid show!” And he said he was a fan, and then like Stephen King, and Bernardo Bertolucci went on Leno and was just raving about it, so that really helped. It made people go “Now, wait a second…”
Q: Did you get to talk to, or meet Bernardo Bertolucci?
Judge: No, I wish. There’s been a lot of random fans. Patrick Stewart would bring it up in interviews, and I heard Marlon Brando was really into it. He used to do Butthead. I never met him, I just heard Johnny Depp, when they were doing Don Juan DeMarco, Depp would be Beavis.
Judge: Yes, Butthead is now seventy (laughs) “Whatever you say.”
Q: You had to deal with a lot of backlash.
Judge: Beavis and Butthead came along at a time when – I don’t know what it was… the wall had just come down (everyone laughs), there wasn’t enough going on and even before it aired I remember there was some Connie Chung special where she was talking about the horrible state of television, and the violence and it went to commercial on her saying “and MTV has even gone so far to name one of their new shows Beavis… and Butthead.” It was just like “oh my god, it’s just rock bottom.” So I think it was a scapegoat served on a silver platter before it even went on air. But that’s why it was so nice when someone like Letterman would admit they liked it.
Q: Do feel like trotting out Beavis and Butthead every once in a while, do you want to go back to it?
Judge: Yeah, actually this time it was kind of fun. Things will come along, I had a thing where a rat came into my kitchen, and it pooped everywhere, got into my bread, and I just wanted to kill this rat, and I bought one of those old Victory rat traps, and I started thinking Beavis and Butthead vs. a rat would be really good. Like they’d set the trap and forget and go “oh, cheese.”
Q: Maybe make it more of a viral thing?
Judge: I’ve thought about it. Doing that for Extract made me think about doing more, maybe something starting out small. I also looked at some stuff I wrote a while ago. While I was writing Idiocracy with Etan Coen, who used to write on the show, we were riffing on some stuff, I was looking on some stuff I wrote on my, there’s some stuff we haven’t done. I would love to have them doing tech support, you call and get them.
Q: Would they move to Bangladesh?
Judge: There’s another separate project where were thinking about Chris Elliot, where he moves to India to do a Bollywood movie, and ends up working tech support. I’m a big Chris Elliot fan. Hollywood tends to think young, but when I was seventeen Rodney Dangerfield was all the rage, and Caddyshack, we couldn’t get enough, and I think he was sixty when Back to School came out. And you can’t predict a lot of things, it’s hard to be an executive, but I think the problem is that Rodney Dangerfield wasn’t trying to make romantic comedies, he wasn’t with a twenty-five year-old girlfriend, he was just being himself, and he was carrying these movies that were huge. And there’s great young actors, but there’s also these older guys who are just funny. Chris Elliot could read the phone book and it’d be funny. Dangerfield was just playing his age in an appropriate way, and as a teenager we just loved it. (we quickly descended into a quote fest) I remember seeing that I couldn’t wait until he was on screen again.
Q: Well, as you were saying, who cares about the teens in that film?
Judge: Oh yeah, when you look at that movie, the plot’s about Michael O’Keefe and the girl who gets pregnant, but all you remember is Chevy Chase and Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight.. Ted Knight was old too.
Q: Were you a big fan of the Get a Life TV show as well?
Judge: Oh yeah. Are those on DVD?
Q: Rhino put some out, but there were a bunch of music rights issues.
Judge: That happened with Beavis and Butthead, too. We had a King of the Hill episode where we had Bob Elliot and Chris Elliot and Abby Elliot were all in, and we did the table read, and we had them on the phone, and it was really cool, because before we started I got to hear the three of them talking together and it was really sweet. Bob and Ray, I was a huge fan of them, and it was cool to hear them interact.
Q: Are the Hills something you think about doing in any other format?
Judge: I haven’t. At the very beginning, when I was pitching the show, I thought we should do it live action, but at the time they wanted me to do an animated show following The Simpsons. There was a time when cell animation was poison, but after Family Guy now everyone wants it. Who knows, we’re in a pretty nice golden age, but there was a long time between Chuck Jones and The Simpsons. I was just talking about this today. I’m sorry I can’t get into Scooby Doo on any level. There was some good stuff, I liked the Charlie Brown specials, it was an influence on how I animated Butt-head, where like Pig-Pen he had this animated filth around him, and I wanted Beavis’s hair to look like that.
Q: What about a King of the Hill movie?
Judge: I don’t know if it lends itself to a movie like The Simpsons does, but it’s the same reason you wouldn’t make a Bob Newhart movie. The Simpsons was more cinematic the way they went crazy with the animation, where King of the Hill was more Leave it to Beaver, and the Andy Griffith Show.
Q: Shows like Newhart, like King of the Hill, would have Bob Newhart working on one bit, like it was stand up material, but it was one bit expertly staged out over time, and King of the Hill feels like that, it’s perfect for that length.
Judge: Yeah. To make a whole epic… I really liked The Simpsons Movie, but when I see the Bob Newhart show I marvel at how great it is, they tried to make a Leave it to Beaver movie…
Q: Well, it was the mid 90′s. Little Rascals, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Flintstones.
Judge: None of those were good, right?
Q: No, though there was The Brady Bunch Movie.
Judge: Yeah, I actually didn’t see that until after I saw Office Space. (This descends into comic talk). You know I never really read the Marvel stuff.
Q: Were you DC?
Judge: No, I read a lot of the underground comic stuff, and Mad Magazine, American Splendor, Robert Crumb, National Lampoon, Bill Griffith, Dan Clowes. In a way, I guess, it happened slower, people copying tapes, instead of sending a link, like the really good stuff now, but I think the mechanism for finding talent is about the same, but maybe easier.
Q: Like Casting?
Judge: I’m fine watching stuff on tape, to me casting is the most painful part of the whole process, it’s like going on a horribly awkward date every five minutes for eight hours, and people come in and they’ll be someone good but they’re not right, and you want to tell them they’re good, but it sounds like BS, and they’re looking at your face to see how they did, what adjustments they need, and it’s just so emotionally draining, and it goes on and on.
Q: Was it easier with Extract, did you have your choice of who you wanted?
Judge: I probably drive casting people crazy because I’m not thinking about actors so much as real people. I mean, when I did the re-write on Extract, I had written a long time ago, I had written it for Jason Bateman. He was the first person I gave it to and he wanted to do it.
Q: But you’ve got to feel like Julia Roberts at this point, people are coming to you now.
Judge: There’s a little bit of that, but a lot of the roles aren’t… this was unusual for me cause this had “young hot girl” She read with Jason, but this was different, I had seen her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so it was easier.
Q: Was David Koechner’s character based on someone you knew.
Judge: Yeah, there was a woman in particular, it was a gated community with one way out and she would park herself on your windshield, and she’d give you a choice to be rude or go on for forty minutes, and the physical thing of moving your car.
Q: What about Gene Simmons?
Judge: I didn’t realize how big the reality show was, so I thought I could get him by, I mean once you know the voice. I had seen him on Politically Correct in 2000 without the make-up, and I thought “this guy could play the sleazy businessman.” And he’s got that great voice. When he came in and read in for it, he had this one phone and said “this is the money phone.” He’s really smart, he prides himself on being a businessman. He’s a larger than life character. I told my producer “I want this guy to be a running sore of a human being who makes Jason’s character feel horrible.” But he was up front about remembering his lines. What I didn’t anticipate was the audience seeing him and going “oh it’s Gene Simmons” and take them out of the movie, but when we were shooting, people were talking about the reality show, and his hair, we wanted to do something with it, I tried it in a pony tail, but I kind of liked it the way it was. I’ve seen a lot of ponytail lawyers, long-haired lawyers.
We then proceeded with a four course dinner that included Steak and lobster as an option. Truly it was a great night, and Mike Judge confirmed what was apparent from the last twenty years of his work. He’s awesome.