20 Years Ago Today, Beavis and Butt-Head Did America
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since they made a Beavis and Butt-Head movie. When Beavis and Butt-Head Do America opened, it was the most important movie of the year for me, perhaps of my life (at least since Back to the Future II or Terminator 2). I was only 19 in 1996 so I’ve now lived more years after Beavis and Butt-Head Do America than I had before it.
Beavis and Butt-Head were so important to me as a teenager growing So important to me as teen. They gave voice to not accepting what the mainstream was selling (not bad for a show on MTV). They were dismissed as crude and vulgar so that only made me identify with them more. Perhaps they never got enough credit for how endearing they were. Beavis and Butt-Head were so predictable there was comfort to knowing how they’d react to a given situation, yet they were full of enough surprises to invent bizarre characters like The Great Cornholio, or do an episode where Beavis thinks he’s pregnant.
I still worked at a movie theater in 1996 so to get to pop into a theater and see my favorite guys was special. I watched Beavis and Butt-Head Do America in its entirety three times with various friends who wanted to see it too.
It should be no surprise that Beavis and Butt-Head Do America still holds up. When they did a new MTV series in 2011 it was relevant as ever. Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t change. There’s just new B.S. for them to react to. They are not millennials. They do not approach situations with irony. In fact it is their sincerity about what’s cool and what sucks that makes them so endearing.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America is, at its heart, a love story between two boys and their TV. They’re truly disturbed that their TV has been stolen and that’s endearing. It’s really all they have in life, and it’s the basis for all their references and all the interstitials of their TV show. Although the film teases a payoff to letting them score, ultimately it’s finding their TV that brings them resolution.
Their shows were 7 minute shorts once you take out the music videos. The longest was a two parter. So a movie needed traditional story. It began at home and school but then complicates things. Although the story is predicated on the idiot misunderstanding of being hired to “do” Muddy’s wife, and a MacGuffin of the biological unit Dallas stole, this is how Mike Judge and cowriter Joe Stillman forced Beavis and Butt-Head into the larger world. Their desperation of finally scoring is endearing too.
Judge and Stillman adapted Beavis and Butt-Head to the format of a movie. Cornholio was most absurd development of show, but the movie used it as a character. It had to be set up in act one (taking No Doze pills and candy on the plane) so that it would pay off when he becomes Cornholio in the climax.
They fit all the Beavis and Butt-Head sayings into the story: “boioioioioioioioioing,” “Come to Butt-Head” and deeper cuts of “I’ll be damned” and “Hey, how’s it going.” They also go them dancing and fighting, because Butt-Head slapping Beavis is hilarious.
The movie also allowed Beavis to say “Fire” again, since MTV agreed to edit it out of the show after some controversy. By 1996, you realized that they come up with much funnier bits for Beavis so they really didn’t need fire.
The cross-country tour allowed Beavis and Butt-Head to be extra destructive. As redundant as airplane safety procedure is, you probably couldn’t do those jokes post 9/11 but it’s harmless absurdity. They shut down Hoover Dam, flood the Yosemite bathrooms, abuse confessionals impersonating priests and cause freeway pileup.
Beavis and Butt-Head also meet their dads, which is more for the audience than the boys because they don’t seem to get it. It’s a little disturbing how scared of Butt-Head’s dad Beavis’s dad was. The slapping becomes abusive when they’re grown up
Not to say Beavis and Butt-Head went too Hollywood with a linear story. There’s also plenty of random idiocy. They just make the most obvious joke and it’s glorious. Slots become sluts. A donkey’s butt is the ass of the ass. Is the Hoover Dam a God dam? (Clark Griswold would make a similar joke months later in Vegas Vacation.) The way Beavis says Meeteetse always gets me. Even at their most dire moment, they are distracted by buzzards humping. Beavis’ memory of being a sperm is downright whimsical. They make all of Congress laugh with their announcement of doing the chick big hooters.
Not that Beavis and Butt-Head got political, but seeing Cornholio in the White House teaching foreign dignitaries to say “TP for my bunghole” was pretty bold, as was Butt-Head hitting on Chelsea Clinton. Beavis chanting “Bungholiooooooo” was a new development in the Conrholio schtick.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America had a great soundtrack too. There was Isaac Hayes’ retro funk theme song, the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of “Love Rollercoaster,” AC/DC, LL Cool J and Ozzy. Also the voice cast. Celebrities were fans of Beavis and Butt-Head so they got Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (then a Hollywood power couple), Cloris Leachman, Robert Stack and Greg Kinnear with Richard Linklater, Eric Bogosian and David Letterman in smaller cameos.
The movie impacted the show in ways that might not have been obvious. I only learned when I interviewed Judge a decade later that he stopped doing music videos on the show because he just couldn’t do a movie, episodes AND music videos at the same time. I’d just assumed MTV dropped the videos but it makes sense something had to give. It’s a shame because the videos were often the best part, but then sticking with them could’ve meant no movie. At least in 2011 they returned to commentary, but this time for reality TV.
I still want Beavis and Butt-Head to come back. We need them now more than ever. At least I know they’ve never grown up and Beavis and Butt-Head Do America can take me back to a simpler time when being cool and not sucking was enough. Don’t forget to watch the Beavis and Butt-Head Christmas special this week too.