If Beavis and Butt-Head were actually 25, they’d be buying alcohol, cigarettes and probably hookers. But they are forever 14 (15 in one early episode) and forever have not scored. They were two boys after my own heart, extreme examples of the slacker generation of which I was presumably a part.
Left unattended to their own devices, Beavis and Butt-Head (both voiced by creator Mike Judge) would get in trouble trying to score, survive high school or just try to find something cool and avoid stuff that sucks. The simpler the story the more absurdly brilliant it might be. One episode has Beavis and Butt-Head trying to kill time before a TV show comes on (one of their ideas is standing up). Another puts them on probation in high school so they have to stop laughing, and it’s a day when every class has some sort of double entendre.
This was satire by the way. Teenage boys in the ‘90s did act like this, making trouble for their teachers, bosses or even other kids. That’s probably why I related to them so much, even if I wasn’t like that myself. I knew people like them who weren’t nearly as funny. Beavis and Butt-head were the worst case scenario, what you could become if you don’t pay attention in school, if you do nothing but watch tv and harass women and adults.
To the establishment, these were dangerous bad role models. That’s probably another reason why I gravitated towards them. Anything adults hated had to be good. Their laughs were fun to imitate too. Any time I celebrated something in real life I could do so with a huh huh huh or heh heh heh.
Often dismissed as having no social value, there’s a lot more going on in Beavis and Butthead than crude jokes and shock humor. As antisocial as they are, Beavis and Butt-Head clearly value friendship. They do everything together. I admired their loyalty, or maybe it’s codependence. Butt-Head is clearly the leader, and he’s the smart one. He’s the idea man who thinks of things like xeroxing money. Beavis goes along with it and understands what they’re doing even less. By the end, Beavis would assert himself more and that was a refreshing turn.
To me, there was comfort in their predictability. They were always going to like stuff that’s cool and hate stuff that sucks. Usually it was pretty obvious what would be cool so it was cathartic when they declared it so. You knew it was coming so you could laugh along with them. Usually anything involving babes, nachos or destruction. Occasionally they would enjoy something off brand that was fun too.
I could also relate to their desperation. It’s what hormonal male teenagers go through. Fortunately, most of us have self-control but Beavis and Butt-Head were the unfiltered id. You could bet they’d make anything they encounter into a sex joke, like balls on a golf course or choking on a piece of chicken. They were harmless though. They were too incompetent to be a threat to anyone. It was all talk and bravado. I dare say they would still be funny today. The humor could just get deeper mocking insecure men threatened by #MeToo.
Beavis and Butthead were idiots for sure, but the humor isn’t that simple. Beavis and Butthead use sound logic. The only thing that makes it absurd is they lack common sense. My favorite episode is when Beavis thinks he’s pregnant. He’s actually correctly identifying the symptoms and how a pregnancy test works. He’s just ignoring the whole “men can’t get pregnant” thing. Photocopying money is a logical way to get more money. They just don’t know that counterfeiting is a thing that exists, but beyond that they’re so dumb they use xerox machines and xerox coins too.
It’s quaint to think of a time when teenagers playing with power tools and using language like fartknocker and bunghole were controversial. Just four years earlier, Bart Simpson was controversial for saying “hell” and a few years later South Park would push buttons even further.
They even scaled back the animal cruelty from the original Frog Baseball short. Yes, Beavis and Butt-Head were destructive but they hurt themselves more than anyone else, except maybe poor Mr. Anderson. In Washing the Dog they put a dog in a washing machine, but the dog is okay. They end up getting in the washer themselves to make themselves sick. The dog kind of wins that one.
There was one real life controversy where a five-year-old kid burned down the family’s trailer, killing a two-year-old sibling, because he copied Beavis’s love of fire. MTV removed all fire references from existing episodes, and Beavis never said fire again until the movie, but I never saw anyone ask the parents why an unsupervised child had access to a cigarette lighter. That’s sort of a basic thing you’re supposed to keep away from children regardless of what he watched on TV.
The show only became more clever when Beavis stopped saying fire. In its place, Beavis developed far more interesting quirks. Most noteworthy, he developed the absurd alter ego Cornholio with his shirt pulled over his head spouting “Are you threatening me?” and “I need TP for my bunghole!” They made some clever allusions to avoiding the word fire too, as well as Buffcoat and Beaver, the names senator Ernest Hollings called them after the fire incident.
Some of the best jokes were when Beavis and Butt-Head just watched music videos, a clever way to make use of the MTV library and pad out animated episodes. Sure, it was fun to see them razz Vince Neil and other wusses, but the videos were also a chance to just get to know Beavis and Butt-Head as characters. They would start going off topic, with Beavis making pancakes or talking about foreigners coming into his room to steal secrets. My favorite was the M.C. 900 Ft. Jesus video for “If I Only Had a Brain” where Beavis just hums along the entire song.
Sadly, later seasons dropped the music videos, mainly because Judge was writing and directing the movie and couldn’t watch and write commentary on videos too. It impacted the episodes too. Playing straight through without breaks affected the pacing, and jammed three shorts into a 30 minute show. Even sadder, a lot of those video segments weren’t ported to video, presumably because the rights were only cleared for broadcast. The 2011 revival at least had them watch reality TV.
As for their animated adventures, some of my favorite episodes include:
Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas
Plate Frisbee – A brilliant example of how Beavis and Butt-Head can make trouble even without leaving the house (well, Stewart’s house).
Sperm Bank – Butt-Head says, “There’s more where that came from.”
Dream On – Beavis and Butt-Head fall asleep on the couch and dream of vignettes that spoof other TV shows.
Buttniks – Beavis does slam poetry as Cornholio.
Vaya Con Cornholio – Cornholio getting deported is more relevant than ever.
Trouble Urinating – They forget how to urinate, and Judge gets an entire episode out of this.
The Great Cornholio – Birth of a legend.
No Laughing – The one thing Beavis and Butt-Head can’t stop doing. A classic.
Plastic Surgin’ – Okay, there are a lot of logical holes in this. Beavis and Butt-Head think they’re getting their dicks enlarged but they end up with nose jobs instead. How does the doctor keep this misunderstanding going? And do Beavis and Butt-Head have health insurance that pays for elective procedures? Still funny.
Temporary Insanity – Beavis and Butt-Head take temp jobs where they just type gibberish all day and the staff keeps trying to work with them without directly calling out their incompetence.
Beavis and Butt-Head Vs. The Vending Machine – Beavis gets his arm stuck in a vending machine trying to get free pork rinds. It’s really his screams for Butt-Head that make it a classic.
Prank Call – Beavis and Butt-Head find Harry Sachs in the phone book and prank him mercilessly.
Canoe – On a camping trip, Mr. Van Driessen sings “Men Have Feelings Too.”
Sporting Goods – Beavis and Butt-Head have to buy jock straps for P.E.
That’s a good mix of high concept episodes and absurdly simple ones where pretty much nothing happens. That’s the brilliance of Beavis and Butt-Head. I guess I didn’t pick any Burger World ones, except the Christmas special. That was a significant part of their world, and relatable to anyone who’s worked fast food, or been waited on by Beavis and Butt-Head types.
A 2011 revival proved that Beavis and Butt-Head were not stuck in the ’90s. They were just as funny and relevant navigating the new millennium. They’re not so much a commentary on millennial teens though. I mean, this is a generation that no longer flips through channels and watches whatever is on. Plus, they’re so connected, no teenager is really on their own anymore.
Now Beavis and Butt-Head exist as characters who have survived long past the era that inspired them. They are defined characters with points of view that will always be relevant, just like The Simpsons and South Park. Huh huh huh, that’s cool.