Get out your metal T-shirts and Burger World uniforms: Beavis and Butt-head are coming back to MTV. The cartoon duo, who “huh huh”ed their way through animated adventures and music videos from 1993 to 1997, were a favorite of Gen-X and Gen-Yers, most of whom stopped watching MTV years ago. So while we’re happy to see the boys back, we wonder how they’re going to fit into the network’s current programming model. After all, their primary original function was to provide Mystery Science Theater 3000 -style commentary for music videos; since the channel’s not that into music anymore (the “M” in their name notwithstanding), the L.A. Times predicts that the boys will riff on MTV shows like Jersey Shore and Skins. Which could prove fruitful, since Snookie is just as hateable as Poison.
But, perhaps more pressingly, the teens and tweens who watch MTV nowadays may very well have no idea who the hell Beavis and Butt-head are. Yes, the Skins kids made the announcement at MTV’s upfront, and Justin Bieber was all excited about it on Twitter. But they don’t know Beavis and Butt-head. Not like we do. And so, as a public service for today’s youth (boy do we feel old), we humbly offer this brief guide to Beavis and Butt-head.
This may sound nuts, but there was a time when MTV not only showed music videos, they only showed music videos. Regular programming had crept into their schedule by the time B&B premiered in ’93, but music blocks were still regular enough that most of encountered Beavis and Butt-head for the first time when channel-surfing, stopping to watch a video, and then wondering who these goofy dudes talking over it were. The grunge-happy ‘90s being well underway, their most frequent target were the hair metal videos of the 1980s, to which they offered such trenchant commentary as “Uh… this sucks,” “This is horrible,” “This sucks more than anything I have ever seen,” and “I realized it was Michael Bolton, and my bowels let loose.”
Their facts were often wrong (they called Paul Simon “that old dude from Africa who used to be in the Beatles”) but their opinions were often right on the nose. Of Vanilla Ice, Beavis noted: “Y’know, they’re always like putting this guy down, and like, making fun of him and saying he sucks and stuff? But y’know um, he really does suck. And this is one of those times when everyone’s right.”
And they did occasionally come across a video that rocked hard enough to satisfy them; the opening riffs of a Pantera or White Zombie song would provoke immediate cries of “YES!” and “ROCK!” — though Butthead did have to calm Danzig (above) with a stern, “Settle down, Danzig.”
“Uh-oh, I think this is college music,” Butthead remarks, as the boys watch the Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” spot. And what makes it “college music?” Well, the lead singer has orange hair, and they’re in a field (“Fields suck”), and they keep singing about people they know.
Sonic Youth didn’t fare much better (“Who’s that five-year-old girl who keeps bouncing around?”), and Radiohead’s “Creep” (above) tried their patience:
Beavis: How come they don’t like, play that cool part through the whole song? Butt-head: Well Beavis, if they didn’t have like part of the song that sucked, then the other part wouldn’t be as cool. Beavis: You’re pretty smart, Butt-head.
“Asswipe.” “Butt-muncher.” “Dillhole.” “Dumbass.” “Fart knocker.” “Dillweed.” “Chode.” “Nut sack.” “Butt monkey.” One of the many ways in which Beavis and Butthead permeated our middle and high schools was in their pervasive (and often imaginative) use of insults; any would-be fan should brush up on them immediately, and drop them into conversation whenever possible, preferably preceded by an “uhhhh” and followed by an “uh huh huh.”
One of the show’s most inexplicable catchphrases was as follows: “I am Cornholio. I need TP for my bunghole.” No, seriously. Cornholio (alternately “The Great Cornholio”) was a frothing, jittery, even more hyperactive alter ego that Beavis would lapse into on occasion, usually in response to a sugar or caffeine rush. He would pull his shirt over his head and speak in an odd, vaguely Spanish accent, prattling endlessly about himself and his need for TP. We can’t really explain why it was so popular. The ‘90s was a strange time.
“Settle down, Beavis.”
Beavis had a propensity for over-excitement even when he wasn’t in his Cornholio persona. He would frequently get worked up over a situation or a music video, prompting Butt-head’s withering, impatient response, “Settle down, Beavis.” It quickly became the retort-of-choice among their fans. Nothing shut down impassioned teens quite as quickly as a deep-voiced “Settle down, Beavis” (again, preferably with an “Uhhhh” before it). And with that, dreams and enthusiasm crashed and burned; young adults, shamed by their enthusiasm, learned, cruelly, how to not feel.
Anderson and Daria
Nearsighted retiree neighbor Tom Anderson was a recurring character on the show; the elderly veteran would frequently hire the boys to do menial chores, which they would frequently screw up spectacularly. His voice and demeanor may sound familiar; Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge has admitted that he used Mr. Anderson as a starting point for the Hank Hill character on King of the Hill .
Daria Morgendorffer was a classmate of Beavis and Butthead’s, sporting a noticeably Garafalo-ish look, voice, and attitude. She frequently made fools of the boys (see above). They referred to her as “Diarrhea.” The character was popular enough to get her own MTV spinoff show, Daria , which ran from 1997 to 2002. (Where’s her reboot, MTV?)
America got to have one of its periodic conversations about violence and media and kids in 1993, when a five-year-old boy set a mobile home fire that killed his two-year-old sister. The boy’s mother claimed he was inspired to play with matches by his frequent viewings of Beavis and Butt-head; early episodes frequently found the pair engaging in dangerous behavior, often accompanied by Beavis’s cackles of “Fire! Fire!”
In response, the show turned down the flames, and episode re-airs (like the one above) were often accompanied by disclaimers during scenes of dangerous behavior. MTV also added pre-show warnings, like “Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They’re not even human, they’re cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested, possibly deported. To put it another way: Don’t try this at home. ”
So there’s some of the basics. But what do you think of Beavis and Butthead’s return?