Animation Cel-ebration
April 7, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Stupid Is As Stupid Does: The 30th Anniversary of MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head”

During the production of his very first Beavis and Butt-Head short film, creator Mike Judge got an inkling of how these two characters would, very unexpectedly, connect with audiences.

“I remember a girl at the film lab saying, ‘They’re cute,’” recalled Judge in a 1996 interview. “And I thought, ‘Really?! These are ugly, obnoxious guys, batting around a frog and acting like idiots.'”

Debuting on MTV on March 8, 1993, Beavis and Butt-Head, became one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, running for seven seasons. Thirty years later, it is interesting to look back on how huge a hit the show, the characters, and the catchphrases were.

Creator Judge was a physics major in college and worked for the government on fighter plane electronic test systems after graduating. He changed jobs after attending an animation festival at a local theatre. This led him to make his own homemade, animated short subjects with an old movie camera.

In 1991, Judge came up with two characters of teenage boys: one was blond, wild-eyed, and hyperactive, and the other was more laconic. The characters came to Judge while he was drawing a caricature of a high school classmate. “The version that became Beavis, for some reason, I drew him with a lighter in one hand and a locust in the other,” laughed Judge in 1996. “I don’t know what I was thinking. It just seemed to go with his expression. The other one was one of these situations where I just scribbled and came back to my sketchbook like a week or two later, saw the picture, and it actually made me laugh.”

The two made their debut in the short Frog Baseball. The title spoils this less than three-minute film, which centers on Beavis and Butt-Head playing a game of baseball with a poor, unsuspecting frog, who stands in for the ball. The short was part of 1992’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, where it garnered attention.

From here, Beavis and Butt-Head became part of MTV’s Liquid Television, which highlighted cutting-edge animation and filmmaking. A favorite of viewers, the two ultimate slackers soon got their own show.

JJ Sedelmaier Productions was the studio entrusted to animate the first season. MTV created its own in-house animation studio in 1993. Each episode of Beavis and Butt-Head essentially consisted of them sitting blank-eyed in front of their TV, verbally destroying whatever show was on. Each time they ventured off the couch, it usually resulted in trouble.

In addition to serving as the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head, Judge also provided the voices for the two main characters. Once again, for Beavis, he returned to high school, basing the voice on a former classmate. “He wasn’t anything like Beavis. He was actually a straight-A student that sat in the front of the class,” recalled Judge back in ‘96. “But, he had this laugh, where he used to bite his lower lip. So it started out as just me doing that and kind of evolved into something else. I don’t know what I was thinking with Butt-Head. I was trying to just make the stupidest, most vacant sound I could make.”

Marvel published 28 issues of a Beavis & Butt-head comic book from 1994-1996

These two characters proved so popular that they were soon found on almost every piece of merchandise available. Beavis and Butt-Head were also divisive among viewers and critics and became the center of a controversy.

An episode from 1993 is said to have inspired a young Ohio boy to set fire to his house, and the show then became the target of many groups.

Three years after this incident, Judge defended his creation, saying, “I still maintain that they’re not mean-spirited. It’s all very innocent. They may be doing awful things, but it’s motivated out of just screwing around and not knowing any better.”

By 1996, the show had gained such momentum that it inspired a full-length animated feature, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. In the film, the two get off their couch and go on an adventure as they search for their stolen TV and wind up getting mistaken for hit men.

The film featured not just the voice of Judge but several big stars in supporting roles, such as Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Cloris Leachman, Robert Stack, and David Letterman (credited as Earl Hofert), who stated on his talk show, many times, that he was a big fan.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America was the number one movie at the box office when it opened on December 20, 1996, besting Jerry Maguire, Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians, and Scream for the top spot. Coming at the height of the show’s popularity, the film took in $63 million domestically, showcasing just how accepted in pop culture Beavis and Butt-Head were.

Beavis and Butt-Head ran on MTV from 1993 to 1997. The show was revived in 2011 and on Paramount+ in 2022, along with a film on the streaming service Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.

The success of the show allowed Judge to springboard to more successes, such as the hit FOX animated series King of the Hill, which debuted in 1997, and two live-action films that have garnered quite a following through the years: Office Space (1999) and Idiocracy (2006), among others.

Now celebrating their 30th anniversary, it’s interesting to look back at how Beavis and Butt-Head solidly became part of the zeitgeist, which came as a surprise even to Judge himself. “I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I’ve always tried to go for the belly-laughs stuff, just following my instincts and never questioning them.”


  • Funny, earlier today it occurred to me that it’s been thirty years since “Jurassic Park” came out. Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t cross my mind at all. I saw very little of them back in the day, mainly because I couldn’t stand MTV. But anything that infuriated the self-appointed moral guardians of society was OK in my book.

    I remember a sitcom episode where a couple of girls were going out on a blind double-date, and who should turn up at their door but Beavis and Butt-Head, live and in person! It was unusual for animated characters to appear without authorisation in a live-action production; the only other example I can think of offhand is Mickey Mouse and the Three Little Pigs in Hal Roach’s “Babes in Toyland”. I guess the popularity of those two music video-addled losers was comparable to that of Disney’s characters in the 1930s.

    Wasn’t “Daria” spun off from “Beavis and Butt-Head”? “Daria” wasn’t half-bad.

  • I thought the B&B comic books were actually edgier than the TV series, which became increasingly watered-down as the years went by (Not being submitted to the Comics Code Authority helped in this regard). Also loved Rick Parker’s artwork which mixed stock model-sheet poses of The Boys with insanely detailed Basil Woolverton-esgue styling. Marvel should consider an anniversary omnibus collection to tie-in with the anniversary and the new series.

    Oh, and that “incident” was later revealed to be a hoax, as it was discovered that the family didn’t even have cable TV, and just used the show as a convenient scapegoat. Pretty shameful.

    • I thought the artwork was more Bill Elder-esque

      • I was referring to the stippling and shading techniques rather than character design, but, yeah, I can see some Elder influence.

        • I was a huge Will Elder fan and tried to emulate his style and “chicken fat” approach that he and Harvey Kurtzman did in the early Mad Comics I read as a kid growing up in the 50’s.

      • Good thing Elder’s dead and can’t read this.

    • I also enjoyed Rick Parker’s art in the B&B comic. On-model with the characters, and included his own touches (like randomly including a tombstone with the CCA logo). I could detect some editorial meddling in the issue with the “Breakout at Burger World” story, noticing different lettering in several dialogue balloons. About this time, Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil started writing the comic – they were actual writers from the show (later writing for “Frasier” – talk about a contrast).
      “Daria” was a great spinoff. Loved how nothing and nobody fazed her.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I had worked at Marvel Comics for 15 years before I got that assignment. Although I had done some comic strips for them, this was my first conic book. I gave it everything I had. It’s nice all these decades later that people still remember it fondly. My first graphic novel that I have both illustrated and written, DRAFTED, about getting drafted into the army during the Vietnam War is due out in September from ABRAMS Comicarts (edited by Charles Kochman). My next book, THE ARTISTE, about my life as an artist in New York (1973-1993) should be done and available in 2026.

  • I saw “Frog Baseball” in the Spike & Mike festival, and — based on the audience’s reaction — knew then that I’d be seeing more of these two … though the scope of the forthcoming MTV series, movie & merchandising was well beyond what I’d then thought.

    I moved to the Los Angeles area in the mid-1990s .. the very first movie I took in at the Graumann Chinese Theatre happened to be “Beavis & Butthead Do America”.

  • It took a long time – decades – before I could actually enjoy B&B, via Youtube. I guess, once and for all, I’ve just finally acknowledged the prevailing amount of stupidity ‘out there’, and choose to laugh at it.

    A favorite episode had the boys working at a fast food joint. A would-be robber enters, and the poor shlump can’t accomplish his task because B&B are too stupid to comply with his demands. At gunpoint yet.

    The icing on the cake for my latter-day appreciation is how much B&B resemble Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, in both appearance and demeanor. Google a visual comparison. You can’t make this stuff up.

  • Cornholio!

    I recall a newspaper interview with Judge many years ago. The interviewer asked if he let his daughters watch B&B. Judge answered not yet, adding he was dreading the day he’d have to sit them down and say “Do you know why we live in a nice house?”

  • Like I suspect many youth in the ’90s, I wasn’t allowed to watch B&B growing up. Which just made it forbidden fruit. As an adult I can appreciate the comic timing and voice acting, which isn’t appreciated enough. Sometimes the WAY a line is delivered is just as funny as the line itself.

    The strongest of Mike Judge’s animated shows is still King of the Hill, but B&B definitely had its moments.

  • Say what you will about the little creeps, the show was an original, not borrowing from anything but itself. It didn’t take easy shots at pop culture (the boys’ commentary on music videos at least was in their own style) as the other cartoon shows do; it was pop culture.
    Goodness, you’d think I was a fan, which I’m not and never was.

  • Beavis and Butthead’s characters were (literally) mouth breathers, and they were exaggerated, but they were realistic characters (as were those in Judge’s later King of the Hill), not pure cartoons (like the Simpsons). I can’t really think of any earlier animated series that could say that.

  • To some, the beginning of the “no-brow” humor era. Without B&BH, there would be no SOUTH PARK.

    • I’d say both Beavis and Butt-head and South Park pretty much opened up a Pandora’s box to be honest (and a bit of guilty pleasure for some).

  • Man, I miss Liquid Television. Something in the water/air back then, when all these cool animated shows were on MTV, Nickelodeon… even Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse on CBS. Dang, I’m getting old!

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