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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Behind the Myth

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, perhaps better known as the guys from Discovery Channel’s ubiquitous “MythBusters,” are hitting the road for their all-new upcoming stage show, “MythBusters Behind the Myths Tour.”

While many have long witnessed Savage and Hyneman’s scientifically based antics, specifically where they “bust” myths of a varying sort on TV, they’ll be giving audiences a live opportunity to witness their unique scientific methods that are, ironically, something close to mythical themselves. And no, they will not be limiting themselves simply to a pack of mentos and a dozen liters of Coca-Cola.

Savage and Hyneman will be performing in Sacramento Jan. 9, where, as advertised, audiences can presumably get “behind the myths.” Tickets are currently available and can be purchased at the Sacramento Convention Center Box Office or on Tickets.com (ranging from $15 to $58 for various seatings).

This week, MUSE had the opportunity to talk to Savage and Hyneman. Here is what they had to say:

MUSE: First off, what brings you guys out from behind the camera for the upcoming “Behind the Myths” tour? What’s it all about?

Savage: Well, we’ve been doing appearances most of the time we’ve been doing “MythBusters”, doing colleges, corporate events and stuff like that. And it’s been on our mind a long time to take some of the stuff we do on the show and find a way to do it in a wide setting. It took us until this year, first of all to get to the production team going and second of all to write the show. But the key thing for us is that most science shows are demonstration shows. People will be expecting us to do stuff like mentos and soda on the stage. We really want to do something more like playing around in a way that isn’t super scripted every night, that is a little looser with a lot more audience participation and I think we’ve achieved it.

Hyneman: Plus, the other thing is, while there’s been a lot of demand wherever we go — even on talk shows like [“Late Night Show with David”] Letterman or so on — to do something on stage. The problem is a lot of the stuff that we’re known for doing is too dangerous to actually do in front of people and so it kind of sets up an expectation that we’re going to do something spectacular and then when we can’t, it’s a problem. So it took us a while to figure this out and, of course, we’re not using explosives on stage, but we’ve figured out some ways that are appropriately exciting and spectacular that we can do in front of people.

 

Regarding the TV show, I’m always curious about whether “MythBusters” will ever run out of myths to bust. I guess my question is then, how do you guys generate ideas from episode to episode? Will you ever run out of myths to bust?

Savage: It’s not actually difficult to come up with things to do. We’ve got a nice fat list of stories. We’re always about 50 or 60 stories ahead and the master list is often up to a couple hundred stories that we’re thinking we may tackle. So the possibilities are myriad. Sometimes we get tweets or e-mails from fans suggesting things that we realize are really good tests. Or sometimes Jamie or I will come across something we want to explore. And then there are things fans suggest to us when we’re doing appearances. We had a kid just recently suggest to us that we should test how well we really know the back of our hands. And as soon he said it we realized that’s actually a really good story and we could totally tackle that.

 

Have there ever been “myths” or hypotheses either of you have wanted to test but haven’t been able to for, say, reasons of safety or practicality or political correctness?

Hyneman: Yeah, of course generally we can’t test things that involve nuclear bombs. And there are other things to do with say product testing, whether a product works or not, that we’d be liable for so we can’t go there. As far as politically correct stuff we wanted to go into the Dick Cheney shooting but we weren’t allowed to do that. [Laughs]. We are constrained but I think we do a pretty good job of pushing the limits anyway.

Savage: It’s funny because a lot of people imagine in their heads that there must be this narrative that Jamie and I always want to do this really cool stuff but Discovery won’t to let us. But the fact is after all these years we have a great relationship with them editorially. If we’re interested in doing something and we say it’s going to be spectacular then they pretty much trust us to do that.

Jamie: Ya, they learned a long time ago that if we’re having a good time it makes for good TV which is sort of the ideal job. And a good time for us is actually pushing the limits of things, so we like it.

I’m sure you guys get this question all the time, but I have to ask: Do you guys have a favorite myth that you’ve busted?

Savage: Actually yes. And it turns out to be the same one. The lead balloon. We made a 14 foot diameter floating helium balloon using nothing but 28 pounds of rolled lead sheet and scotch tape and it was totally pointless but I guarantee you nobody has ever done it before. Not as cleanly as we did it. But yeah, the problem solving process, and the depiction of the problem solving process, makes that our all-time favorite episode. We particularly like that there are no big explosions in it. It isn’t spectacular on paper. But what we achieved was spectacular and we’re really proud of that.

 

And, inversely, what was a surprising “myth” that proved to be true? As in, what myth did you surprisingly not bust?

Savage: I’d say the most iconic example of that is when we were in South Africa filming an episode of Shark Week south of Cape Town where the great white sharks leap all the way out of the water and we got delayed off the water for a few days because a hurricane was coming through. This is very expensive to our crew so we decided to head inland for a few days and get some filler. And we thought, for filler, why don’t we test if elephants are afraid of mice? And we totally did not expect to get a positive result from this story, and yet we totally did! We found out that elephants are, in fact, if not afraid of mice, quite wary of them and totally notice them which we were completely surprised about.

Hyneman: But yes, it happens all the time to the point where we approach things that just seem absurd on the face of it — like the elephant and the mice thing — and we’ve gotten in the habit of actually being super cautious no matter how silly or ridiculous it seems. More often than you would think, some of these things turn out to be true.

A lot of college kids, my engineer major roommates in particular, are pretty envious of your careers. How did you guys end up with such cool jobs and what advice can you give to college students, or whomever, who want jobs as cool as yours?

Hyneman: Well, I’d say a couple of things: If you look at Adam and me in general, we’re quite different in terms of our personalities. But one thing we have in common is that we both have insatiable curiosities about the way things work. We read anything and everything. We’re very active and aware of everything going on in the media and with technology. That kind of thing leads to a broad foundation that will allow you to pursue things that you find interesting and make you aware of the possibilities out there. That’s all we’ve done. We’ve just been very fortunate, but we’ve also been very focused in our effort to get what we want in terms of career and how we spend our time.

Savage: I’ll add to that one of the reasons we both got into special effects is because we are generalists. We’re interested in a wide range of things and that made us very good in the special effects industry where everything is different every single day. And it turned out to be the perfect skill-set for a show like “MythBusters” where the interest range needs to be relatively unlimited. So we would suggest to anybody interested in a career path like “MythBusters” [laughs], which is sort of hilarious, to be generalists. Honestly, we find when we call scientific experts that the ones that can really help are not the super specialists. It’s the ones who understand how two or three or however many fields connect to each other, rather than people who know their own fields in and out.

Any last words for fans here at UC Davis?

Savage: [laughs] Get ready!

JAMES O’HARA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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