Adam Savage on fame, football and fanfic
by Paul Dechene
For something that involves so many explosions, MythBusters has stuck around a long time. The show that basically reinvented science education on the television — shifting it away from voiceover narrations of what science knows towards a more hands-on, extreme-sport style approach — is its 11th season on Discovery Channel.
And while they still have their detractors, the brand of science TV that co-hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman pioneered has grown from cable edutainment into a pop culture sensation.
Hyneman and Savage have appeared on Letterman, lectured at universities like MIT and cameoed on CSI. They’ve also received the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, taped a segment with President Obama, and even appeared on the Simpsons.
And now, on Dec. 1, they’re bringing their brand of science-plus-explosions to Regina as part of their MythBusters: Behind The Myths Tour.
I talked by phone with the red-haired, smiley MythBuster, Adam Savage, and asked him how he feels about the show becoming this massive, cultural phenomenon.
How do you feel about the show becoming this massive, cultural phenomenon?
It’s funny, every time I’m asked about that I just want to quote Rilke from Letters To A Young Poet. In that he says, it’s vital that you remain ignorant of your best qualities. You know, the fact is the ways in which MythBusters has become successful, almost none of them were ways in which we intended. All I set out to do at the beginning — and MythBusters wasn’t our idea — but all I set out to understand at the beginning was how we’re telling a story. And over the years, the different ways in which people reached out to us and explained the significance of the show to us — whether it’s a PhD graduate student telling us that he got into the field because of MythBusters or people describing that we’re at the intersection of critical thinking or that we got their autistic child interested in science — the way we deal with it is by merely taking that seriously but still doing our very best when we’re shooting the show to remain true to what we think of as the cause, which is our enthusiasms and our curiosity.
About your partnership with Jamie Hyneman, people love you guys. But on the internet there’s this famous quote of yours that you guys have never had dinner together.
But when I talk to serious fans of your show, they’re often disappointed to find out that you aren’t bosom pals. They seem very invested in your relationship… and that got me thinking… is there MythBusters fanfic out there?
Oh yes there is.
Really? I didn’t want to Google that.
Oh yeah. You know Rule 34, right?
Yeah. [Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.]
So at one point, I don’t remember how I came across it, but I read one sentence of a piece of MythBusters fanfic and I was like, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” and I stopped. I didn’t want to… I would need brain bleach for what was following.
I will say, Jamie and I like to make hay at the fact that we’ve never had dinner alone together. The fact is we’ve had plenty of lunches alone together to discuss business and to talk about what needs to happen. And while it’s true that we don’t under any reasonable definition get along on a daily basis in a way that’s pleasurable — you know there’s some people you look forward to seeing because you’ve got lots to talk about. Neither Jamie nor I feel that about the other. However, that does not mean that we don’t find this partnership incredibly fruitful and rewarding. Because we do. We might drive each other batty being the very different types of personalities that we are. But within this crazy melee that only the two of us really understand —there’s no one else who’s going through it except the two of us — we’ve never really disagreed about the really big things. The morality and the money, we’ve never disagreed about those. So we’ve never disagreed about turning down really quite large sums of money to pitch for a company we didn’t want anything to do with. We’ve done that relatively effortlessly. And someday I’ll tally it up and be shocked at the number. But I’ll also be really grateful that I’ve been working with someone whose eyes are on what I consider to be exactly the right things.
We also recognize that this partnership is fruitful because of the pair of us and because of that difference. So while the difference is annoying on a temporal level, it’s very rewarding on a macro level and we really keep an eye on that.
What do you have in store for Regina with Behind The Myths?
The show is about two hours. And it is not your normal MythBusters episode very specifically because on MythBusters we are the audience’s avatar, we are their experiential guide through what we’re putting ourselves through. But on stage you are always the ringleader. You can’t escape being the ringleader. So in order to bring the audience up on stage to a certain degree, we [literally] bring the audience up on stage. We bring about 12 to 13 people up through the course of the two hour show and we mess with them. We pit children against adults. We pit athletes against each other in feats of strength and tests of character. We alter the way that people see things. We get them to gently humiliate themselves on a high speed camera just like we have. It is really, really fun. It’s a little bit different every night because of that and for me as the primary voice, I find this show to be an education in performance that I find really invigorating.
I had a myth I was wondering if you could offer some insight on. This weekend [our interview took place on Nov. 19] is the Grey Cup, that’s the championship game in the Canadian Football League. It’s happening here in Regina and the hometown team, the Roughriders, are playing. And the CFL and the Roughriders are a really big deal here. So, when you get to Regina, there will be a lot of people who’re either really disappointed because they showed up to the game and the Riders lost. Or they’re going to be really happy because they won. In light of that, I was wondering about this idea that how an audience acts during a game can influence the outcome. So, you know, how if the crowd cheers louder they can rouse their team to victory. Have you guys done anything about this on the show?
I can tell you from being a performer up on stage that the audience reaction matters greatly. It matters greatly to what you do and how you do it. If you are experienced and you are professional it doesn’t have to matter in any way that people necessarily would ever really notice unless you pointed out some very subtle things to them. And I know that I would be giving 95 per cent of the same show to a crowd of 200 as to a crowd of 10,000 that are super enthusiastic. But I also know that when I have a crowd that is super enthusiastic, you end up with more room to move. It feels like they’ll accept anything and so when you try new things you find new ways and new bits of courage to play around with that. Every comedian knows this really intimately. It’s a fascinating psychological thing. It’d be difficult to even tease out. But if you were able to, I’m of the opinion that it matters.
I mean, athletes talk all the time about the difficulty of winning when you’re not on your home turf. And that that is something that really sets apart the real championship teams. And I can imagine it is very, very difficult to play in a hostile stadium.