On their Discovery Channel show, MythBusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman dive deep into urban legends.
Rather than resorting to an endless parade of droning scholars, the pair performs science experiments with plenty of flashes, booms and surprises. As the dynamic duo heads for Raleigh on their MythBusters live tour, we caught up with Savage to speak with him about the show's surprise success and rapport with fans.
INDY: Did you ever expect MythBusters would change how a lot of kids thought about science as entertaining?
ADAM SAVAGE: Oh God, no. And more than that, we still try to not think too much about the idea that we're making an educational program. We recognize that it had that effect, but it was by far the most unexpected effect we could have imagined. It's the kind of thing you could only do by accident. We learned how to make this show organically, and learned that the best narratives were based on our enthusiasm. And our enthusiasm was based on genuinely figuring things out. With a lot of reality shows, they're pretty much written before they even start filming. When we start filming, we're not sure how it's going to turn out, things happen we didn't expect, and we change direction.
What's surprised you about the show in its 12-year run?
I never cease to be amazed at who turns out to be watching. I was in a hotel in Texas recently, and a guy came up to me and said, "Hey, I'm the road manager for Jack White, and he's really excited that you're here. I was wondering if you could stop by and say hello." He couldn't have been sweeter or more awesome. That kind of stuff happens all the time, and it's far out.
You regularly attend fan conventions and Maker Faire. What do you enjoy about that?
I love interacting with the people who are in those communities, finding out what they're interested in, what we do that resonates with them. I sign autographs at Maker Faire every year, and it's one of the autograph sessions I don't have an end point on. That can normally be quite exhausting, but the Maker Faire crowd—there's been kids who keep coming back over the last six years and have pictures of every time we've met. They tell me about the projects they're working on. Some of these kids started out in middle school, and now they're graduating high school. Again, that's one of those unintended effects that we can't believe is actually one of the results of our little show.
What did you originally hope would happen?
It's TV, and that means that it's very unpredictable. The bottom could drop out at any moment. You just work with what you've got while it's here and hope that it does OK. As freelancers—which is what we really have been over the past 20 years—there's a part of my brain that's never not thinking, "What's next?" That's just part of the survival mode of a freelancer. There's never been a point in MythBusters where we're thinking, "Oh, great, we're totally successful and now shit's easy!"
MythBusters stays pretty in tune with fans, too. Why is audience engagement important to you?
On MythBusters, Jamie and I are the audience's avatars. We go through the experiments for them, and that's stronger than if we just had experts and sports heroes and gymnasts doing all of our experiments and then asking them what it's like. We explain to the audience what our experience was like, and they get a more visceral feel.
Up on stage, that relationship doesn't quite work the same way. You are the ringleader. You're taking care of the audience, so they're not really thinking of you as one of them. When we bring up people from the audience, they become the audience's avatars, to a certain extent. Audiences watch me grab these two people from the crowd, having fun on stage, and it brings them closer to being onstage. There might be some performers who like the distance between them and the audience, but for me, I really enjoy the closeness.