Awesome Men Throughout History: Mike Judge
The headline for Vice Magazine’s 2012 interview with Mike Judge is “Mike Judge is my Xanax,” and the interviewer’s introduction talks about how much Judge informed his sense of humor with the “visual antidepressants” of Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, and non-cartoon films like Office Space and Idiocracy. Similar to how Mad Magazine taught Baby Boomers that making fun of the real world was an effective and often necessary way of processing it, Judge was my generation’s model of a successful cynic.
It turns out that Judge is also a really interesting guy. Born in Ecuador, he was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and became an engineer, working for a defense subcontractor that handled the F/A-18 aircraft, as well as software for the systems on aircraft carriers that worked with it. That’s not exactly the background one expects for the guy behind Cornholio.
Judge is also a bassist, and has played with Doyle Bramhall and Anson Funderburgh, among others.
Judge’s real claim to fame—his cartoons—started in high school, where he was a semi-outcast who loved sketch comedy and had a gift for impressions. Thinking he’d never get anywhere pursuing sketch comedy, he recorded some voices and comedy material with his cassette four track and made some crude, visually simple cartoons to go with them.
Those cartoons got sent out to animation festivals, and a couple of them hit. Most famously, the Beavis and Butthead characters were developed for a short called Frog Baseball, which he made for MTV’s animation showcase Liquid Television. That short was so popular that a show was developed from it, and I know I don’t have to explain that show’s legacy to any of TSB’s readers.
After that wrapped up, Judge got to work on King of the Hill, whose naturalistic and sometimes mundane humor (which I mean as a compliment here) were a stark departure from Beavis and Butthead, even if Hank Hill was very similar to the cranky, half-senile Tom Anderson character. King of the Hill has become the source of much Internet trolling and meme-crafting over the years, and sometimes it’s not clear whether the show’s slow-paced, middle class idiom is being mocked or celebrated.
Judge has worked on a lot of things over the years—too much to list here—but his sparse visual style and flawless, subtle voice acting are consistent throughout his work. The visuals come from Judge’s feeling that he doesn’t draw well, and also from his drive to keep things simple, providing the information that viewers need so they pay attention to the right things. It’s similar to what Charles Schultz did throughout his career, and Judge’s phenomenal voice acting comes from his childhood obsession with Monty Python and Second City, and from doing impressions of his teachers to amuse his high school classmates.
I’ll end with this video of Mike Judge delivering the 2009 commencement address at UC San Diego; it’s a fun speech, and he gets all his classic voices in.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.