The 'MythBusters' guys talk about their stage show
Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage are the co-hosts of “MythBusters,” the long-running Discovery Channel series that tests, confirms or refutes (or fails to confirm or refute) urban legends, old adages and accepted wisdom — celebrating along the way the rigor of science, the making of things and, more than occasionally, their destruction. This last aspect made news last month when a “MythBusters”-projected cannonball overshot its target at a sheriff’s bomb disposal range in Dublin, Calif., tore through a neighboring house and came to rest inside a minivan. No one was hurt, fortunately, nor should anyone be when Hyneman and Savage bring their first-ever “MythBusters: Behind the Myths” stage show to L.A.’s Nokia Theatre on Sunday and Riverside’s Fox Theater on Wednesday as part of a 31-city tour.
The pair spoke by phone from San Francisco, prior to the first performance.
How will the stage show resemble the TV show?
Adam Savage: We worked hard to port what we like about “MythBusters” onto stage without doing something that was just a big boring science demonstration show. And what we decided to do was to spend a couple of hours messing with the audience, with the way they see things, with the way they see themselves. We’ll demonstrate something where A plus B equals C, and bring an audience member up and show them that even though it looks like that might be the case, we can demonstrate situations in which it’s not. We have a sketch in which we physically manipulate the way people see and their ability to complete actions onstage — so in addition to the general idea of perception as the way we think through things, we’re going to be messing with actual perception.
Jamie Hyneman: And, of course, a lot of these things will be done at their expense — in a not mean-spirited way — and it will require them to wear appropriate safety gear and other forms of protection. (Chuckles.)
Will it involve much gear?
JH: We’ve had builders working for the past couple of months on some of the rigs. “MythBusters” itself deals with common misperceptions, so what we’ve done here is provide physical ways that we can play with people’s perceptions — that’s where the props come in. It’s not a demonstration, it’s experimentation, or as close as we can get to it, so that by its very nature it’s not predictable as to the outcome. We put a lot of thought into designing these situations and devices so that we get, while not predictable results, results that actually are interesting. Because obviously we can’t show up with something and just say, “Well, that didn’t work — sorry.”
So there’s room to be surprised.
JH: Exactly. That’s where the spirit of “MythBusters” is implicit in what we’ll be doing live onstage.
AS: That’s the teaching moment that exists within the show: We are totally happy to say we’ve gotten something wrong if it turns out there was a flaw in our methodology. We shine a light on it in order to demonstrate what I think is the most scientific aspect of “MythBusters” — that we’re willing to admit we’re wrong, and pleased as punch when our intuition was 100% off the mark. That’s the reason working scientists from every acronym agency you can imagine have stepped up to our defense when people say that we’re idiots and don’t know what we’re doing. They point out that we’re demonstrating science as a deeply messy, creative, confounding and difficult process.
JH: You can look at the sheer fun and spectacle of what we do, but what we’re proudest of putting out there are the moments when we’re being really playful, thinking really hard about what we’re doing and coming up with clever solutions to a complex problem — exercising ourselves physically and creatively and intellectually. And whenever we’re able to put that together into a program, it’s thrilling for us. While we enjoy the big explosions, they’re probably the smallest part of what we personally value in the show.
-- Robert Lloyd
Photo: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Credit: Robert Fujioka