Mythbusters – where urban legends and high explosives collide in the name of science – has been among the Discovery Channel's top-rated programs for nearly 10 years, but I only had 15 minutes last week to interview the show's co-host, Adam Savage. Even so, in our brief chat we managed to cover robotic recliners, robust methodologies and the "scariest stuff on the planet" – plus his on-screen partner, Jamie Hyneman. They'll both appear live at the UCF Arena this Friday for the Orlando stop on their "Mythbusters: Behind the Myths" tour.
Orlando Weekly: How did you and Hyneman meet, and what was your first impression of him?
Adam Savage: Jamie and I first met when he hired me to work on special effects back in 1993. My first impression of Jamie was that he was really weird. Just the way he dresses, I was like, "This guy is very peculiar." At that point I was working in the theater industry making props. One of the things I was particularly known for was solving problems no one else knew how to solve. When Jamie called me, I was thrilled to be able to say, "I can't come in to show you a portfolio for at least two weeks; I'm building a remote-controlled La-Z-Boy chair." I thought it was a great introduction.
You are reported on Wikipedia as saying you became co-host because Hyneman "thought himself too uninteresting to host the series on his own."
The quote is slightly off. It's not that he wasn't interesting enough. He's just not someone who seeks the limelight, and he thought he might have a better chance of getting this program [broadcast] if he had someone who was. It's not a matter of being interesting, it's a matter of being willing to be a ham, and I have definitely earned my stripes in proving that.
Are there any myths too sensitive or too dangerous for you to explore?
There are precious few. We end up finding a way to test almost everything. There is one about a truck full of liquid oxygen that has an accident and spills all over the highway. Oxygen makes things burn, and liquid oxygen makes things burn like there's no tomorrow. It is some of the scariest stuff on the planet. When we investigated testing it, all it did was terrify us.
We kept on noticing that we would end up with an episode where either nothing happened, or everyone died. Neither of those is an acceptable outcome.
How do you respond if viewers challenge your experimental methods or conclusions?
If anyone came up with a genuine complaint about the way we test something, I would be surprised if I disagreed with them.
We don't slavishly stand by our results. We're doing iterations of experiments of one, where a real scientific test may be 30, 50, 60 – 10,000. We have incredible time constraints to finish an episode, so that limits our ability to do robust science. But that doesn't limit our ability to have a genuinely robust methodology.
What can fans of your TV show expect from your live presentation at UCF?
It's our way of translating the Mythbusters experience to stage show, but we don't actually do any myth-busting, per se.
We realized that audience interaction is the way in which we can illustrate the things we wanted to talk about. We did start writing the stage show with the idea that we wanted a theme to hold to, and the theme that we chose was one of perception. So what we do is we bring a ton of audience members on stage and mess with their expectations … we pit them against each other, we play tricks on them, we alter the way they see things, both figuratively and literally … and hopefully, just like watching an episode of Mythbusters, by the end they might have actually learned something. They might have been conditioned slightly to be willing to have their viewpoint widened … and to us, that is the most scientific thing that someone can do.
For us, it's a tremendous amount of fun. On a day-to-day basis, Mythbusters is a fairly blue-collar existence; we get dirty, we get hurt, we have a lot of fun. So for us to interact with the fans in such a regular way is not only thrilling, it's the closest we'll ever get to feeling like rock stars.