The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 26, 2013

‘MythBusters’ brings nerd cool to live audiences

By Michael Deeds
The Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho — If you were one of those inquisitive children who grew up salvaging magnets from broken electronics and emptying flash powder from unraveled ladyfingers to create a kid-sized dynamite stick, it’s impossible not to feel jealous of Adam Savage.

Along with “MythBusters” co-host Jamie Hyneman, the 46-year-old has spent much of his adult life building cool stuff, blowing up cooler stuff, and answering all the random questions that intrigue pint- and full-size mad scientists. Now in its 11th season, “Myth-Busters” is the most recognizable Discovery Channel show.

Things just keep getting better. On the “MythBusters: Behind the Myths Tour,” the duo gets to share its passion for science, engineering and problem solving in person with its happily nerdy fans.

On TV, “MythBusters” uses irreverence and humor to almost “trick” people into learning. As the men gleefully explode toilets, construct tree cannons and launch lawn chairs skyward with balloons, they act as avatars for the audience, experientially conveying what things feels like.

That doesn’t work as well on a stage, Savage says: “Because when you’re up on stage in front of a bunch of people, like it or not, you are the ringleader.” So on the “Behind the Myths” live show, which was developed in 2011, Savage and Hyneman utilize their audience.

“It is a key difference between what we do on ’MythBusters’ itself and what we do on the stage,” he says. “We realized if we started bringing people up on stage, every audience member we bring up, whether they’re 7 or 70, becomes the audience’s avatar for what’s happening.

“One of the very first things we do in these shows is we pit a small child against a really big dude. And we work it so the kid wins - in several different ways. And it’s really, really fun to watch. It’s not only funny, but in the end, you’ve actually learned a few things about mechanical advantages - and cheating.”

Savage’s mischievous attitude is key to the chemistry of “MythBusters.” Next to Hyneman’s more reserved personality, he is the overenthusiastic goof in all of us. Part of that characteristic comes from his upbringing; Savage dabbled in acting as a kid: “I actually played Mr. Whipple’s stock boy in a Charmin commercial,” he says.

But most of Savage’s exuberance is fueled by his joy for creating. Before “MythBusters,” he was a graphic designer, theater carpenter, set designer, painter, model maker - “you name it,” he says. “Toy prototyper. All these different professions that involved actually physically making and designing things.”

The zany, excited guy on TV? That’s basically Savage in real life.

“But if there was one part of ’MythBusters’ that I wouldn’t trade for any other, it’s how much we’ve actually learned. Because I’d spent 10 years in the special-effects industry as a model maker and an effects technician. I thought that I came to this show in 2002 with REAL skills. And I’ll tell you, I didn’t know s-t back then. What I have learned in the past 10 years dwarfs everything I learned leading up to it.”

Still, even the experts keep learning. If you’re one of those wannabe “Myth-Busters” who has walked the line between safety and stupidity, don’t feel too bad. Two years ago, the “MythBusters” crew accidentally overshot a cannonball — big time. It put a hole through the bedroom wall of a sleeping couple’s home, bounced through traffic and hit another house before breaking a parked minivan’s window.

“That was very scary,” Savage admits. “I’m really, really grateful that no one was hurt.”