For the mind that started a cultural fervor with “Beavis & Butthead,” and crafted the office comedy with more Comedy Central airings than even “Caddyshack,” surprisingly little is known about the soft-spoken Mike Judge. The following questions, compiled from an in-class Q & A in Film Studies 166 and Artsweek’s interview with Judge after the taping, shed some light into the mind of one of America’s most influential funnymen.
How do you think the class went?
Well, The students really had a lot to ask about. I was afraid that I would walk in and no one would know who I was.
As a former UC student, how did it feel to be teaching at a UC?
I haven’t taught like that since I [was a TA] in Physics back at UC San Diego. It was fun, but it would take some getting used to. I had really wanted to be a teacher once. I planned at one point to become a math teacher.
I got a degree in Physics. I didn’t really use it, I guess. But it led to an office job, which led to pain and suffering, which led to comedy.
How do you feel about the popularity of your work? How do you feel when you hear people quote it?
I love it when I hear people quote my work. I don’t like it when they misquote it. With something like “Office Space,” it seemed like it would never be a success. I really had to fight for every little thing fans love about that movie. So it’s really satisfying to hear people mention my work.
As an animator, not many people know what I look like. Recently I was at the UCSD campus, when I heard some kid walking by doing the Butthead laugh. I turned around and gave him a little wave, and he just stared at me. I realized that this guy had no idea who I was.
It seems that in works like “King of the Hill” and “Idiocracy”, there are a lot of opportunities for political jokes that are avoided.
I’m not that interested in partisan political humor. I just don’t find political jabs that funny. Some shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” do a good job of it; but then, Colbert is such a great character. I prefer humor to develop organically from the characters. Political references just seem like a lazier way to write.
So your focus then is social satire?
I don’t really think of the term “social satire.” I just do the things I want to see that I don’t find out there. Social satire for me is just poking fun at people you know. When I traveled as a musician, I’d notice similar kinds of people all over the place, these archetypal personalities. I just take these people who are familiar to everyone and play around with them.
In “King of the Hill,” you seem to be respectful of these personalities.
I think there’s a responsibility there. There is something about taking really un-hip people and treating them with dignity.
I try to stay true to these people. I remember seeing Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and thinking, ‘This is great. People really talk like this.’ I wanted to do something like that, but with a different group of people – the people I’ve met living in Texas.
What made you decide to play the manager of Chotchkie’s in “Office Space?”
That scene was a last minute addition. I wrote it in to give more development to Jennifer Aniston’s character. I auditioned myself for the part, and did an audition in front of a video camera.
During the shoot, I was curious about the buttons that they wore at T.G.I. Friday’s. I went to a T.G.I. Friday’s and found out that they were required to wear fifteen pieces of flare – that’s actually what they called them. But I noticed that some employees wore more than that. That was the inspiration for that scene. I found out recently that after “Office Space” got popular, T.G.I. Friday’s cancelled the policy. There’s your media and culture right there.