Stars of the hit TV show “MythBusters,” Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage addressed a packed house at The Commonwealth Club last Thursday night. On the show the daring special effects masters employ basic elements of the scientific method to test the validity of the gamut of common rumors, myths, movie scenes, internet videos and news stories in popular culture. Dispelling everything from the notion that elephants are afraid of mice, to the theory that running in the rain helps one stay dry, to instructing viewers on how they might survive an airplane crash or escape from a sinking car, “MythBusters” has become one of the most widely viewed programs on the Discovery network, garnering a tremendous cult following.
NPR’s “Tech Nation” host Moira Gunn moderated the talk and began by asking the two men if they viewed themselves as scientists. Hyneman and Savage, who both live and work primarily in the Bay Area, agreed that rather than scientists, they see themselves as “curious, like dogs after a scent. We definitely don’t know more than you do,” replied Savage, who pointed out that he only has a high school diploma.
The conversation then turned to Hyneman and Savage’s pre-“MythBuster’s” career, which includes a stint as contestants on “Robot Wars.” Their robot, “Blendo,” became notorious among fans for being one of the fiercest competitors in the show’s history. “The first time we turned it on, it sliced through the wall of sandbags that was protecting us,” Savage explained. Because of the robot, they “acquired an aura of badness,” he continued. And, more important, they caught the eye of the future producer of “MythBusters.”
After producing a successful demo, Hyneman and Savage began taping the TV show at Hyneman’s shop, located at the base of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Though fans have shown concern that the hosts will run out of myths, the men assured the audience that there are enough to produce entertaining episodes for years to come. When asked what they have learned about blowing things up, as they so often do, Savage lightheartedly replied, “Any day you don’t die is a good day.”
As Gunn began fielding questions from the audience, the conversation turned to what the men enjoy most about the show. “The most thrilling thing about doing what we’re doing is what goes on in our heads,” Hyneman said. And as the years wear on, Savage says, they are getting better at spotting risk and avoiding it. “If you see us on the street and we’re running, do your best to keep up,” Savage joked.
The discussion concluded with the men describing the impact the show has had on their lives, as well as the lives of their fans. Though they didn’t set out to make an educational show, they take pride in the response they have received from children and adults alike. Inspiring children is “the most humbling aspect of what we do,” Savage stated.
--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department