Getting kids to study science is like trying to feed them prunes wrapped in spinach, but "Mythbusters," the long-running Discovery Channel series, makes it look easy. Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman take unapologetic joy in dispelling rumors by blowing things up.
Now the duo is taking the show on the road with "Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour," stopping Tuesday at the State Theatre, where they'll conduct experiments on stage and take questions from the audience. We talked to Savage, 46, earlier this week from his tour bus in Reno, Nev.
Q: Congratulations on being alive. I keep reading on the Internet that you died in some experiment.
A: That weirdly happens frequently in small pockets. I'll find out about my demise on Twitter. I think it's a story that people expect to hear. When we lost control of a cannonball a couple years ago, it made news in Australia within three hours because everybody was waiting for that story.
Q: Your father worked for "Sesame Street." What was it like growing up in that environment?
A: He was a commercial director and was really part of the '60s advertising movement, but he found it soul-killing, so he gave it up around the time I was born and got into animation, which was really popular and easy to produce back then. Once a year, he would take 10 ideas to "Sesame Street" and they would buy two or three of them. Then he would spend two or three months working on them in the studio behind the house. I never got to visit the set, but I got to see how film worked and grow up with a deeply creative person.
Q: Were you interested in science as a kid?
A: I can't say I was interested in science with a capital "S." I was interested in taking things apart and trying to put them back together. I distinctly remember taking the gearboxes out of wind-up toys. I remember opening up my stereo equipment and being surprised how much open space there was in there.
Q: Why take the show on the road?
A: Our day-to-day job isn't very glamorous. We really are building everything you see. It's very blue-collar, so getting audience response is really nifty. It's weirdly structured like a magic show with eight or nine sets, not unlike what our friends Penn and Teller do. We play with the audience. There's almost always volunteers on stage and we pit them against each other in contests of strength and dexterity. We also have a high-speed camera and we ask them to do really strange things and play them back at a slower speed. It's a great gag that can often look quite beautiful.
Q: What's the best way for me to get selected as a volunteer?
A: An excess of desire can rule you out. I don't think I've ever picked anyone who is dangerously crazy or ready to go off the rails.
One of the most rewarding things about this job is the effect we've had on people who have Asperger's disease. We get e-mails daily from parents who say severely autistic kids slow down only for our show. They really connect with the precision and careful exploration that we generate. I got to interview Temple Grandin on stage recently. If Jamie and I are the patron saints for autistic spectrum disorder, she's the pope.
Q: What's the craziest question you've ever been asked?
A: I was at a skeptics' conference and I was confronted by a moon-landing denier. That was a genuine thrill. When do you get the chance to be 100 percent right in a public forum?