The MTV classic Beavis and Butt-Head was embroiled in controversy as soon as it premiered in 1993. A child burned his trailer down, killing his infant sister, and their mother said the show taught him about fire. Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge later found out that the children couldn’t have seen his show, but the headlines had already run.
Judge was a guest on the Basic podcast on June 22. Talking about Beavis and Butt-Head’s MTV days, Judge shared what really happened in the fire tragedy. Beavis and Butt-Head are now streaming on Paramount+.
A mother blamed ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ for a fire
You can still read the Associated Press article and others about the fire blamed on Beavis and Butt-Head. At the time, nobody confronted the mother about leaving her toddlers unattended with a lighter.
“It’s awful first of all,” Judge said on Basic. “My daughter was around the same age as the girl that got killed. My understanding, and you can look this up, it was in a trailer park and this woman had left, to go on a date, a 5-year-old and I think 1-and-a-half-year-old alone. Child abandonment basically, kid was playing with a lighter she’d left out and he started a fire that burned the place down. The younger one died.”
Beavis and Butt-Head was a satire of MTV-loving teenagers. One of Beavis’s traits was that he loved fire and would say, “Fire, fire, fire!”
“I guess the police were questioning her and she said he’s been watching Beavis and Butt-Head and that was the headline they were looking for,” Judge said. “Beavis and Butt-Head Caused the Death of a Kid and it was the headline of every major network news thing. It was really awful.”
Mike Judge learned ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ was not available to the victims
Judge got a little peace of mind when he learned the children involved couldn’t have copied Beavis and Butt-Head. It was too late to correct the narrative, though.
“Turned out they did not get cable at this trailer park,” Judge said. “That little tiny correction came out later. He’d likely had never seen it. She was just trying to say something to deflect.”
MTV changed the show anyway
In response to and out of sensitivity to the tragedy, MTV removed all references to fire from past and future episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head. Judge mocked that call by having Beavis scream words that rhyme with fire instead, or having him say “Liar, liar, pants on –” unable to finish the sentence. Beavis still said fire in the 1996 movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.
“The way I remember it was we had to remove the word fire entirely, because Beavis had a thing that he would just go, ‘Fire, fire,’” Judge said. “I thought we were going to stop going forward, I didn’t know we were going to take the word out of every single episode. That was a bigger bummer. I understood it but it was also sort of giving in.”