CUPERTINO, Calif.--As Adam Savage walked onto the stage alongside a battered old water heater, the crowd of several thousand people erupted in a loud ovation. They weren't cheering for the famous co-host of "MythBusters."
"Only at a MythBusters show will a busted water heater get a round of applause," Savage said, grinning.
If you're reading this, there's a good chance you know why the audience was revved up by the appearance of something as prosaic as a water heater. But for the uninitiated, during a 2007 episode of Discovery Channel's hit show, Savage and his co-conspirator Jamie Hyneman examined the question of whether a water heater can explode and blast through the roof of a house (see video below).
Now, though, Savage and Hyneman are taking their act--made insanely popular through more than 200 episodes of "MythBusters"--on the road. Coming to a theater near you (hopefully): The exciting, fun, and educational Behind the Myths Tour.
'A round of applause for physics'
Neither Savage nor Hyneman are scientists, but they do a pretty good job of playing people who like to mess around with science on TV. Every episode, they attack myths and try to find out if they're the real deal, or just old wife's tale. Frequently, their experiments push the outer limits of science and in doing so, the two of them, plus the "MythBusters" second team of Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara, usually excite and engage their all-ages audience of millions.
On tour, it's just Savage and Hyneman (and a support crew), but for those who buy tickets to one of the heavily attended shows--there were thousands of "MythBusters" fans on hand in Cupertino, the home of Apple--the chance to see the two do their thing live and in person was also a chance to see them express their love of science, and even to participate directly.
Early in the show, the two MythBusters invited several audience members to come onstage to help out. As they asked for volunteers, hundreds of kids--and some adults--wildly raised their hands, desperate to be picked. Some were given quick tasks, but one father and son were sent off to the side and told to take two phone books and carefully interweave their pages.
Much later in the show, Savage explained why. In an experiment to show how strong two phone books woven together could be, he grabbed onto two handles attached to the books, and then had Hyneman hoist him high into the air. The phone books stayed strong, and Savage didn't fall to his death.
"Let's have a round of applause for physics," he shouted. And the cheers rained down.
Bed of nails
As is often the case with their TV show, Savage and Hyneman used their touring show both to entertain their audience and to educate them. Take the bed of nails that Savage laid down on early in the performance.
Clearly, he pointed out, if one were to sit on four nails, there would be blood. But spread your body across 450 of them, there's no problem. Not even when you have someone place a 25-pound cinder block on your stomach and then smash it with a hammer. "It's not meditation, it's simple physics," Savage said. "For me, knowing the secret to something like this doesn't make it less mysterious. It makes it more mysterious."
Then, mixing disclaimer and humor, Savage added, "I'm not saying you should [get your kid brother to help you], but I am saying it would make an awesome science fair experiment."
If Hyneman and Savage had one overriding message to share with their show, it's that everything is about context. The question shouldn't just be "will jumping on the bed put me in danger of being beheaded by my ceiling fan," Savage said. It should also involve secondary questions that help you understand whether doing such a thing is really dangerous or not. "Everything we do involves that kind of context."
There are millions of "MythBusters" fans, but few of them will ever get the chance to talk to any of the show's stars, let alone influence what they say on camera. But during the live show, Savage and Hyneman weren't at all shy about bringing the audience into the mix.
For example, during one experiment, two adult audience members were supposed to feverishly pedal stationary bikes in an attempt to pump water up some hoses and eventually cause a balloon to break open and drench the other person. But during the Cupertino show, one of the bikes wasn't working. Savage and Hyneman build many of their own experiments, and sure enough, Savage jumped up to try to fix the faulty pedal.
"Can I get a crescent wrench out here," he asked his crew, quickly discovering things were not what he expected they'd be. "This cannot be cross-threaded."
Suddenly, many in the audience shouted out, "Reverse the thread!" But that wasn't the answer. "No, the other one is reverse thread," Savage said. "Everyone stop being smart."
Even more interactive was the Q&A session that both Savage and Hyneman sat for during two transition sections of the show. First Hyneman, and later Savage sat down on a stool and patiently answered questions from a series of kids--and a couple adults--in the audience. It was a great way to get people directly involved, and to show that the MythBusters are men of the people.
One kid asked Hyneman what he likes most about testing myths, and after a moment of thought, he said, "I like what I learn in the process....Every time we fail, we learn. We fail quite a bit, so I've learned quite a bit."
In the early days of "MythBusters," the two stars explained at one point, the show's insurance carrier would sometimes put the kibosh on an experiment, saying it was too risky. For one shoot, in which they were testing the idea from Jackie Chan movies that someone could fall through several awnings on the outside of a building and survive, Savage said that the insurance company weighed in, saying that "'Adam can't do this myth--we're afraid he's doing to get hurt. Tory [Belleci] can do it.'"
But over the years, they've been given more latitude, especially as everyone involved realized that the whole point of the show is to push the limits of what's possible. And so while they were once limited to topping out at 100 miles an hour in driving-related experiments, the show's insurance now allows them to hit 140.
"The corollary," Hyneman said, "is that even though they give us permission, it's not always a good idea to go ahead."
Clearly, though, blowing things up is not on the list of things that "MythBusters" avoids. Savage and Hyneman played a montage of great explosions from throughout the show's history, and then, just because they couldn't have an entire "MythBusters" live show without blowing something up, they did. Right on stage.
It was small, but loud. And on one was hurt.
And why? Because the MythBusters are professionals. They know how to entertain, how to learn, and how to educate. They have endless amounts of fun, and they love to share it with their fans. But ultimately, they want their audience to understand that it's important to know what you're doing before you do the kinds of things that happen every week on the show.
And so, before the curtain closed and Savage and Hyneman walked off stage, they concluded with one last lesson--and the motto of the show. No matter how exciting it looks on TV, or on stage, they said, "Please don't try this at home."