Myth Understandings | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters.
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984.
Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Myth Understandings

For Discovery Channel’s MythBusters, debunking urban legends is all in a (dangerous) day’s work.



You’re an elite spy who has just infiltrated an evil genius’ floating lair and stolen his sinister plans to brainwash the masses via encoded reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond'but you’ve been spotted. Alarms ring and dogs bark behind you as you run to the edge of the floating lair. The guards have pulled their weapons, and bullets singe your earlobes. There’s no time to think as you jump off the ledge into the deep water below, no time to wonder if it will be sufficient protection against the guards firing at you from above, but you’re pretty sure you’ve seen it work in a movie once.


Given that you opted to watch Mythbusters instead of being brainwashed, you would know that your plunge into water would protect you from bullets'sort of. At least you’d know that supersonic bullets fired from a powerful rifle break up within three feet of hitting the water, whereas slower-moving bullets can travel up to eight feet. Since the baddies that you’re dealing with are world-class, it’s safe to assume that their rifles are powerful, and your chance of escape is golden.


Granted, few of us are unlikely to find ourselves in such ridiculous situations, but it’s always good to know that there are people who test that kind of scenario for us'namely Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, the stars of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. The show takes popular urban legends, movie stunts and everyday … er, myths, and tests their validity, or “busts” them, through scientific and controlled tests. Now in its fourth season, Mythbusters has tested whether you could be electrocuted by lightning while talking on the phone during a rainstorm (you can); whether a penny dropped from a skyscraper could be fatal (it isn’t); or if shooting a car in the gas tank will make it explode (sadly, not very likely). But, despite their apparent rock & roll lifestyle of putting themselves in the face of danger for our entertainment, Hyneman insists that the bottom line is always education.


“The way we pitched the show was Jackass meets Mr. Science,” says the deadpan Hyneman over the phone. Hyneman plays the mustached, super-serious, no-nonsense counterpart to Adam Savage’s juvenilia in Mythbuster’s scientific odd-couple dynamic. “There is a certain adolescent essence to it. We try to get young people attracted to the dangerous high jinks, which can be quite funny. But they continue watching to see the interesting stuff.nn

Before we make any assumptions about the obvious lameness of Hyneman’s “learning can be fun” attitude, he reassures us that danger and death defying are an everyday part of being a Mythbuster. When asked about his most dangerous myth, he responds, “That’s kind of like saying which death is the worst. We’re making our livings dealing with how people get killed or maimed.nn

“Death is … imminent if we’re not really on our toes,” Hyneman says. “We just did a show about avalanches'whether yodeling could trigger one. We then ramp it up to doing what ski areas do, by dropping explosives so avalanches don’t happen. Adam, at one point, was sitting in a helicopter with 200 pounds of explosives and another 100 on his lap. He was lighting them in the helicopter, watching the fuse dwindle and waiting for the captain to say, ‘Drop it!’nn

He pauses and then adds, casually, “You can’t help but think this is a dangerous thing.nn

Compared to throwing bombs out of helicopters, the Mythbusters Live show seems more like a vacation. There are no stunts or experiments. “We don’t blow anything up onstage,” Hyneman says warily, half-expecting one of those lightning bolts through the phone at such blasphemy. “The show’s more like An Evening With the Mythbusters. It’s an unusual job, and we’re a couple of characters. People want to know what it’s really like to have this strange job. We have close-call stories [and] audience interaction; we’ll go off on tangents. It can be pretty funny, but also motivational.nn

Then, in natural storyteller fashion, Hyneman goes off on one of his tangents. “Like, for example, there was one … myth that came in from a couple where a turd popped up in their toilet,” he says, giggling nervously, “and neither the husband nor the wife recognized it. We wanted to find out whether it was possible to know whether a turd could go from one apartment to the next through the connecting pipe system. Adam’s response was that the man should divorce his wife.nn

He stops and composes himself. “But the process was right down our ally. We had a whole schematic with different toilets and connecting piping with different objects to flush to see if they would end up at the other end. In the end, it didn’t meet Discovery Channel’s family standards.nn

He lets the idea of putting an educational spin on the poop myth sink in and, with an air of satisfaction, he proudly exclaims, “We’re enthusiastic about our work.nn

nKingsbury Hall
n1395 E. Presidents Circle
nSaturday, May 5
n7:30 p.m.