Does the name Mike Judge sound familiar? Although the director, producer and voice actor isn’t a household name, fans of comedy and animation shower him with praise. Shows such as “King of the Hill” and “Beavis and Butthead,” along with movies like “Office Space” and “Idiocracy,” were all projects based on Judge’s creative vision. Modern comedy would be incredibly different without his influence, so let’s discuss Mike Judge and why he matters in the world of animation.
Mike Judge was born in 1962, in Ecuador. Shortly after his birth, he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in 1985, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from UC San Diego. Dissatisfied by the work he was doing for a Silicon Valley video card company, he started touring with a blues band. A few years later, he visited an animation festival, which inspired him to pursue a career in animation.
In 1991, Judge created a series of animated shorts called “Milton,” which was loosely inspired by the jobs he held during college. The shorts aired on MTV’s “Liquid Television,” and after an acquisition from Comedy Central, “Milton” evolved into Judge’s 1999 live-action film “Office Space.” The movie revolves around white-collar employees who are disgruntled with their jobs. Though the film disappointed at the box office, it generated a cult following that praised its irreverent approach to office life.
Judge created “Frog Baseball” in 1992, which marked the first appearance of the characters Beavis and Butt-Head. The short film eventually spun off into the series “Beavis and Butt-Head,” an episodic show about two incompetent teenagers (both voiced by Judge) who constantly laugh at ill-suited, lascivious terms and only have two goals in life: to drink alcohol and have intercourse with women. The show’s simple, albeit brainless concept may seem baffling, but its execution is nearly flawless and surprisingly brilliant for a series surrounding two idiots. “Beavis and Butt-Head” ran for seven seasons over the course of four years, which was followed by a movie. The series returned in 2011 and 2022, again followed by a movie after its second revival.
Shortly before “Beavis and Butt-Head” ended the first time, Judge co-created another animated show called “King of the Hill,” which began airing in January 1997. The show follows Hank Hill, a hard-working, conservative propane salesman who resides with his family and friends in Texas. Even to those unfamiliar with the show, Hill’s voice (also played by Judge) is iconic, evoking the folksy timbre characteristic of many Texas accents (and also similar to the neighbor Tom Anderson in “Beavis and Butt-Head.”)
“King of the Hill” aired for 13 years, releasing its final four episodes in May 2010. Over 13 seasons, the show produced a total of 258 episodes. To call the series a mere success would be a massive understatement, as it received critical acclaim during every season, beginning to end; television critic James Poniewozik praised the show, writing that it’s “quietly been the best family comedy on TV,” and furthermore, “King of the Hill” is often included in lists of top animated shows. A revival of the show is currently in production.
Although lesser known compared to Judge’s previous work, the 2006 movie “Idiocracy” is another one of his beloved projects. The film follows Corporal Joe Baurs (played by Luke Wilson) and a sex worker (played by Maya Rudolph) who are selected for a suspended animation experiment, only to reawaken in a dystopian future as the smartest people in existence. Seemingly more complex than Judge’s earlier works, “Idiocracy” critiques anti-intellectualism and mass commercialism in contemporary society. Hoping the film could establish a cult following from word-of-mouth, the distributor of “Idiocracy” purposely did not develop a big marketing strategy. As a result, the movie grossed a scant $495,000 from a mere 130 theaters but despite its limited release, the film grew into a cult classic and garnered a devoted fan base.
Judge and his works have been nominated for many awards. While “Beavis and Butt-Head” hasn’t won any awards per se, they attempted to beat the world record for the largest plate of nachos ever made. “King of the Hill” had nearly dozens of nominations during its run and notably won two Primetime Emmy Awards and three Annie Awards. Surprisingly, “Office Space” won Judge the Star of Texas Award from the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Finally, “Silicon Valley” was nominated for over 30 awards, winning two Critics Choice Awards and three Satellite Awards.
Judge’s uniquely humorous style defines his work. His ability to transform simple concepts into surprisingly brilliant pieces of work appears effortless and therein lies his comedic genius. Judge has also exerted an incredible influence on roughly drawn animation, which continues to inspire many modern incarnations of adult animation. While Judge’s style may not be for everyone, his name should be included among the most creative people to ever exist. Take the time to appreciate and enjoy some of Judge’s work and see why he truly matters.