They are two guys with a self-described “deep and strange sense of humor,” doing a stage show which champions science and critical thinking while shooting things and blowing stuff up.
On Saturday though, it won’t be Las Vegas mainstays Penn &Teller, but friends of theirs at the Orleans Arena: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman with “Behind the Myths,” the live version of their “MythBusters” TV show.
The ongoing Discovery Channel hit made unlikely stars of the two, and a past version of the touring spinoff played at the Palazzo two summers ago. The Orleans is the first U.S. tour date for this new arena-sized version, so it too will continue the show’s theme of experimentation.
“Just like doing the (TV) show, this isn’t something we were trained to do, so we’re making it up as we go along,” Savage says. “And just like ‘MythBusters,’ we strive to keep it fresh for ourselves as we modify and mix it up.”
The TV show offers multicamera field experiments in whether a car balanced on a cliff will tip if a bird lands on the hood, or whether a secret-agent car’s mounted machine gun can blast pursuers off the road.
But on stage, the “MythBusters” premise pulls audience members into the action for obstacle courses and competitive experiments. Testing a bed of nails, or seeing how well a suit of armor stops a paint ball.
“It was the sense of humor and playing around with how the audience sees things that was our first jumping-off point in terms of constructing stuff,” Savage says. “We can’t go on stage and do experiments per se. You can’t make the audience wait around for 40 minutes, and then nothing happens and go, ‘Well that’s actually sort of a valid result.’ ”
Savage and Penn Jillette are both friends of James Randi, a skeptic and debunker of psychics and paranormal activity. His foundation holds its annual gathering, The Amazing Meeting, in Las Vegas (The next is July 10-13 at the South Point).
Penn &Teller’s bygone Showtime series “Bullsh*t,” Savage notes, also functioned much like “MythBusters” in tackling long-held beliefs. Though it was “much more polemical,” the two shows combined for “a wonderful one-two punch in critical thinking.”
So did Penn &Teller serve as inspiration to how the “MythBusters” might work on stage?
“I’ve seen their show in Vegas half a dozen times and I think it’s a masterpiece,” Savage says. “I can’t say there’s anything specific that I’ve lifted from Penn &Teller, but their presence, the way in which they write their pieces, both to capture you intellectually and emotionally, is something that’s really beautiful.”
And, he adds, “They’re wonderful storytellers and for me that’s really my favorite part of doing this live show: figuring out every night a better way to tell the stories.”
Savage and Hyneman started getting asked to speak at colleges almost as soon as “MythBusters” hit the air in 2003. And almost from the get-go, audiences started asking them “to come up and bust a myth on stage. It’s a universal request. … We always had to say, ‘That’s not the thing that we do.’ ”
They started to see how they could do it with the help of director Jim Millan, a sketch-comedy veteran whose “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody,” played Las Vegas last year.
Savage says the TV series is “still a viable product,” and production continues with no end game in mind.
“As long as people believe strange things, we’ll still have a job,” he says.
Or maybe we just want to see if a laptop can stop a bullet, or if an underground explosion will blow a manhole lid in the air, like in the movies.
“We didn’t set out to make a show that was educational or would turn people into critical thinkers. We still try not to think about that when we’re writing out the episodes or working on our experimentation,” Savage says.
“We’re really still trying to make sure that the show’s about what it’s always been about, a couple of guys with better-than-average building skills satisfying their curiosity.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.