Mike Judge Is My Xanax

Or Whatever People Take to Not Hate Everything All the Time

By Rocco Castoro

So you have encyclopedic music video knowledge, but something people might not know about you is that you also have a degree in physics. Does that ever come in handy?
There’s some technical stuff maybe that, after you’ve studied physics, just seems easy. There was a time, after a test screening of Office Space, when a Fox executive was trying to make a point about one of the statistics, and when you do physics, in thermodynamics, you learn statistics inside and out, or pretty well. So I was able to go, “No, that’s not what that number means; it’s this, this, and this.” I lectured them all on statistics after a screening that didn’t get a very high number.

What was the statistic?
It was some kind of data that they used to try to tell me that I should get rid of the gangsta rap.

Really? What a giant crock of shit.
They were fighting so hard to get me to take it out, so I went out on a limb and said, “OK, let’s specifically ask the focus group at this next screening, and if they don’t like it, I’ll take it out.” So this group of 19- to 30-year-olds or whatever said it was great. The woman running the thing was trying so hard to pollute the thing. She was like, “What’d you think about the music?” And they were like, “Oh, it’s great!” “But what about the gangsta rap?” And then they said, “Oh man, it was great!” “But maybe there was too much of it?” They wouldn’t give her anything. Not one bit of negativity came up, and this focus group saved me.

I feel like that very sort of situation is exactly why so many people love your stuff. I wouldn’t say you’re an underdog, because that’s not entirely accurate, but it seems that you always prevail in some roundabout fashion that really sticks it to your detractors.
I’d feel better if it was a huge hit out of the gate, but, actually, yeah. I grew up watching lots of TV, but not so many movies until later in life. I was brought up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, completely away from any entertainment people in New York or LA, and I always kept getting this feeling that they’re slightly out of touch with the way most of us think and feel. And when something does happen that you can relate to, especially stuff that’s about everyday life, you really appreciate it. I did. I guess part of it is me thinking that way, trying to do stuff that maybe Hollywood is a little too out of touch to do. That’s probably why I gravitate to stuff like King of the Hill or Office Space. It’s more about everyday, normal people. But yeah, I guess my movies have a delayed reaction thing going.

It’s the same thing with Idiocracy, which is one of my favorite movies of all time because it’s very frank, in a hilarious way, about how dumb people are. But it never had a wide theatrical release. I’ve heard tons of rumors, but can you set the record straight?
I can tell you what I know. We locked and finished the movie and put it in the can, and it didn’t come out until over a year later. So by the time that it got around to marketing, I was completely out of touch with them. I got a couple calls. They showed me a couple trailers—some of them I thought were good, others I thought were horrible. This always happens. It happened with Office Space too. They sent me a tape with 13 trailers on it. At first I was really happy, and I go, “I like all of these except No. 3 and No. 11. All the rest are great.” I call them up, “Hey, these are great,” and they go, “Yeah, we really like No. 3 and No. 11.”

So they tested the trailers, and they didn’t do well—I wouldn’t have liked them either if I were in a test group. Then they looked at it and said, “OK, let’s use Office Space as a business model. It made us a ton of money, but it was like three or four years later. What did we do wrong there? We spent money on the release and trailers, so let’s not do that this time.” But you could argue that maybe they did the right thing. It seems to be making money now, just like Office Space. But with Idiocracy, that really was a case of ditching a movie. They put it in maybe like 11 theaters. I always hated articles that said how much the movie made, but not that it was in only 11 theaters. Not only that, but if you looked it up on Moviefone, it was still listed under “Untitled Mike Judge Movie Project” [laughs]. They didn’t even go through the effort of entering a title into whatever database they pull that stuff from.