For more than a decade, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have busted myths on their popular Discovery show. So it's no surprise that Savage busted a local one -- that there's nothing to love about Bakersfield -- in advance of the local stop of their Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour.
"You have Harbor Freight (Tools) there, one of our favorite stores," he said in a phone interview last week. "And we have stopped and shopped at that Harbor Freight dozens of times."
Those tools and equipment come in handy as the "Mythbusters" team conducts backyard-style experiments testing popularly held beliefs, ranging from the five-second rule for wayward food to dissolving a body in hydrofluoric acid a la "Breaking Bad."
But this tour, which sweeps into town Nov. 24, requires that Savage and Hyneman do things a bit differently.
"There's almost nothing we do on 'Mythbusters' that is easy to translate to a stage show. We like to say science programming up until 'Mythbusters' is what I would call demonstration programming.
On the TV show, Savage said they learn as they go (as does the audience), but that the trial and error doesn't lend itself to a well-oiled, easy-to-replicate performance. So the duo focused on another key aspect of their show: humor.
"We really use humor as a tool on 'Mythbusters' to keep people watching and to trick them into learning. ... We knew we wanted to play with the audience in a way that was really fun for them and unexpected."
Allowing audience members to participate keeps things interesting during the show, both through asking questions and on-stage activities.
"During the course of the show we bring at least a dozen ... people up on stage. And we bring up little kids, we bring old dudes, we bring up athletes, we bring up women and their daughters, we bring up everybody.
"We give them experiences they would have otherwise never gotten. We pit them against each other in feats of strength. ... And it makes the shows different every single night."
Savage said there's no set criteria for selecting the few participants each night ("It is very catch as catch can"), but he urged everyone to fill out the waiver on their seat and be ready to wave it.
"Sometimes we'll choose people because their whole family is pointing at them and they clearly don't want to come up on stage. And that, in and of itself, is funny. Other times, you know, a group of kids are wearing the same T-shirt, holding up a huge sign, and we'll just figure out a way to get them up."
But don't try to force the issue with Savage.
"The only thing that I don't like is when people, they're ... how do I put this? People write to us all the time prior to the show asking how to guarantee they'll be selected. And I think that's not playing proper pool."
That means antics that are fun for the whole family, with audiences "packed with everyone from 7 to 70."
"I think that the children respond to the (TV) show specifically because they know we're not talking down to them," Savage said. "They really understand that we are just being honest about our experience about stuff. And we try to do the same thing in the stage show.
"We really like the Bugs Bunny style of humor, which means we like to play the jokes that play to both kids and adults, often for different reasons."
An honorary lifetime member of the state and national science teachers associations (along with Hyneman) Savage said he has a lot of ideas on how to improve science education, including adding the arts to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
"A lot of people think of science as being antithetical to the arts, that they're at two poles. But, in fact, every scientist can tell you -- and it's something that Jamie and I have learned really deeply on 'Mythbusters' -- science is a deeply creative and absolutely messy process, and that makes it ever more wonderful than what the public perception is."
For the duo, that messiness includes episodes like the recent one on a zombie apocalypse. Savage said he was rightly taken to task when he used a foam ax on zombie volunteers. Critics later said that tapping people with foam didn't provide an accurate result of how many actual zombies could be taken out in a given situation. Savage said it could be worth revisiting in a future show.
"It might be that we end up having to redo that zombie episode and try it again under some more rigorous parameters. We've never shied away from doing that on 'Mythbusters.' We're always happy to have proven ourselves wrong."