Cretins of Cool

updated 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD WORK HARD—REALLY HARD—at alienating their audience. "Heh-heh-heh," resounds their trademark chortle as, six nights weekly, the dorky cartoon teens put a dog in a washing machine, threaten to pee in a neighbor's pool and play "frog baseball."

But so far, their sociopathic strategy has resulted not in alienation—but fascination. As the title degenerates of MTV's highest-rated show, Beavis (the blond) and Butt-head (with braces and brown pompadour) have become the most popular air-guitar cretins since Wayne and Garth. Legions of fans, including late-night hipster David Letterman, have taken to quoting the dim-witted duo's favorite put-down: "Heh-heh. This sucks."

That marks a cathode-ray leap for series creator Mike Judge, 30. "A year ago I was watching videos on my couch," the soft-spoken, slightly amazed animator says from his new office at MTV's Manhattan headquarters.

The son of an archaeology professor and a school librarian, Judge doodled his way through high school in Albuquerque, N.Mex., and then picked up a physics degree from the University of California-San Diego. After two unhappy stints as an electronics engineer in California, in 1987 he escaped to Texas with his college sweetheart, Francesca Morocco. They married two years later. For a while. Judge eked out a living as a blues bassist, but in 1990, he attended a Dallas animation festival that left him fired up with ideas for his own cartoons. Remarkably, after he produced just three animated shorts, MTV called and signed him up for 30 episodes last year. (Thirty-five second-season shows began airing Labor Day.) Beavis and Butt-head, says MTV spokesperson Carol Robinson, "is relief from political correctness—'Wear a Condom,' 'Don't Drink and Drive,' 'Don't Do Drugs.' "

Now living in a New York City suburb with Francesca, 30, and their daughter, Julia, nearly 2, Judge admits that a measure of his work is autobiographical. Like his flared-nostril friends, he once worked in burger joints. And, like Beavis, the renowned pyromaniac, Judge admits he too was "kind of into fire."

Not everyone is laughing. After one incident in which two California teens killed a cat in an alleged imitation of a Beavis and Butt-head episode, Dick Zimmerman, 44, a 1988 California state lottery winner, started a letter-writing campaign against the show, putting up $5,000 of his $9.76 million winnings to nab the cat murderers.

In Beavis and Butt-head's defense, Judge, an animal lover, insists, "Kids don't do things because they're getting mixed messages from TV.... They're testing."

If so, judge may one day face his own parental trial by fire. Whenever Julia manages to catch a few seconds of the show, "she'll hear the 'heh,' " he says with paternal trepidation, "and then she'll start going 'heh-heh-heh.' "

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