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Q&A: Behind-the-scenes tales from Mythbusters' scientific exploits

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of "Mythbusters"

They've been doing it on television for nine seasons. Now, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are on tour with the live show MythBusters: Behind the Myths. They're unlikely TV stars, perhaps, a team that has a blast testing popular culture myths (can you be killed by household appliances falling into your bath? are elephants really afraid of mice? does double-dipping really spread germs?) for scientific validity. You might not see an automobile explode on stage (then again, you might – they won't say), but the guys promise to share some juicy behind-the-scenes stories from their scientific exploits.

Are there certain myths people are most interested in hearing about?

Savage: People absolutely love, love, love the cement truck explosion. Kids always want to know what is the biggest, the worst, the scariest, the stickiest, the funniest. And then oftentimes there's a science geek in the audience who really wants to take us to task for having gotten something wrong.

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Have you gotten something wrong?

Savage: Oh, we get stuff wrong all the time. That's one of the best parts of doing the show. Not only do we get stuff wrong, but we own up to it and go back and re-test it.

I want to know about the stickiest myth.

Hyneman: We've swum in syrup. And we did a story where we were testing how slippery banana peels were and that eventually involved using animal birthing lubricant, which was also very sticky.

Is there anything right now that you're dying to test?

Savage: We get back into filming in late January and we're starting right off with some myths from the TV show Burn Notice.

So many of your myths come from TV and film. Are you able to simply enjoy an action flick or are you just overwhelmed with potential myths to bust?

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Savage: Oh no, action movies are still super enjoyable.

Hyneman: And the myths often come to us through suggestions. In the movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie, they had a way of shooting that curved the bullet. That immediately created a flood of e-mails that we had to test that.

And what happened?

Hyneman: You can't curve a bullet.

Well, that's a relief. Sometimes the stars join you on the show, for example Seth Rogen.

Savage: That was great. Seth is a big fan of the show and contacted us during the shooting of Green Hornet and asked if we wanted to play around. The day-to-day grind of doing MythBusters is a dirty, exhausting – and fun – job. But it's not very glamorous. So it's really fun to have movie stars come on and play with us.

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You were involved in Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Given the political situation in your country, how important is it that science is part of the popular culture and the everyday conversation?

Savage: It's absolutely vital. Jamie and I never set out to become spokesmen for rational or critical thinking, but we've been tapped by President Obama to help push forward his Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiative. There's definitely an anti-science bent in the United States right now and we take seriously that people really need to understand how to think critically.

Did you ever think we'd get to the point where the question of science was controversial?

Savage: No, it's astonishing.

Do you have an up-to-date tally on myths busted versus plausible versus confirmed?

Savage: We ran those numbers about a year ago and I believe the ratio was something like 70 per cent busted. The second most common was plausible and the least common was confirmed.

MythBusters: Behind the Myths is in Vancouver Jan. 22, Toronto March 29 and Montreal March 30. MythBusters airs on Discovery Channel.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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