A Q&A with MythBuster Kari Byron

One of the stars of Discovery's hit show chats about her cool job and the new exhibition at MOSI.

click to enlarge RUINED FOR ACTION FLICKS: "I can’t watch an action movie without being like, 'I wonder if a trench plate can cut a car in half when it falls off a truck…'" - DISCOVERY CHANNEL
RUINED FOR ACTION FLICKS: "I can’t watch an action movie without being like, 'I wonder if a trench plate can cut a car in half when it falls off a truck…'"

True. Probable. Possible. Improbable. Busted. For 15 seasons, the charismatic team of detectives on the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters have made it their mission to debunk popular myths, urban legends and rumors — all while using the scientific method (and occasionally some sweet explosions and special effects).

Those who have dreamed of partaking in the myth-busting action will soon delight in Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition. Debuting at Tampa’s Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) on Feb. 7 and running through May 9., the exhibit will allow fans to experiment and test myths themselves, peruse props from the show and watch live demonstrations.

In a CL Q&A, fan-favorite (and resident super-fox) Kari Byron talks myth-busting, cast dynamics, motherhood and art.

CL: MythBusters is popular — it’s been going strong since 2003. At Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition
fans can actually participate in the myth-busting. It’s a really rare thing — to get to do what the people on your favorite show do. Is it cool to be able to witness that interaction firsthand?

Kari Byron: Absolutely. They have so much fun with it. I mean, it’s the closest thing you’re gonna get to actually being on the show. It is experiments that we’ve done, and it’s even done in a more elegant way than we did it the first time, because they’ve spent a lot longer working out the bugs. Like, the “Running in the Rain” experiment — they might actually get a really definitive answer, being that they’ve had hundreds of people coming through the exhibit putting in an analysis of it. The museum itself looks just like our shop. It’s crazy. They came and took very extensive notes on how our shop looks, and then made it feel and look a lot like you’re right there in the MythBusters workshop.

You guys always look like you’re having a good time. Do you feel like that contributes to the success of the show? Presenting science in a fun, entertaining, accessible way?

We are having fun, and it’s not like you think you’re doing science — you’re just using science as a tool. I think it’s more of a reality show than reality shows. We’re actually having fun. We’re actually doing the experiments. You’re seeing our honest reaction.

It’s the realest reality show.

Yeah. I mean, most reality shows now have writers. You can’t really write how something is going to burn or explode.

Can you describe the aesthetics of the exhibit a bit?

Well, it’s very Disney Land-like. It’s very colorful, and there are so many things to do. Especially when you’re coming with kid — and most adults say they feel like they’re kids when they’re there. You get to participate in experiments. I had fun the first time I came to the exhibit. I was amazed how much it was like Mythbusters, and I stayed forever. I was doing the “Killer Card Toss” to see if I could hit the targets — how fast I could make the cards go. I sat there with Tory [Belleci] and had a competition.

There’s a cliffhanger section where you see how long you can hang by your fingertips, and I got so competitive—I hung off that ledge until my fingers cramped, because I wanted to get a better score than any of my friends. You can just kind of…play.

You tweeted recently that the show works because the chemistry is real, and you guys are really friends. The chemistry is great, but does that comfort also allow you to be more vicious with each other?

Oh yeah. We’re like a family, and we treat each other like siblings. I find sick pleasure in torturing Grant [Imahara] and Tory — and they do the same. We play practical jokes on each other. Don’t ever mention something that really creeps you out. One time Grant told us he has a really irrational fear of fish touching his feet, so from then on we were like, “You’re done, buddy. You’re done.” Never mention a fear or weakness because — just like you’re friends and family — we’ll pray upon that weakness for our personal entertainment.

I feel like it would be easy for the show to sneak into your everyday life. Do you think about things that you see or experience like, “Is this a myth I could debunk?” Or are you able to block that thought out after so many years?

Oh my god, I can’t watch an action movie without being like, “I wonder if a trench plate can cut a car in half when it falls off a truck…”

Have you ever been surprised by a myth you've debunked?

I’m surprised all the time. When you come in with any prejudgment, it should be the red flag that you’re gonna be wrong. We did one called “Chinese Invasion Alarm,” which was based on this old story that a fourth grade class sent in to us from a history book. It said that as an early detection for armies that were trailing towards your castle in China, they would dig these deep holes and put drums covered in goat skin. Then, they’d put guys with great hearing at the top to see if they could hear little beats on the drum, which would indicate people trailing towards them.

We just thought this was crazy — that there was no way this would work. We went out to a gold mine and made drums and put them deep in these holes. Tory and Jamie [Hyneman] went down into one of the mines with pick axes, and they were not even that close to us. Grant had a Geophone and all this listening equipment set up, and he couldn’t hear it. But, at the top, Adam [Savage] and I were listening, and I could actually beat my finger to the same beat that the guys were hitting their pick axes to down below. The fact that it worked was so amazing to me. We had this really cool historical myth that was sent in by fans, and it was actually true. And, it worked better than all of the modern day equipment we were using. That was just fascinating to me.

You are a visual artist (sculpture, painting, photography). People tend to separate the scientific and the creative. Do you ever find that the two lend themselves to one another, or do you kind of keep the two realms separate in your life?

I absolutely think you approach science and art the same way. They’re both just an exploration of curiosity. The two fields didn’t used to be so polarized. Historically, you have people like Leonardo da Vinci, who were masters in both. Now, it seems they’ve been taken into two separate fields. They really are in the same vein. The scientific method is the same way you approach creating a sculpture — you’re finding a question, and you’re exploring it to try to express it.

Do you still sculpt often, or has it gotten more difficult with the show’s schedule and motherhood?

Well, luckily — or unluckily — I’m a little bit of a crazy insomniac. So, I do sculpt with my daughter, because she loves Play-doh. She’s four years old, so she’ll make little creatures, and I’ll make little creatures. I think that the only difference is mine are a little less dark now, and I can make things that are a little bit cuter.

I loved the darkness of your sculptures, but I feel like having a 4 year old would soften that up a bit.

Well, I’ll tell you what, they’re still a little dark. I’m working on these little cautionary tales for kids — little monsters that are like “Okay, if you pick your nose, there’s this is the little monster that eats your boogers. And, if you pick your boogers, that monster’s gonna starve, and then he’s gonna crawl out of your nose and crawl in your ear and eat your brain.” But, he’s a cute little critter!

Dark, but magical.

She’s likes them! And if she’s not scared … I’m walking the line now — I’m a mom.

I read that you exhibit your art less since the success of Mythbusters, understandably. With Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition, do you get to re-experience an art show? With an art exhibit, you’re able to see people get excited about something that you do/create. And with the MOSI exhibit, you’re able to see people get excited about something you do/create. Is it cool that it’s kind of come full circle?

Hmm…I never thought about it that way. That is awesome! I love that. But, even when I was shy, I never minded talking about Mythbusters at an art show. That’s my job, and I feel so proud when people say they actually watch the show. Mostly, I don’t show because art shows take a lot of work and a lot of time. Between myth-busting and having a four-year-old, there’s not a lot of time to go show your art.


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