After the Discovery Channel cancelled its hugely popular MythBusters program last year, co-host Adam Savage should have taken an extended vacation. The intricately planned and executed experiments that Savage, his co-host Jamie Hyneman and their dedicated crew created over the course of 14 seasons were mentally and often physically grueling, so by all rights the overworked presenter should probably still be thigh deep in a couch dent.
But that’s not how Savage rolls. While MythBusters’ final season was airing, he was planning his next professional phase, which resembles his last professional phase with slightly more glitz and flash. His new stage show, dubbed Brain Candy Live!, is the co-creation of Savage and Michael Stevens, the mastermind behind YouTube’s informational/educational VSauce channel, and a hybrid of their two famous broadcasts. They present it at Aronoff Center for the Arts on Thursday.
“For us, ‘brain candy’ is the pleasure you feel at learning something new, so we built a show that celebrates that specific feeling,” Savage says. “It definitely has the DNA of both Michael’s and my pasts, and there are aspects that are very different for us. With this show, for Michael, there’s a lot more physicality than anybody realizes he’s capable of. For both of us, it’s very fertile ground for improvisation and trying out new stuff.”
Improvisation would seem to be more in the wheelhouse of stand-up comics. So where does improvisation occur within the context of a science presentation?
“Weirdly, kind of all of it,” Savage says. “There is a script, but the show is never a static object. We modify it, modulate it and attenuate it to the audience every single night. If you have a particularly raucous crowd that’s super energized, sometimes you can offer up whole new swaths of material just because they’re willing to go along. Michael has an improv background, so if one of us changes a word, the other goes on alert and realizes we may go in a slightly different direction. The outline is so the crew knows when to turn the lights on, but there’s room to move.”
Savage describes his early 2016 meeting with Stevens as “a very funny Hollywood meet-cute.” Almost immediately the pair began spitballing ideas for what evolved into Brain Candy Live!.
“Our agents introduced us to each other,” Savage says. “I was touring with Jamie Hyneman for years. Jamie wanted to stop touring and my agency knew I was looking for someone else to collaborate with. They represented Michael and didn’t realize that I was a huge fan of his and that we had kind of a mutual admiration society.”
Magic relies on misdirection to achieve its end, while Brain Candy Live!’s experimentation demands you pay attention to every detail to enjoy the payoff. In both cases, the intended reaction is exactly the same.
“We’re looking for the same gasp, the same ‘huuuh’ moment,” Savage says. “The fun part of the show is we hear the audience make that sound every night.”
Like many magicians, Savage and Stevens recruit assistance from their gasping audience to help them onstage. Be prepared not only to be amazed but also involved.
“We bring audience members onstage to help us with various parts of the show,” Savage says. “We bring a young person onstage who helps us build a machine that we then utilize with the help of that young person. Audience participation is really key and one of the most fun parts of doing the show.”
For Savage, the jolt from Brain Candy Live! is equal to the one he got from MythBusters for 14 years.
“I’m addicted to storytelling in any format, whether it’s building a prop and making it look like it has history, writing out a piece on how I build stuff or being on television telling stories,” Savage says. “Each discipline requires a different kind of mindset in order to communicate a narrative. And communicating a narrative onstage in front of a live audience is one of the most adrenaline-rushing ways to tell stories. To take them along with you while also being willing to go along with them is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like a rock star.”
BRAIN CANDY LIVE! occurs 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. $45-$150. Tickets/more info: cincinnatiarts.org.