Adam Savage is a Public Intellectual (Which is Kind of Weird, But Totally Great)

He used to make things go boom. Now he makes people go "hmmm."


Over the course of the last 15 years, Adam Savage has transitioned from this guy who blows stuff up” to “guy who people listen to, who also sometimes blows stuff up.”

But Savage’s career has followed an unlikely trajectory; he’s worked as an animator, graphic designer, carpenter, projectionist, and toy designer. But things congealed in 2002 when he and co-host Jamie Hyneman kicked off Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel show that uses science to test the validity of urban legends, movie scenes, and other myths. The interesting thing about Savage is that he didn’t see mainstream success as his end game.

Elaborating on his right-place, right-time story in 2010, Savage told Blast Magazine: “By the time I was… nineteen, I had passed on [acting] in favor of doing stuff with my hands — graphic design, assistant animation in New York, and then eventually working in theater in San Francisco, and film special effects. Then MythBusters came along and it was the perfect marriage of two things, performance and special effects.”

Savage was the affable goofball, with a rambunctious, high-energy personality balanced only by Hyneman’s non-reactive, no-nonsense stoicism. Between the two hosts, Savage is the one you want to guide you around at a party. His public profile reflects that: He’s a prolific speaker and podcast guest, and he’s always tweeting. Is he an on-brand celebrity? Yes. But his brand is compelling.

Throughout the course of Mythbusters’ 15 seasons, Savage’s spot-on scientific antics earned him a rare celebrity. Since the show is largely about using science to answer unlikely questions, its appeal reached many demographics. It was in Savage’s professional interest to embrace this, and seemingly, it suited him just fine. For every Maker Faire and Comic Con appearance, he treats science like a soapbox. He’s a funny guy who likes hard evidence. This comes through in the talk on faith and atheism he delivered to the Harvard Humanist Association in 2010.

If the question is, “Why do people care what this guy has to say?” the answer is that he’s genuine and truth-oriented. The man made the scientific method into good television, but he didn’t disrespect it. He makes matters of science both pertinent and fun, and is clearly one of several spiritual heirs to the legacies of Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard.

It’s a little depressing conclusions based on hard evidence is a unique trait among American celebrities, but it is. Savage is interesting because he’s interested, an increasingly compelling position. As technology new tools allows more people to test their own hypotheses, Savage has become a leader in a disorganized, benign, but ultimately progressive movement. He leads by example.

“I hope Mythbusters is remembered as a show that helped people understand what a deeply creative vocation science can be,” Savage said in a Reddit video AMA after the show’s conclusion. The final season kicked off in January of this year, and ended last week. There were more than a few explosions on display, but the storied epic of Mythbusters has come to a close.

The finale of such a monumentally successful show begs the question: what’s next for the redheaded science journeyman. He’s less than specific on this point, but we won’t read anything into it — beyond the fact that he’s been heading a popular and demanding television project for more than ten years. Dude probably needs a break.