San Francisco Treat

The interview with Kari Byron

Greetings again, gentle readers and Mammy enthusiasts.   As you may have gathered, I likes me the “ Mythbusters .”   The new season of the show has brought some changes including more appearances by the Mythbusters build team—who assist Jamie and Adam with their experiments as well as tackle myths of their very own.   I did a little poking around and ran across the work of one Ms. Kari Byron —build team member and artist.

I was immediately impressed by the smatterings of her work I was able to track down and was eager to see if she would be willing to join the Joe Mammy collective (resistance is futile…) and learn what made the tenacious redhead tick.   Fortunately, she was agreeable to throwing some questions back and forth with yours truly and spoke of things artistic, the potential dangers of screwing with the Mythbusters and why peas are the bad pennies of the vegetable world…


Joe Mammy : First off, give us a little background about yourself—where you came from, what you've done and how you came to be where you are now.   Am I remembering correctly that you were a school teacher at one point?

Kari Byron: I am a Bay Area girl, born and raised.   I traveled around the world and decided my SF home is still the best place to live.   As far as how I ended up on Mythbusters, all I can say is "right time, right place."   I wanted to work at M5 as a sculptor badly enough to just keep showing up and working for free until Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters host and M5 industries owner) hired me.   Mythbusters had just started filming at the shop.   On my first day, Jamie and Peter Rees (executive producer) talked me into helping out with one of their experiments.   I say "talked me into” because the experiment was for a story called "exploding airplane toilet".   They needed a 3-D scan of a female rear end.   I guess I proved I have no shame, one of the qualifications for being a Mythbuster.   I helped out behind the scenes when they needed me during the first season.   When the second season started they asked me to be a part of the show.   I am forever grateful to Jamie, Adam, and Peter for letting me be a part of their crazy world.

I was never a school teacher...that was Scottie [Chapman, member of the Mythbusters build team].

Joe : Dammit.   I knew I shouldn't trust my memory.   I have to ask: the "water torture" episode recently premiered.   How did you end up being the unlucky soul on that particular test?   I don't mean to editorialize too much, but that episode didn't seem much fun after it was all said and done. Did you all just not realize what you were getting into when they were pitching that myth?

Kari : The Water Torture episode is a little tricky.   All three of us were subjects of the experiment.   After my freak out, Scottie tried it without restraints to try and isolate the water as a torture.  She almost fell asleep until the element of cold water was introduced. She stopped the experiment immediately.   Tory went the full nine yards, cold and restraints.   I believe he went about 45 minutes.   There will be an "Out Takes” episode that shows their experience.   We were under the impression that "water torture" was a myth, something from a campy 60's comic book.   It wasn't until we interviewed our expert that we confirmed the myth.   The viewers witness our process of discovery. Every time we believe we know what will happen, we are proven wrong.   I believe that is what makes the show so great.  

Joe : Any good bits of Mythbuster gossip: is Jamie an alien? Does Adam collect Hummel figurines? Do Adam and Jamie force the build team members to fight in death matches for their amusement when not filming new episodes?

Kari : I don't want to truly rat out my crew so I won't name names.   They are an interesting gaggle of genius—with that comes eccentricities.   One Mythbuster is a bit of a ladies' man.    He keeps hair gel in his glove box so he can slick up on the road.   Another brings tech equipment catalogs into the bathroom with him.    One we will never play practical jokes on because he has a secret serum that can induce projectile vomiting with one drop into your lunch.   Finally, one formerly made public appearances as a gay robot for a famous space movie made in Marin.   That is the best dirt I can dig up around Mythbusters.

Joe : Speaking of the build team, this season you all have come more to the forefront in the show.   What's it like to transition from a more "behind the scenes" kind of role to the more visible position you're in now?

Kari : Being in front of the camera means I get to do more of the fun stuff.   It was hard at first.   I hated watching myself trying to act natural.   Day by day I am getting used to being followed by a camera. Sometimes I forget that all my goofiness is going to be seen by an audience.    

Joe : From your website I see that you're also an artist.   Do you work primarily with sculpture or do you dabble in a bit of everything?   Is there a medium you prefer to work with and why?   (Also, if you're involved with music/writing/film let me know; I'd like to do a follow up involving all of your interests/endeavors)

Kari : Sculpture and drawing are an important part of me.   Everyday I come home and do some sort of art. I think I would go crazy if I didn't.  

Joe : How does your work come about: do you consciously go about exploring certain themes/aesthetics or do you just start working on something until it feels done and then find themes and similarities after the fact?   What themes and ideas do you like to explore with your work?

Kari : I seem to work in two directions.   I do portraits or I make sculptures exploring my cynical view of contemporary issues.   Artists that over-explain their art always take away from my experience as a viewer.   I try to let my veiwer make their own message.   Art becomes more personal if you let yourself become involved.   I will always explain my motivations and themes if someone asks but I prefer to hear theirs.

Joe : It's like a joke, if you have to explain it, it loses something, right?   Self-deconstruction is always a surreal experience.   So what other artists (in any form) influence and inspire you?

Kari : There are so many.   Being an artist is a hard career to choose.   I am inspired by anyone who can actually make it on the radar.   With strong conviction I can say that this year's Secca award winners impressed me.   Recently I visited the Moma and was blown away.   Josephine Taylor, Simon Evans, Shaun O'Dell, and Rosana Castrillo Diaz left me breathless. I walked away with an ambition to work harder and become a better.

Joe : Who's the coolest person you know?

Kari : I have to say my boyfriend.   He is a constant inspiration and the most true person I know.

Joe : Free rant: go off on a topic of your choosing.   Give 'em hell!

Kari : Why do so many restaurants put peas and carrots in their rice?   My favorite burrito shop, the Chinese place around the corner, the Italian diner on the highway...they are everywhere.   I hate peas!

Peas do not make rice look fancy.   It's still rice, except gross.  

Man, that was a boring answer.   It is late and I don't really feel like complaining.  

Joe : What's on the horizon for you?   Any new upcoming projects?

Kari : Mythbusters is a huge part of my life while we are shooting.   I constantly have several arty projects in the works.   My favorite at the moment is a sketch book collaboration.   Two other artists and I are passing a portrait themed sketch book back and forth.

Joe : Any parting words of wisdom for the kids at home?

Kari : Pay attention in science class!!!   Don't try anything we do at home.   The world needs more girls interested in science and art-based careers.


Kari can be seen on “ Mythbusters ” (check yer local listings or just watch the Discovery channel until it comes on, whichever is easiest…) and her work can be seen on her website and at periodic showings throughout the San Francisco area.   Kari had a showing at Anno Domini last September and the website has some good pictures of her show as well as other San Francisco area artists.   Check ‘em out.

To check out a more recent interview with the lovely Ms. Byron, click here