Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

MythBusters take legends to stage

Two hours of fascinating and action-packed on-stage experiments are sure to bring out the little kid in everyone, writes Nicholas Jones.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage let their fans in on the live fun.
Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage let their fans in on the live fun.

At one point during the Mythbusters live show, Adam Savage walks onstage with a battered water heater.

The crowd cheers, recognising a classic episode of the Discovery-channel show examining whether a water heater could explode and blast through a home's roof (it can, with spectacular results).

"That's the first time you've ever applauded a water heater," Savage cracks.

We've just watched a montage of some of the 800 explosions that have featured throughout the cult show's 12-year history, during which Savage and his friend Jamie Hyneman have tested urban myths using a mixture of science, geeky curiosity and DIY.

Their Behind the Myths stage show aims to give fans an insight into how their television programme works and is touring here for the first time.

As I watch the crowd file in to the Melbourne Convention Centre I can see they have a broad fan base.

There are plenty of father/son or father/daughter combos, but also a fair few groups of teenage boys and middle-aged men.

Parts of the live show are aimed at younger fans, with stunts followed by explanations of the scientific principles at play.

When Savage lies on a bed of nails and has a cinder block placed on his chest without harm, he announces: "Ladies and gentlemen: physics." Later, we are told, "The brain is the most important superpower of all."

If that sounds a bit naff, there are times when the pair's skill at explanation reaches a level Ministry of Education officials wish they could bottle and send to school science departments.

He concludes the explanation of that water heater with a rhetorical flourish - "it flashes to steam with this long, slow, magnificent thud that you feel in your gut and rattle through your spine and almost gives you a headache but it feels like falling in love" - that has the little boy next to me rocking with happiness.

Audience participation is another strength of the show. A woman and her young daughters are invited up to weave together the pages of two phone books. Savage later pulls off the "phone book friction" experiment, and is hoisted high above the ground using two handles attached to the interwoven books. They stay together and - to the volunteers' relief - he doesn't fall to serious injury.

Several people are pulled on stage and told to do their best "raspberries" (placing the tongue between the lips and blowing) in front of a high-speed camera, and the slow-motion replays have the crowd in stiches.

It's another example of how the show successfully gives the feeling that Savage and Hyneman are just a couple of big kids mucking around, and we are in on the fun.

There's plenty for older fans. The two talk about some of their favourite myths and bloopers during set changes: the audience is hanging off every word. Question and answer sessions work well as a change of pace. Hyneman is asked a few light-hearted questions, including whether or not his moustache is real.

But there are evidently serious watchers in attendance. "In the myth of the hydrogen fuel cell, did you consider an LPG conversion, instead of a conventional carburettor?" asks one man, who probably stumped up the ticket price to get that burning question resolved.

Savage has the crowd eating out of his hand with a description of almost drowning during a stunt in which he had to escape from a sinking car that had flipped upside down.

"To this day my mum is still not allowed to watch that episode," he concludes.

The show's finale is spectacular, but the indoor setting means it can't rely on explosions and other stunts. Still, it succeeds in capturing the infectious curiosity that has made the TV show so popular.

"We struggled with it a little bit, because we're known for doing all this big, spectacular stuff, but we didn't want to set-up unrealistic expectations in the audience when we went out," Hyneman says afterwards.

"So, as you saw, what we focussed on is to try to give a sense of the same relaxed, playful experimentation that we normally do."

Need to know

Join MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage live on stage for two hours of on-stage experiments, rocking video and more. Vector Arena 2pm and 7.30pm Saturday, September 6. Tickets from $59 adults, $39 child. ticketmaster.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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