In the age of the internet, any schmo off the street could probably name you every superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every old lady and her dog can provide their hot take on the ongoing Kirk v. Picard debate. Therefore, it takes a special kind of fanatic to stand out in an era when every fact related to even the most obscure corner of pop culture is right there, at anyone’s fingertips.
Yet, Sean Beard is such a fan.
Beard, a 31-year-old pharmacy worker from Silver Springs, New York, has the largest collection of Beavis and Butt-Head merchandise in the world. Nearly every square inch of his home is littered with images of the weird-looking cartoon idiots. In 2017, he started showcasing the items on his Instagram page, which, in just over a year, has amassed thousands of followers, including the show’s creator Mike Judge, who became aware of the page back in September.
“He sent me a message telling me he saw the collection and sort of patted me on the back,” Beard told Civilized. “I just wrote back ‘Woah!’ I didn’t want to just blabber on about how much he means to me and all that. I don’t really need to talk to the guy. I really, really, admire and idolize him, so I didn’t want to be disappointed.”
The idolization is clear. The collection looks like the adolescent equivalent of a Buddhist shrine. Or, to use a more apropos metaphor—like the 90s barfed all over someone’s living room.
If you were to give a cursory scroll through the page, the items that might immediately jump out at you include a set of terrifying Halloween masks, decorative watches, action figures, a soccer ball, multiplex promotional items, four Tiger electronic handheld games, aftershave, an old VHS copy of a porn parody (‘Beaver & Buttface,’ in case you were wondering), a novelty plush mallet, stacks of magazines and, of course, a Cornholio toilet paper holder.
All this is to say—there’s a lot. Well over a thousand items, by Beard’s estimate, and he supposes he’s spent more $10,000 in building the collection, although he’s quick to add that he isn’t especially rich.
“People think I’m loaded because I buy all this shit, but, like, I just don’t have kids or a wife, or anything,” he said, jokingly. “Being single in your 30s rules.”
When pressed, it’s hard for him to choose a favorite item, but he is able to list a couple highlights. He’s especially proud of amassing the entire set of 28 VHS tapes released of around the world (only 11 of which were released in the states), which feature far more episodes than the limited “Mike Judge Collection” DVD releases from the mid ‘00s.
Another prized piece is the original album artwork done for the double-platinum selling ‘Beavis and Butt-Head Experience,' drawn by Mike Judge himself.
“I bought it from the owner of Geffen Records, actually,” he said. “It was pretty surreal, man, because at first I didn’t believe him.”
He remembers doing some image comparisons online, noting that the thing could have just as easily been faked, before finally agreeing to Skype with the seller.
“He pops up on my screen and there’s like, a bunch of gold record on the back of his wall, and I go ‘Well, I guess you’re the owner of Geffen Records,’ and he sees my collection behind me and goes, ‘Well, I guess this is going to the right home.’”
'I'm pretty obsessive'
So, how does he manage to amass such an impressive collection? eBay, mostly.
“I’ll probably check new searches for ‘Beavis’ every half hour if I can,” he said. “I’m pretty obsessive. My grandma was a collector, so I guess she instilled that in me.”
His grandmother had an even more direct influence on this collection. She was the one who bought him his very first item back in 1994.
“They used to have these [trading] cards,” he told Civilized. “Some of them had scratch and sniffs that smelt like farts or toxic fumes or whatever—they were really bad. You’d scratch ‘em and it’d stink up the entire room. Anyway, the owner of a hobby shop 45 minutes from my house said that he had them all. So, rather than buying the individual packets, my grandma bought me the entire set.”
According to Beard, the experience of sitting in his living room flipping through these cards is what precipitated his enduring fascination with the show.
“By that time, the cards had documented every single episode that had aired up to that point, but, by then most of them had been pulled off the air,” he remembered. “I was like, how do I see these cartoons?”
Actually, 1994 was a strange time for a kid to be developing an interest in the show. Just months before, Judge and company found themselves in hot water after the mother of a boy roughly Beard’s age publicly condemned ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ for inspiring her son to start a fire in their home that ultimately led to the death of his 2-year-old sister.
“Yeah, the fire thing was really overblown,” said Beard, adding that he has since connected with the son, now grown and capable of speaking for himself. “I’ve been in touch with him a few times. Really nice dude....Still, it’s pretty fuckin’ sad.”
The controversy was pinpointed to a single scene from the 1993 episode “Comedians” (which Beard now owns the entire, 20-cel animation set-up for) wherein Beavis ignites a newspaper and subsequently sets a comedy club on fire. Nevertheless, MTV came down hard on the show, banning all uses of the word “fire” and other aggressive actions on behalf of the characters.
“I’ve got to give [the mother] credit, actually,” said Beard. “Because where was it going to go? I mean, the old episodes…we fans appreciate them, but they were forced to revamp it and instead create these more charmingly dumb characters, and I think it ultimately saved the show.”
'It really captured the nihilistic spirit of adolescence'
As the show soldiered on, it became more refined, polished and even a little subtle in the face of oppressive censorship. Before, long, the show began to morph into something much sharper, with a clearer comedic identity. This is when the show really began to shine, in Beard’s opinion.
“It really captured the beautiful, nihilistic spirit of adolescence,” he said. “Where no matter what horrible thing happens, you’re usually just stoked that it broke up the monotony. You see a car crash, and you’re just like ‘Woah, cool!’ Next thing you know, you’re 21 and you’re like, ‘Gosh, I hope those people are okay.’”
Beard wasn’t always able to wax poetic on the subject of Beavis and Butt-Head. In the beginning, his reaction to the show was a much more visceral experience.
“It really scared the shit out of me,” he said, remembering that he was first exposed to the characters while he was visiting with a friend of his father.
“This dude’s house was basically just a recliner, a TV, a shelf packed with big-box porn, and three giant boxes of Hustlers in the corner of the living room,” he recalls. “My Dad is trying to get me to run off and play, and this guy, Ronnie, was like ‘Hey, I’ll put some cartoons on for him.’”
The episode playing on the TV was “Lawn and Garden,” an early entry from the series in which the boys topple a tree onto their neighbor’s house, utterly destroying it.
“When I first saw them, they were monstrous,” he said, laughing. “Back then, it kind of looked like a serial killer drew it.”
The episode culminates with Beavis cutting off Butt-Head’s finger with a chainsaw while the pair bang their heads and recite Judas Priest lyrics—a particularly affecting image that Beard now has tattooed across the entire length of his back. This is just one of his seven 'Beavis and Butt-Head' tattoos on his person. He adds that he's quite proud of the fact that one of them, a stick-figure image of a big-breasted woman being shot by airplanes drawn by Beavis, was featured on the immensely popular Sucky Tattoos Instagram page back in November.
“I’m like this walking billboard for this show that’s over 25 years old,” he jokes. And, like any good billboard, he’s certainly catching people’s attention.
“The first person I ever had come up to me was some biker dude in his sixties. He walks over to me, points at my tattoos and says ‘That, is the coolest fuckin’ shit I’ve ever seen.’”
Beard has been building a pretty solid fan base of followers over the past year, enough of them that when he rented out a small local theatre to screen the feature-length “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” last December, he had around 70 people attend to meet up and chat.
“This is a small town, too, so people were driving out from the city. I was fuckin’ shocked,” he said. Since then, the interest has only grown. Now, he regularly receives fan art and gifts from followers, and, just a few months ago, had a pair of visitors drive up to shoot the shit and see the collection for themselves.
“I’m kind of an introverted guy,” he said. “I don’t think of myself as the kind of person that wants people in my personal space, but if someone wants to come over and talk about Beavis and Butt-Head in my Beavis and Butt-Head museum, it’s like yeah, come on in!”
It’s something he’s quickly getting used to. Over the summer, a pair of filmmakers from Amazon Prime paid a visit with their cameras, intending on gathering footage for a full-length documentary. This, he tells me, is far beyond anything he could have hoped for the collection.
“Early on I had this pipe dream…Do you remember the show Totally Obsessed?” he asked. “It used to give these people like, eight minutes to show off their collections. They were basically trying to humiliate them, making them out to look desperate and stupid for spending all of their money on this crap. But me, I saw that and was like, dude, I’d love to be on that show.”
'Beavis and Butt-Head was an escape for me and my mom'
The collection been an important point of connection with people, Beard explained, because the show has meant so much to him over the years, and he really just wants to share that feeling with others.
“I didn’t have a good childhood, and Beavis and Butt-Head was an escape for both me and my Mom,” he said. “My mom is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, but she just wasn’t happy back then. I remember the episode in particular where the boys try to buy non-alcoholic beer, and my Mom was just crying from laughing. I’d never seen her laugh that hard by that point in my life, and I think that’s a big part of the reason I have such an emotional connection with the show."
Still, even he can’t love it all. He singled out the boys’ appearance on Kid Cudi’s 2015 album ‘Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven’ as a low point for the characters “They praise it way too hard. I mean, I’m a noise musician, but Kid Cudi sucks,” he said. But Beard was a little more hesitant when I asked him about all the crappy merch MTV has pushed out over the years.
“I’m kind of a sucker for tacky, so those tend to coincide with my favorite items,” he said. “I’d say maybe the toilet seat?"
"Nah," he said, reconsidering. "That’s pretty awesome.”
Photo Credit: Sean Beard. Banner Image: Fursy Photos