Mother Kari Byron Spent a Lot of Time Busting Myths
Our Mythbuster Stumbled into the Greatest Job in the World
By Kevin Painchaud
If you ever turned on the TV between the years of 2003 and 2018, I’m sure you had the opportunity to watch the Discovery Network hit show, MythBusters. It was one of the most popular TV shows ever produced by the Discovery Channel. One of the fun and quirky co-hosts of this show, was Kari Byron. I had the chance to chat with Kari and learn a bit more about her and her new show titled Crash Test World.
KP: Hi Kari. So where did you grow up and go to school?
KB: I was born and raised in Los Gatos. I graduated from Los Gatos High, then did some time at West Valley before transferring to San Francisco State University. I’m a Bay Area woman!
KP: How did you get the job at MythBusters?
KB: I wanted a creative career; something that involved making and creating. Since I was a kid, I loved the special effects industry. I think the making of “Thriller” changed me forever. In 2002 my good friend introduced me to Jamie Hyneman and M5 industries where they did toy prototyping and model making. I offered to work for free and the next day I had an internship. Turns out my first day at M5 was also the first day they were filming MythBusters at the shop. I helped out behind the scenes, chased them to shoots, and got quickly hired as a background builder. I wasn’t supposed to end up talking to the camera but they couldn’t make the episodes fast enough with just Jamie and Adam. The show was legit reality and the science, the builds, and the mess weren’t faked for camera. Since I am inherently shy, this is not the path I thought my life would take.
KP: What skills did you have to allowed you to fit as a host for MythBusters?
KB: Skills can be learned. What made me a MythBuster was my willingness to try anything and surrender to the mantra “there is no dignity in television”. Within the first week of filming, they needed a 3D scan of a butt for a myth. The legend was that a large woman flushed an airplane toilet while still seated and got stuck from the suction. I figured no one would see this weird cable show anyway, so why not. Besides, Jamie paid me $100 and as an intern, that was huge money. I never thought it would be the first thing you see when you Google my name. I think my “Why Not” spirit is my best skill. It has always created opportunities for me.
KP: How long were you with the show?
KB: I started in 2002. It aired 2003, and then I was with the show for over a decade. It seems to be eternally in reruns.
KP: What did you do after MythBusters and for how long?
KB: I have made so many different shows on several networks. My co-hosts Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara even teamed up with me for the White Rabbit Project on Netflix. It was when I wrote a book called Crash Test Girl that I found my next passion project in entertainment. I now have a new show called Crash Test World. Just as MythBusters was new and experimental for the industry when it started, Crash Test World is a whole different kind of entertainment too. Crash Test World is about big ideas. I travel the world looking for how history, technology, culture and people come together to make their world, and ours, a better place. It such a hopeful show. I finish everyday so inspired.
KP: Who did it get picked up by?
KB: Discovery picked up our full episodes. This show is different from the traditional format. We also stream the show in five minute acts on ProjectExplorer.org accompanied by lesson plans for parents and teachers. This is free high-production “edutainment.” Schools around the world use this site and our show to inspire conversations about global citizenry. We talk about everything from food sustainability to the science of skateboarding to Syrian refugees. You can see small episodes now on ProjectExplorer.org or you can wait until this fall to see the full show on Discovery. In a time of remote learning, I highly recommend checking it out with your kids. Like MythBusters, it is a family show. There is something for everyone.
KP: Where are you living now? Have any kids?
KB: I am living in San Francisco. I’ve had such a wonderful opportunity to travel the world, but the Bay Area is my home. As far as kids, I have one incredible daughter. She is my light. She makes me want to make the world a better place for her to live in. I really love being a mom. I learn so much from my daughter every day.
KP: With all your years on MythBusters and your other shows, what skills would you recommend kids know or learn?
KB: Don’t be afraid to fail and learn. My biggest accomplishments have come from a series of risks and failures. When I tried to write my book the first time, it got turned down by every publisher I talked to. As a first-time writer that could have crushed my spirit. I asked for help from a professional. She helped me completely rearrange and change my whole proposal. I tried again using all the advice from my rejection letters and got a several offers. That book changed the trajectory of my life path.
KP: With this Coronavirus and shelter-in-place, what can you recommend to parents that may aid them in homeschooling their kids?
KB: There are so many wonderful resources online. I love Khan Academy and of course Project Explorer but mostly we need to remember remote learning is different from homeschooling. We don’t need to fill the same hours that are in a school day. I recommend baking and gardening and playing games, draw together, giggle, sing and dance. Show them what you love to do and share who you are. Parents are teachers at their best and worst moments. Give yourself room to not always feel perfect. You are enough by being there.
KP: Thank you so much for your time Kari. Last question, what does the future hold for you?
KB: The entertainment industry is the future for global education. Continuing to bring the world to the small screen, I want this generation to grow up feeling like we are global citizens. My dream is that a 9 year old girl in Houston can discover that she is just like a 9 year old girl in Deli that sees she is just like a 9 year old girl in Tokyo. We are more alike than different and that is what will create the empathy we need to find solutions to the world’s biggest questions.