Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman might be the poster boys for MythBusters, but Kari Byron’s light has arguably shined just as brightly as theirs. As a founding member of the Build Team and the only female host of the series, she was a long-time staple of the show and as active a figure as any of the men. As Verge notes, her resourcefulness, enthusiasm, and the respect she got from her co-hosts made her one of the few public figures who made good role models for young girls who like science and learning.
However, her path to fame hasn’t been all laughter and explosions. In 2014, Savage told Mic about the sheer amount of criticism and resistance Byron has had to deal with just because she happens to be a woman in a heavily male-leaning industry. In fact, her road to becoming a famous science communicator and public figure has been full of strange occurrences that her upbeat facade might not immediately suggest. Let’s dig into some things you probably didn’t know about Kari Byron.
Getting started in the special effects industry
Finding a job isn’t easy, and it only gets harder when you’re interested in a very specific, narrow field. Many people find it difficult to gain a foothold in a new industry, and even popular TV hosts like Kari Byron have their share of job-seeking stories to share. In an interview with Verge, Byron describes her fumbling first steps in the special effects industry. After graduating from San Francisco State University, she started looking around for work in the special effects industry, but no one in the area seemed too keen on hiring: "I have this image just that all of my resumes fell into some bin that said ‘Reject,’" she said about the frustrating period.
Eventually, a friend recommended a place she hadn’t tried yet. She decided to bite the bullet and found herself at the doorstep of M5 Industries, where a thoroughly unimpressed Jamie Hyneman leafed through her portfolio. As daunting as that sounds, Hyneman eventually discovered one thing in Byron’s papers that he liked: a photo of a sculpture she had made of an old man. Hyneman conceded that it was something he could work with, and it was enough to get her foot in. However, she still had to start as an unpaid intern and work a night job on the side to pay the bills.
Her first industry gig was not what you’d expect
Anyone who has worked an unpaid internship can probably attest it’s a pretty nice feeling when you eventually graduate to paying jobs within the industry. Kari Byron is no exception, though she’s somewhat ambivalent about the actual nature of her first paid gig in the special effects (or, for that matter, MythBusters) industry.
She told Dame Magazine that when Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage were starting MythBusters, they soon decided to upgrade their unpaid intern Byron to paid help. Unfortunately, since MythBusters was taking its first baby steps at the time, this didn’t exactly translate to even paying a month of rent. The first money Byron earned was the kingly sum of $100, which Hyneman and Savage paid her to 3-D scan her rear. The scan was then used to create a pair of artificial buttocks to test whether suction could pull a person out of an airplane toilet.
While Byron laughs at the less-than-glamorous gig today, she obviously had no idea the show would become such a juggernaut and she never would have expected that this particular incident would (for a time) be among the first Google hits of her name.
Becoming a MythBusters host
Kari Byron never set out to seek fame as a popular TV host. According to Verge, the responsibility was pretty much thrust on her when it became evident the main hosts of the show, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, couldn’t produce enough material at the required pace. MythBusters, after all, was never a show where the hosts just turned up and gawked at things — more often than not, they built the gawk-worthy things themselves. Byron had already helped out with the show, teaming with soon-to-be co-host Tory Belleci behind the scenes. Just a few weeks after she joined the fray, the producers wanted to turn out episodes faster, and pretty much just told Byron, Belleci, and Scottie Chapman (who would later leave and be replaced with Grant Imahara): "Okay, you’re hosts now. Go!"
To underline how peculiar this was, none of the original Build Team members had any background in science, and Byron was still a newcomer in the industry. Her co-host Belleci (and later Imahara) had plenty of experience working for special effects titans such as Industrial Light and Magic under his belt, and Chapman (the "Mistress of Metal" on the show) had years of experience as a welder. Still, in a way, it’s fitting that the MythBusters trio started out the way it proceeded to operate for years: as a strange experiment that somehow worked.
The Tory Belleci rumors
Whenever two famous people of different genders display any semblance of onscreen chemistry, rumors about an offscreen romance are bound to materialize. Kari Byron is no exception, and there has been some speculation about the nature of her relationship with fellow Build Team member and frequent collaborator Tory Belleci.
In an interview with Blast Magazine, Byron addressed the rumors and made it clear that the relationship between her and Belleci has never been a romantic one. In fact, she has been with the same person, artist Paul Urich, since before she even started on the show. Byron says her bond with Belleci is a friendship leaning toward a sibling relationship, as they pick on each other quite a bit. She says their connection with each other and the rest of the cast is part of the reason MythBusters was such a success story. Since the hosts were actual people who knew each other and were accustomed to working with science and cameras (as opposed to a bunch of entertainment professionals herded together by the casting department), their natural chemistry was able to shine through.
Working through pregnancy
Some people might find it difficult to mesh a pregnancy with their professional life, but few folks have had it stranger than Kari Byron … or, for that matter, her doctor. When Byron was pregnant with her daughter in 2009, Dame Magazine tells us she kept working pretty much right up until her due date. However, because of the rather unique nature of her job, she had some fairly specific issues she had to take into account. Mother Jones reports she went to her doctor with questions like, "All right, so when do I have to stop shooting guns because she has ears?" The doctor had absolutely no idea because she had never been asked that question before, and had to do research. Then Byron would return to ask how far she has to be from a specific type of explosion and send the doctor off into another bout of professional confusion.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, they did eventually find their answers. A baby develops ears at five months, at which point Byron refrained from guns and made sure to stay behind safety glass whenever the situation required.
Her strange tech aversion
You’d expect someone who challenges science for a living to embrace most new developments in the tech industry, especially if they’ve spent the majority of their life within spitting distance of Silicon Valley and happen to be a MythBuster. Not so with Kari Byron. In a 2011 article for Wired, Byron writes about her aversion to certain aspects of technology, particularly computers and the social networking side of things. She says a lot of this is due to the fact that she was long-term backpacking while the internet was exploding big time. When she returned to the daily grind, all of her friends were "drenched in technology," while she remained inherently suspicious of newfangled things like "chat rooms" and Friendster.
It wasn’t until she saw her 19-month-old daughter deftly navigate her iPhone to play an episode of kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba that she realized she had to take steps to keep up with the tech wagon unless she wanted to be completely left behind. Her first, daunting move was to overcome her suspicion of social networking by opening up a Twitter account. She found the experience daunting for the exact reasons any other user might: What if no one follows her, or if she had nothing to say — or worse yet, what if she inadvertently said something awful? Still, despite all the existential dread, she eventually made an account, and seeing as she’s still active on Twitter the experience can’t have been that horrifying.
Her mysterious MythBusters exit
All good things must come to an end, and in 2014 that adage became reality for MythBusters when Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara unexpectedly departed the show. Why this happened is anyone’s guess: Business Insider reports that the show pretty much fired the Build Team. On the other hand, Byron’s own Twitter correspondence about the situation was more carefully phrased, stating that her team was "no longer on the show" as MythBusters was "taking a new direction." Meanwhile, executive producer Dan Tapster told Entertainment Weekly that they were very keen for the team to continue on the show, but negotiations fell through and Byron, Belleci, and Imahara all decided to opt out. Other sources have insinuated that the negotiations in question regarded salaries, which had probably been rising over the years, as talent costs tend to do.
Regardless of the real reasons behind the trio’s departure, it’s evident that there were no bad feelings between them and main MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Savage has said all three are good friends of the main duo and they definitely didn’t want to see them leave. He also revealed that neither he nor Hyneman had any real part in the negotiations between the departed and Discovery Channel. It looks like the Build Team harbors no ill will either, as they all returned in 2016 to shoot a special reunion episode.
It might not be immediately evident to a casual MythBusters viewer, but Verge notes that Kari Byron is a trained artist. Even today, Byron’s artistic background hasn’t left her, though she now operates with a certain amount of flair that combines her art with her mythbusting resume. She stores her art supplies in a vintage ammo canister and makes paintings using clay and controlled explosions. Contrary to her cheery disposition on MythBusters, her gunpowder paintings are curiously grim, featuring themes like screaming faces and skeletons.
She has also harnessed her artistic flair as a strange sort of parenting skill: When she was trying to teach her daughter to stop picking her nose, for example, she made small sculptures called "booger monsters." She then told her daughter that nose boogers are their food, and if she keeps stealing from them they would crawl out of her nose and into her brain … which, ironically, sounds like something MythBusters would happily debunk.
As befits her role as an ex-MythBuster, Kari Byron is a huge proponent of getting girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). According to Discovery, in 2015 Byron joined an increasing number of celebrities to cast away the stigma of "nerdish" and "geeky" professions and embrace STEM careers as viable options. Her particular take on this challenge is to underline the importance of examples set at home — after all, kids look up to their parents, so what better way to make them interested in STEM opportunities than seeing their parents being genuinely excited about them? Byron gives an example that hits quite literally close to her home: When she was young, she wasn’t necessarily tuned in to science by what she was taught at school. Instead, she was bitten by the science bug when she saw first hand just how passionate her own father was about it.
As part of her endeavor to inspire girls to discover the STEM industries, Byron works as the chief creative officer of Smart Gurlz, a toy company that manufactures self-balancing robots and action dolls that are specifically designed to "engage and encourage girls to learn to code."
Most MythBusters viewers see Kari Byron as a cargo pants and leather jacket-wearing renegade who’s not afraid to fire a gun or explode … well, anything that can be made to explode. However, her youth paints a very different, almost hippie-like picture of a budding artist wandering the earth. Byron told Verge she studied film and sculpture at San Francisco State University. An Alma College profile reveals she graduated in 1998, after which she spent a year backpacking in South Asia. Eventually, she settled in San Francisco, where she hit the local art scene to pursue a career as a sculptor.
According to Mother Jones she originally wanted to make a living as a sculptor, but reality came calling when nobody would buy her sculptures because, as she puts it, "They were a little dark." The special effects industry — and MythBusters with it — was her route to be artistic while avoiding being an actual starving artist.
Her love of pranks
Fans of MythBusters have probably noticed Kari Byron’s sense of humor, but in real life she likes to take her comedic antics a lot further than the show allowed. According to Verge, Byron has a deep affinity for pranks, and as befits someone who made a career out of tearing cars apart and having live scorpions dropped on her, she isn’t really satisfied with things like whoopie cushions and squirt flowers. In fact, she says that she has instructed her special effects industry friends to "reanimate" her body after she dies, just so she can keep delivering jump scares to mourners.
Makezine tells us Byron even tried to turn her love of pranks into a full-on career with her fellow MythBuster Tory Belleci, as they once filmed a pilot for a science-themed prank show called Prankenstein (no word whether the title refers to Byron’s post-mortem prank plans). Unfortunately, the pilot never got picked up, but in case you want to take a peek at what the show might have been like, worry not: In 2019, Byron uploaded the above 11-minute Prankenstein sizzle reel to YouTube.