Mike Judge on ‘Silicon Valley’

Silicon Valley 101

I had the unique privilege of seeing the first few episodes of “Silicon Valley” with an audience. Back in January, HBO screened the show for the Television Critics Association. It’s still funny at home, but there was something contagious about the Siri frustrations we all related to.
 
Judge appeared before the TCA to discuss “Silicon Valley,” where it was revealed that before getting into show business, Judge worked in Silicon Valley himself. I joined a group of reporters following up with Judge after his panel, but first I had to share with him my favorite episode from his last “Beavis and Butt-Head” season. 
 
CraveOnline: Your last run of “Beavis and Butt-Head” was so effective, my close friend and I now, every time we’re moved by something, we say, “I was not crying, Butt-Head.”
 
Mike Judge: Oh, I was just thinking about that episode a couple days ago.
 
Have you ever had to make a tough choice like take the money now or hold onto your property?
 
Yeah, some of it’s autobiographical because when “Beavis and Butt-Head” happened, I took the other choice, but ended up kind of going the route. I sold it to MTV for $18,000 or something like that. I didn’t know it was going to be a show. But then they needed me to make the show and then I ended up renegotiating later and all that stuff. I thought they were just going to do a couple of those little MTV logo things and that would be it and I wasn’t going to do anything with it myself, so I was kind of in that position. I was also in that position later when it was like two billionaires fighting over it, Geffen and Redstone, so there’s a little bit of autobiographical elements other than if you replace “Beavis and Butt-Head” with a compression algorithm.
 
Do people come to you looking for seed money for their Silicon Valley projects?
 
Somebody came up to T.J. Miller when we were shooting. We have a scene towards the end where we actually got a bunch of actual startups to be part of this convention which maybe I’m not supposed to say. So about 35 of the extras were real startup companies and yeah, one of them pitched me too. One of them was pitching T.J. Miller to be their spokesperson and they would give him equity. There’s been a bit of that. 
 
The Siri joke brings the house down, for those of us who get to watch it with a crowd. Do you have your own Siri frustrations?
 
Oh, yeah, constantly although that one, Carson Mell, one of the writers, that happened to him. He said, “Play John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’” and it said, “Googling John Wayne in a mansion.” It’s like Siri itself is a huge nerd. It’ll go to the most obscure, maybe their algorithm will get a little better, but right now it seems geared towards very obscure words that nobody ever uses sometimes. 
 
Silicon Valley can be brutal about portrayals of them. How concerned were you about getting real Silicon Valley cred?
 
I was concerned. I just like to get it right. What’s interesting about this world I think is worth getting right. It’s not like getting it right just for the sake of not getting bad reviews but it’s really interesting and it just feels better when you’re directing and putting something together to have it be believable and get it right.
 
We spent a lot of time on that and actually when Alec [Berg] came on board it was great, because he was on the same page with just sitting there like okay, we want this stuff. What would they really do? We literally had a guy pitch what our guys are doing to real venture capitalists. What would they say? Really studying the world which is a really interesting world.
 
Between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, where are the rules more clear cut and where are they crazier?
 
The rules are crazier in Hollywood. There’s more money in Silicon Valley which makes it a little crazy. The amount of money that’s flying around, we were at this thing Tech Crunch Disrupt. It’s like a science fair with just billions of dollars running around and more money than Hollywood I think. In that way it’s kind of crazier when you really think about it and what some of the billionaires do with the money, building islands or giant clipper ships but they won’t drive a fancy car. You can’t have a Maserati, but you can go build a clipper ship, island or whatever crazy stuff you do with the money. 
 
Do you think you look at the Valley with a cynical eye?
 
Yeah, yeah, probably. I spent a lot of time up there. My ex-wife is from Palo Alto so every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yeah, I’ve always been a little bit cynical, but also I like these characters. I think if I was 20 years younger or so I could see myself being that age trying to come up with an app because back then I had ideas of stuff, but you needed more capital. It was harder to get going than it is now. If you have an idea, it’s easy to get a couple programmers and do it. Back then it was kind of a different landscape. 
 
It seems like of all the workplace comedies you've done, this might be the one that requires the most research, even if you were in Silicon Valley decades ago.  Was that the case?
 
Yeah, we did a lot of research.  I'd worked in that world. And actually Alec, his brother worked for Paul Allen and his dad was a physics professor. I mean, we kind of know these personalities. But we definitely went to great lengths to get everything right, and did a lot of research. We went deep into it.
 
Does doing a comedy for HBO give you maybe even more freedom than the R-rated movies you were able to do?
 
Yes.  It's great. I mean, it's not like I'm a person who's always looking to be like edgy and outrageous and be explicit with things, but it's just been a great experience.
 
I don't think I noticed anything that racy.  I mean, even the stripper kept her top on. But how are you planning to push it in future episodes?
 
We have what might be one of the most complicated dick jokes ever told, I think in the last episode. Yes. Sorry.