According to the showrunners and stars of HBO’s Silicon Valley (2014 - ) the tech world is at least as crazy as the events depicted on the show – if not crazier. At a panel at SXSW 2016, creator Mike Judge and executive producer Alec Berg said that their ongoing research has revealed so many absurdities in the real Silicon Valley that there is hardly any need for exaggeration in their writing.
“The tech world is so absurd that sometimes we find ourselves actually be like, if you put that in the show nobody would believe it,” Mike Judge said. “You kind of do it as-is, and it’s pretty ridiculous. The tech world has made it very easy for us in a lot of ways.”
Thomas Middleditch, who stars as Richard Hendricks, the founder and CEO of the fictional Pied Piper, agreed, “Every time I’m up in San Francisco, someone will come up and, they’ll quote something the show and say ‘That happened to me. Verbatim. You didn’t exaggerate it for comedy—that literally happened to me.’”
The creators credit the show’s popularity at least in part to growing interest in the tech community. “We got very lucky that the culture was turning to awareness of tech in a way that was perfectly timed with the launch of the show,” Berg said. “The amount of money that’s going in and out of Silicon valley is so stunning that I think people were suddenly sort of interested in it.”
In earlier versions of the pilot, Richard was originally offered an $100 million buyout (instead of the $10 million he turns down in the actual pilot), but the writers decided this was too much to be believable. Then it was reported that Snapchat refused $3 billion from Facebook. “So I guess egg on our face,” Middleditch said.
Berg noted that everyone they asked said that the fictional Pied Piper would have no difficulty raising far more money than they do in the show. “They’d be able to raise $10 million no problem,” venture capitalists told him. “Any VC would give them $10 million immediately.”
“The tech world kept getting crazier and crazier in the course of the year that we shot the pilot,” Judge said. “When it came out, we were looping lines to change the amounts. T.J. Miller had improv’d a line about Grindr, saying he owned 10%, and we realized that if he really owned 10% of Grindr he’d be worth, like, 100 million or something.” (They changed the line so that Miller’s character owned a very small percentage of Grindr.) The most absurd examples Judge and Berg come across don’t even make it onto the show because the writers believe viewers would find these events too incredible to believe.
The showrunners also said that they constantly look for ways to block the characters from succeeding (and don’t always find it that easy) because they feel that a show about billionaires would be boring to watch. “I do think once these guys are the guys with all the money and all the success, the show sort of ends,” Berg said. “The challenge of doing it year after year is how many different, interesting ways can we get these guys to trip up without infuriating the audience?” He continued, “It’s hard to do a show about a compelling guy who gets everything he wants.”
So do the tech billionaires mind that they’re the butt of Silicon Valley’s jokes? According to Mike Judge, they seem to enjoy being the subject of satire. “When Spinal Tap came out, I was like, Man, the heavy metal bands are gonna hate this, but they all love it,” Judge said. “And it’s kind of the same with us. We’d go meet with these big companies. We went to Google, Facebook, and they all did the same thing. They go, ‘That’s great the way you make fun of us all saying we’re making the world a better place, but we really are making the world a better place.’ Every one of them would do that.”
Zach Woods, who plays tightly wound business development guy Jared, added, “People like to be made fun of as long as it feels accurate. It’s like if your friends give you shit for something, then you feel sort of known, if it’s something that’s true. So if my girlfriend’s like, ‘You big tall stupid idiot,’ then I’m like, ‘Oh she noticed.’” (The others on the panel promptly accused Woods of making a “humble brag” that he has a girlfriend.)
Given that the tech world seems to get ever wilder over time, Judge and Berg won’t run out of material for a while. But reports that some bubbles are bursting and investors are not quite as zealous as they once were make us wonder if, in future seasons, the writers won’t have to work so hard to keep the guys of Pied Piper from getting rich.
Banner Image: Silicon Valley cast & creaters at SXSW, photo by Sandy Perez