Mike Judge Talks ‘Silicon Valley’ Raunch and Why Some Stars Wear Wigs
The co-creator, whose comedy series is Emmy-nominated this year, reveals the most surprising thing he’s gotten away with and the biggest misconception about his show.
Mike Judge and Alec Berg’s all-too-realistic parody of the Silicon Valley tech startup culture took a dark turn in its fourth season, with Thomas Middleditch’s Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks starting to become the type of tech-industry jerk that audiences are more used to seeing played by Matt Ross (as Gavin Belson) or even Chris Diamantopoulos (as Russ Hanneman). Maybe it’s the continual self-defeating pivots of his compression software strategy or the battles with mutinous partners (at one point, Kumail Nanjiani’s Dinesh was running things) or the blink-and-you-miss-it affair he had with the wife of a financial backer. Judge recently broke down the season and its challenges — for the characters and the creators — for THR.
I still can’t believe we got away with …
There’s no sneaking anything past a network. You can kind of get away with anything on HBO. If anything, HBO wants you to be raunchier. We’re not all that raunchy. I mean, sometimes we are. No horse sex or giant dick jokes this season. (Laughs.) But I can’t believe we got away with getting all these tech companies to show up to our fake Hooli-Con. Almost all those companies at the tech convention were real companies that are successful and wealthy. And they all came and sat there for two or three days, set up all their stuff and got yelled at by assistant directors and were all very nice about it. It feels like we pulled off something with that.
The biggest misconception about Silicon Valley is …
There seems to be this idea that you have to know something about technology to watch the show or that it’s too inside to understand. I don’t think that’s true. And this is more of a season one thing — but there are definitely people who don’t get satire. In the actual tech world, there’s a huge gender imbalance. It’s mostly male, especially on the programming side of things. I think there was this notion — usually from people who hadn’t really seen the show or who just don’t understand what satire is — that we were endorsing that rather than making fun of it. We were taking shots at the tech world for being that way, and there’s a misconception that that’s us saying that’s the way it should be or something. That’s the typical thing I’ve encountered a lot. With Beavis and Butt-head [which Judge also created], I think there were a lot of people who just don’t get satire and thought that I was showing [Beavis and Butt-head] as heroes instead of making fun of them. It’s the typical “they think you’re endorsing it as opposed to making fun of it” thing.
The most challenging scene to write this season was …
Every season, except for season two, we have reshot the opening scene of the season — rewritten it, reshot it and reconceived it. And in fact, in season two, we would have done it if we could have gotten back into the Giants’ stadium, but we couldn’t. This season, with that whole Uber drive thing, we actually had a completely different scene that opened with them crashing a VC’s kid’s birthday party. We just kept looking back at that opening, and it just didn’t seem like the right way to start the season out. And it didn’t have enough of the main characters in it and all of those sorts of things. And each season, it has been one of the last things we shoot, the opening of the first episode. That one we just rewrote and rewrote and then finally — I mean, I’m really happy with the way it came out.
The person on Silicon Valley that has the most difficult job is …
I’d say the gaffers and grips. I mean, I complain about a 6:30 a.m. call time. I would say any of the crew who is loading in and loading out because they’re getting there earlier and staying later. I would say they have the hardest job. Hair and makeup actually have a pretty tough job, too. I won’t say which castmembers, but they have to put wigs on people and start way earlier than the rest of us.
Wait, some of the cast wear wigs?
There’s been … uh … some people who have another movie and their hair gets cut short and they have to. (Laughs.)
ODDS ARE …
As nerdy behind the camera as the tech moguls it mocks onscreen, Silicon Valley is a successful but very specific show. Often relegated to the critical shadow of Sunday neighbor Veep, it has won only below-the-line Emmys for previous seasons. Even with a storied writers room and wide audience, its iron has never been as hot as it was in 2014. If it’s going to get any nontechnical love, it’s likely for directing or writing. To take the top comedy slot, SV would have to overcome its biggest deterrent, that it still pays little attention to its scant female characters. — Michael O’Connell
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.