“We’re going to troll around a little bit for material.”
Mike Judge is the creator of the new HBO series “Silicon Valley,” and on Monday afternoon he was at its premiere in Austin, Tex., at the South by Southwest Festival.
This story first appeared in the March 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The show revolves around the start-up world in California and for research, Judge and his writers spent some time in the wild.
“We went to TechCrunch, and we spent a lot of time in incubators and going to Google and stuff like that,” he said. TechCrunch is a site that covers the tech scene that also has its own annual conference.
South by Southwest is another one of the scene’s annual bloated congregations, and there’s scarcely a better place to observe the nerds in their natural habitat. The series promises to do for the Valley what HBO’s “Veep” has done for Washington, D.C.
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“I’ve talked to so many people that have an app they’re pitching,” said Kumail Nanjiani, one of the stars of the show. “It’s kind of cool because we did this show and now to be immersed in it, I’m like, ‘Oh, I think these guys really nailed it.’ It really feels like the exact world we portray.”
Nanjiani plays one of six programmers all striving to come up with the next billion-dollar idea, and all around them in Austin their real-life doppelgängers pursued similar goals.
“I keep hearing things that sound like lines from the show. It feels like being on set,” said costar Zach Woods.
Judge, a former engineer himself who’s best known as the creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill,” said during a panel he was fascinated by the social lives of innovative visionaries.
“I remember reading a Rolling Stone article about Paul Allen, and it occurred to me that these tech guys get billions of dollars and still don’t really know how to enjoy themselves. They’re still socially awkward, still awkward around women,” he said.
Thomas Middleditch, whose central character turns down millions to start his own company, already had the geek look down. “I work hard to try and delineate [between myself and the role], but sadly I came in there with kind of similar clothes,” he said. The actor is already enjoying the perks of being on a buzzy show. He doesn’t have a lot of major parts to his name — in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he is credited as “Broker in a Bowtie” and his character is subjected to a humiliating scene at the hands of Jonah Hill’s boorish thug. “[When you] get in at the airport and you look up, there’s this big ‘Silicon Valley’ poster, and my ugly mug is up there. That’s pretty cool,” Middleditch confessed.
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It wouldn’t be South by Southwest without plenty of shameless self-promotion, and there are few practitioners of that fine art as experienced as xoJane editor in chief Jane Pratt, who was also hosting a party Monday night, hers at the North Door to toast the 25 Most Shameless People on the Web. Among them, though not in attendance: Courtney Love, Ronan Farrow and Lena Dunham.
“To me, saying that someone is shameless is one of the greatest compliments you can give because I feel like there’s way too much shame out there, so let’s just all be what we are,” Pratt explained.
“It’s an honor I think,” said Mandy Stadtmiller, an editor at the site, who also made the list.
Pratt’s site is infamous for encouraging its writers, and readers, to overshare, and so she felt at home in Austin among the festival’s throngs.
“Something about this environment makes people want to talk, so it’s like an ongoing focus group,” she said.