Silicon Valley's Most Feared Reporter Spills On HBO's Silicon Valley

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siliconvalley04Photo: Courtesy of HBO


Last night, after the gasping masses nearly broke HBO trying to watch Game Of Thrones, a new comedy premiered on the premium channel. Originally touted as "Entourage for nerds," that description doesn't quite fit Silicon Valley. Unlike Entourage, the viewer doesn't really relate to (or even respect) the characters. Instead, they are painted with the broad, satirical brush-strokes of Mike Judge, who brought us Beavis & Butt-head, King Of The Hill, and most similar to his newest offering, Office Space. Like those three previous efforts, SV is geared toward the bros, because, well, it is about a space occupied mostly by bros.

Whether or not Silicon Valley is realistic isn't the point: What is more important is that Judge is poking fun at a bloated, self-serious industry, or at least that's what Sam Biddle thinks. Biddle is the co-editor of Valleywag, the Gawker site that has become known as a whistleblower, calling out Silicon Valley for the exact things it does in its fictionalized world. In fact, New York magazine recently called Sam "the most hated journal­ist in the Bay Area" for his skewering reporting of the dark tech underbelly. So, naturally, we wanted to know if he felt kinship with Judge's view, and whether or not SV insiders will actually give a damn.

Well, did you like it?
"I loved it, and not just because I’m interested in this world for work. It’s a very good comedy. A very good comedic series. It’s definitely relevant now because people are talking about Silicon Valley start-ups now, but regardless of it being 2014, it is still Mike Judge being hilarious.”

How do you think this is going to make people inside Silicon Valley feel?
“I think it will probably — a lot of people will just dismiss it outright, saying like, ‘Oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This isn’t realistic. They didn’t do their homework…’”

Elon Musk has already denounced it.
“And, I’ve seen that a few other prominent tech people just reject it because they don’t think that it’s realistic. It’s not supposed to be a documentary. But, I’ve seen techie people who are really into it, too. It’s a good sign when an industry can laugh at itself. I’m hoping it will get a good response from inside the community. So far people are at least willing to give it a shot.”

A lot of people have talked about that the only female character on the show is someone’s assistant. I was reading Mike Judge’s SXSW talk, and he was like, 'Well, that’s kind of the way it is.' Do you think he has any responsibility to correct that imbalance?
“No, I don’t. I mean, if Mike Judge creates a fake, unrealistically diverse workplace on a TV show, that’s not going to correct a diversity problem in reality. It’s silly when people think that the arts are supposed to reflect the 'ideal' version of what our society should be. If anything, it’s getting people to talk about how uncomfortable it is that there aren’t any women in the show, how there aren’t any meaningful female characters. Though, it’s a stretch to say that’s the way it is because there are women who work in tech companies and have engineering jobs or software jobs or whatever, but I think that even when they are present, they often feel marginalized. So, you have a show where women are on the sidelines, and I do think that reflects reality. The show is satirical. It’s not supposed to be aspirational.”
Who is the worst on the show?
“That’s a really interesting question. One of the really brilliant things about the show is even the really unlikeable characters, you still want to see what happens to them. One of the main investor characters, Peter Gregory, that’s the actor's name — he actually died last year, so they wrote him out — there’s a really good scene where he basically discovers Burger King, and he’s really fascinated by the fact that people eat this stuff. He has one of his assistants buy one of everything from Burger King and is just studying it on his desk. It shows people who are detached from regular life, and he is just a perfect send-up of the robotic venture-capitalist type.”

He’s not making any sort of grand statements on the zeitgeist or anything. These are just awkward people you meet.
“Right. The characters are all either pathetic or just unpleasant, but they also all seem like guys that you might’ve known in college and they just went on a different path. They feel like people from your own past, or — if you work in the industry — people you see every day. The whole show is a good balancing act between being unpleasant without turning you off, and between being satirical, but not being a cartoon. The characters all feel really balanced for a comedy. Again, it’s like Office Space, where you had these people who were just in the boundaries of believable.”

So, do you think this is going to lead to introspective navel-gazing on behalf of the Silicon Valley crew?
“It’s still early. I think the fact that people in Silicon Valley are even willing to watch the show and give it a sincere chance, and even admit that it’s pretty funny (in parts at least). That’s a really promising sign because this is a part of the economy that peripherally has zero self-awareness. Maybe if people see exaggerated versions of themselves, they will think, and the rest of the country gets a great look, too.”

As somebody who covers Silicon Valley on a regular basis, would you have taken the money or kept the company, like in the pilot?
“I would’ve taken the money in a second. I would’ve taken $1 million. I would’ve taken any money and never looked back, but then again, I’m not one of those guys. Once you’re in the millions, just take the money. That’s my advice to anyone.”

Watch the entire first episode below (until April 28, when it comes down), and decide for yourself. The show airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO.