'Silicon Valley' is back to mock techies, and they love it

Mike Judge on sex, drugs in Silicon Valley
Mike Judge on sex, drugs in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley the place loves "Silicon Valley," the show that mercilessly mocks it.

Now entering its fourth season, "Silicon Valley" has developed an unexpectedly warm relationship with people in the tech industry -- even while depicting them as hapless nerds, money obsessed bros and generally unpleasant humans.

Developers and founders wear Pied Piper t-shirts and use the fictional company in their demos. The show's actors have started investing in startups and are active on social media. TJ Miller even hosted insider awards show The Crunchies one year, though that ended poorly.

On Tuesday, HBO hosted the world premiere of the show's fourth season deep in the heart of tech-land, at Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco. The show's stars mingled with their real life counterparts including Slack founder Stewart Butterfield, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, Zynga cofounder Mark Pincus and VC Hunter Walk.

Creator Mike Judge thinks one of the reasons people in the Valley love the show is they that think it's making fun of everyone -- but them.

"If it's negative, it's about somebody else," said Judge.

Silicon Valley HBO

Many of Silicon Valley's biggest personalities have been eager to help out as consultants. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visited the writer's room regularly last season. Wikipedia founder Craig Newmark and Groupon's Andrew Mason have met with the showrunners. And Marc Andreessen came up with a really brilliant idea for the show.

"We met with him and he said, 'For the next hour, I'm going to be a writer on your show.' He just talked for an hour about everything we needed to do," said Silicon Valley executive producer Alec Berg.

The actor playing Peter Thiel-like character Peter Gregory died after season one, meaning Gregory met an untimely death as well. Andreessen said that Gregory could have downloaded his entire personality onto a hard drive before dying, an idea that's also creeping closer to real life.

"At the end [Andreessen] said, 'I have the greatest idea,' and he got interrupted and we never heard what the idea was," said Judge.

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At times, the show is eerily prescient. Last season, it depicted a self-serious startup working on a 3D mustache overlay that moves with your face. Nearly identical mustache technology is now front and center in the war between Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Snapchat (SNAP). This season, the show mocks virtual reality as vaporware, a possible warning of what's to come for the overhyped tech.

The writers read tech blogs and some draw on their own experience working at companies like Yahoo (YHOO, Tech30) and Amazon (AMZN, Tech30). A team of researchers helps keep the details accurate, down to the code that's shown on screen.

"There's a nuance to reality that you just can't fake," said Berg.

Related: Mike Judge on (the lack of) sex in Silicon Valley

There's plenty of raw material to work with -- just look at Uber's recent public relations meltdown -- but that can make the job harder.

"If we're doing a satire, you have to exaggerate, and [in this industry], if you exaggerate 1% it seems insane," said Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh. "They've taken things actual VCs have said, put it in the show and when you read it at the table, are like, 'This is too awful.' It's not funny -- it's just sort of scary and sad. It's a challenge sometimes to exaggerate."

By hewing closely to reality, the show can highlight the tech industry's absurdities without too much cruelty.

"We can't really be kicking the tech business in the nuts because the people on our show are trying to succeed in the tech business," says Berg.

And in the end, its main characters need to stay likeable for the show to work, says Berg.

"The thing that actually makes the show really hard to do is [that it's] inherently about outsiders," he says. "As soon as they become the establishment, the show is over. So the trick is how do we give them victories here and there without handing them the keys to the kingdom?"

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