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Silicon Valley Might Actually Have a Sense of Humor When It Comes To HBO’s Satire

The cast of Silicon Valley, HBO's scripted show about a startup's journey.The cast of Silicon Valley, HBO's scripted show about a startup's journey.
The cast of Silicon Valley, HBO's scripted show about a startup's journey.Courtesy of HBO

Last month at Austin’s annual festival, South by Southwest, one of the last questions asked to the cast and writers of HBO’s Silicon Valley show during a panel was why the real Silicon Valley despises the show so much and can’t laugh at itself.

Despite the Hollywood stars’ agreement with the question asker, that sentiment was hard to believe at Thursday’s San Francisco premiere of the show’s third season. In fact, much of the tech industry seems drawn to the show, whether they publicly admit it or not.

As the guests trickled into the the Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater that serves guests food and drinks, it wasn’t hard to spot tech industry insiders at every turn, including Yelp (YELP) CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, Homebrew partner Hunter Walk, tech journalists like Re/code’s Kara Swisher, and of course, former Twitter (TWTR) CEO Dick Costolo, a consultant on the show.

Throughout the 28 minutes of the first episode, the audience laughed, but probably not because of any outlandish plot twists. No. In fact, the show is such a dead-on portrayal of a good part of the industry that executive producer Alec Berg later said that some tech insiders have told him it’s so close to their real lives that it makes them “nauseous.” This is a far cry from entrepreneur Elon Musk’s harsh comments a couple of years ago when he said that “None of those characters were software engineers,” adding that show co-creator Mike Judge failed to get to the real essence of Silicon Valley, which, according to Musk, is the annual art-show-turned-summer-rave Burning Man in the Nevada desert.

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And yet on Thursday, the crowd laughed at all the jokes. And the amusement continued as the most of the cast, Berg, and co-creator Mike Judge took the stage afterward for an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that often felt like the cast was mocking the guests.

“We don’t like using gendered insults, we’re using it ironically,” Kumail Nanjiani, who plays programmer Dinesh Chugtai, told the audience after fellow cast member Zach Woods, who portrays the maternal business-oriented member of the on-screen startup, was called a “bitch” multiple times for not watching the show. Nanjiani’s jab was obvious given the tech industry’s current turmoil over the treatment and lack of women among its ranks.

Najiani also recalled an instance when Martin Starr, who plays Bertram Gilfoyle, had to say “hypervisor” on screen and couldn’t believe it was a real word. That was quickly followed by Thomas Middleditch, who portrays Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks, naming off various technology terms like megabytes, CPU, and GPU seemingly to show off how much he could speak tech. Again, the mocking was obvious.

Still, the admiration for Silicon Valley, on-screen satire, was there. Even Costolo, who was once at helm of Twitter, one of the most influential social media services, took up the consulting gig so he could sit in the back and tell the cast and writers when they crosses any lines into surrealism, as Berg and Judge explained (Hint: they quickly found out reality is more absurd than anything they could write).

And as the event moved on to drinks and a buffet of deviled eggs, sliders, pizza, and fries, the show’s cast and producers were the real stars. Starr was cornered in the back of the adjacent bar room by a few guests excited to make his acquaintance. Woods and Middleditch struggled to make it out of the bar, with guests stopping them every two feet to say hi and snap a photo.

If there was any hate present that night, it came from outside the movie theater’s walls. Ironically, the Alamo Drafthouse theater is on the main street of the Mission District of San Francisco, a neighborhood not only increasing populated by tech workers, but also where the anti-tech sentiment from is felt strongest.