Mike Judge has been taking shots at pop culture — and making people laugh in the process — ever since Beavis and Butt-head took MTV by storm. From Office Space to King of the Hill, the writer–director's satirical gaze has spared almost no one, and now he's taking on the tech industry. His new HBO show Silicon Valley debuted at SXSW, and while there may be some surface similarities to other recent shows Valley is most certainly its own thing: it's snarky and unafraid to call things like it sees them. We spoke with Judge about what makes him laugh, why startups are a perfect subject, and whether we're still on the path towards Idiocracy.
Your work has been exceptionally good at pointing out the absurdity of certain work environments or attitudes. Why did the tech world seem like such a good target?
"These guys that got bullied in high school are now the richest people."
If Paul Allen, Mark Zuckerberg, or these type of people had been born 100 years ago, or even 80 years ago, I don’t think they’d be the richest people in the world. They would probably be well-paid somewhere, but … the type of people who became the richest people in the world in the past have been like Rockefeller, Carnegie… captains of industry. These kind of alpha-male types, not these introverted programmers. That’s what makes it just perfect for comedy, is seeing that these guys that got bullied in high school are now the richest people.
There’s a line in the pilot, where one of the eccentric billionaires says, "Before we can achieve greatness, we have to achieve goodness." Do you think there’s a little BS in the way some companies present themselves as being all about the greater good?
Oh yeah! Silicon Valley, more even now than when I was there, they’re always talking about how they’re making the world a better place. And maybe in some ways they are, but it’s just funny. Like the richest, most successful people in our business, in Hollywood — just picking an example, J.J. Abrams or [producer] Joel Silver — they’re like, you know, "I want to make really cool stuff. I love what I do." They’re not saying "I’m saving the world through my movies."
There are a ton of in-jokes in the show, but a lot of the people likely to get those gags are the same ones you're poking fun at. Who do you see as the perfect audience?
In all the stuff I’ve done, I’m never thinking of a target audience. Well I guess I am, but it’s usually just what would make my friends laugh. What would make my brother laugh. What would people find interesting. But I think, like an example is Spinal Tap. I think when they were making that you could probably go, "Oh wow, the people in heavy metal bands are gonna hate us." But heavy metal bands loved it, and still do.
On Beavis and Butt-head, Kip Winger reached out a few years back and was like, "Hey, this is really funny." Same thing with Michael Bolton, who I’ve met; I had a character making fun of him in Office Space. I don’t think I’ve had to worry too much about alienating the people that are being made fun of so far. So hopefully it will carry through with this.
Any time you get an email from Kip Winger, it seems like good things are happening.
Yeah, I’m okay with that. [laughs]
When talking about Silicon Valley, I’ve noticed people often get excited because they love Office Space or Idiocracy. Those two movies didn’t really catch on when they were first released, but have become cult classics. Do you take a little bit of satisfaction knowing that people have found them?
"I really had to fight hard to get that cast."
Oh yeah. Office Space especially, because it was the first live-action thing I’d done, and I really had to fight hard to get that cast, and to get that music. A lot of the big choices in that movie, I had to battle the studio — and even my own producers and editors. No one believed in that. And then it came out and wasn’t a big hit right away, so it was a lot of people going, "Well, see, you should have listened to us. You shouldn’t have cast those people, you shouldn’t have put all that gangster rap in there. Maybe next time you’ll listen."
And then you know, over the course of two or three years it was like, "Hey, let’s do a sequel!" So that was really, really satisfying. ... And same thing with Idiocracy now. It seems to be still growing. I still get a lot of love for it.
Idiocracy portrayed a future where everything is so easy and people are so lazy that the entire human race is falling apart. It's been eight years since it came out. How's humanity’s doing?
When I first had the idea and was writing [Idiocracy], I was at Disneyland. My daughters were young and I was at the teacups ride with them. And this woman had had an altercation with another woman before, I guess, and they were right behind me. And this other woman passes by and they just started [going after each other] … and they’re just cussing in front of their kids. And I’m there with my daughters thinking, "I don’t think this is how Walt Disney imagined it."
"I don't think this is how Walt Disney imagined it."
And this was in 2001, so then I started thinking about 2001. What if instead of this pristine high-tech world that [Kubrick] had envisioned, what if it was just like The Jerry Springer Show and giant Walmarts, and what if that had been the movie made in the ’60s? So I thought that’s what I would do. And a lot of it was kinda based on stuff that was already happening.
But for example, someone emailed me several years ago … about some kind of coffee place in Seattle where the girls are practically topless. People will email and post stuff on my Twitter that’s like, "Hey, you predicted it right!" So that’s always nice. But it’s not always nice because you want the world to become a better place.
So basically we’re all doomed.
Yep, we’re doomed. Might as well make jokes about it.
Mike Judge's Silicon Valley debuts on HBO on April 6th.