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'Silicon Valley' Asks: Is Your Startup Really Making The World Better?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mike Judge is no stranger to workplace comedy — back in 1999, he wrote and directed the cult classic Office Space, which poked fun at desk job-induced ennui in a 1990s software company.

Now, more than a decade later, Judge continues to find humor in the tech industry. In his new HBO sitcom, Silicon Valley, Judge explores what happens when young computer geeks become millionaires.

"The tech world has become really interesting to me, especially in recent years," Judge tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. Judge recognizes certain personality types from his college days and from his brief Silicon Valley engineering career in the '80s. "Just knowing those types and seeing them suddenly have billions and billions of dollars — there's just something funny about it to me," he says, "and it's something I hadn't really seen explored that much."

Judge created the animated series Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, and wrote and directed Idiocracy and Extract.


Interview Highlights

On the trope of Silicon Valley startups saying their work is "making the world a better place"

I suppose some of the stuff they're doing is making the world a better place, it's just what's interesting to me is it always seems to me to be this obligatory thing that they have to throw in there, and that's why we made fun of it in the series. Some people are making the world a better place, some maybe aren't, but it's just funny that most of it, it's just capitalism. They're trying to make their companies as big and profitable as possible, which is fine, but it's always shrouded in this "we're making the world a better place" stuff. ...

Like a company trying to put Internet in all these third-world African countries and ... maybe they are making the world a better place. ... They're also making a ton of money doing it. They don't talk about that as much.

When we got green-lit to series I took all the writers, we went to an incubator and they bring out their first company, and it's a company and it's five guys ... and then they pitch their app and at the end of it the guy kind of throws in, "You know, and making the world a better place." Like, "Oh yeah, I almost forgot." I think that's kind of funny; it's almost a religion, where you have to say "amen."

On the success of Office Space

I think if I hadn't done animated shorts and if I hadn't had two hit TV shows back-to-back, that movie never would've happened. ... I guess I just kinda wanted [Fox] to trust me. ... When it didn't do well at the box office right away it was like, "OK, I guess we shouldn't trust you," but now it's made them lots of money, it has been a profitable movie. ... To be fair to them, some people say, "Oh, Fox didn't promote it well." That was a hard one to cut a trailer from, especially. I think you could now, but it's a weird movie.

On the famous boss character in Office Space and his tagline of "Hmm ... yeah ... "

It wasn't [based on] any specific person. It kind of came a few different ways. I worked at Whataburger, which is a Texas-New Mexico chain, of a burger place, and I worked at Jack-in-the-Box — this is when I was young. ... The worst thing ever at both of those jobs is to change the fryers, and the way that someone will say, "Yeah, um, Mike, why don't you go ahead and change the fryers?" To say "go ahead," it's like you were just chomping at the bit to go do it, and I'm just gonna cut you loose, and go ahead — now it's so commonplace. ...

In the '50s a boss would say, "Hey, Milton, move your desk. Thanks." I don't know if it's the baby boom generation where everyone has to be cool, suddenly in the '70s and '80s it turned into, "Yeah ... if I could get you to just go ahead and move your desk." And it's this kind of "I'm casual, I'm cool. I'm not your '50s boss."

I would just prefer someone just coming up and telling you what to do. I would respect [that] more. ... Even over the years just noticing the "yeah" that means "no." Like if you say, "Can I have Friday off?"

"Hmm ... yeah ... "

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Source: NPR

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"If you want to understand a political conflict, it helps to understand the culture in which that conflict is taking place," says host Terry Gross. Fresh Air is one of the most popular programs on public radio, breaking the "talk show" mold, and Gross is known for her fearless and insightful interviews with prominent figures in American arts, politics, and popular culture. "When there is a crisis in a foreign country, we sometimes call up that country's leading novelist or filmmaker to get the cultural perspective." Fresh Air features daily reports and reviews from critics and commentators on music, books, movies, and other cultural phenomena that invade the national psyche.

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