If the crowd reactions at the Silicon Valley premiere of HBO’s comedy series “Silicon Valley” are any indication, the show will hit a nerve with tech’s power players.
Young programmers said they saw themselves in the show. Lawyers and venture capitalists were happy that people would finally see how much power engineers have these days. And Tesla founder Elon Musk, whose name was dropped in the first few minutes of the first episode, hated it.
Created by Mike Judge, Dave Krinsky and John Altschuler, and filmed on location in Palo Alto, the show, which debuts on April 6, follows six roommates, all programmers, as they try to strike it rich in Silicon Valley. During the first two 30-minute episodes at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre, the audience of around 400 locals responded with laughs and sighs as the characters enacted the constant pitching, striving and inanity that felt familiar to those in the recent tech boom.
Afterward, the audience and cast filed uneasily together down Broadway to an after-party at the Fox Forum banquet hall, where a group of Silicon Valley lawyers and venture capitalists formed a tight circle.
“It was no more unreal than real life here,” said Selwyn B. Goldberg, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. “Since the last bubble, it’s been complete insanity.”
Simon Roy, president of Jemstep, agreed, and said the show captures the enormous power that engineers have today.
“In the ’90s, in the 2000s, it wasn’t like this.”
Elon Musk, whose high-profile companies SpaceX and Tesla have made him a very big star of tech, recognized a friend in the VC scrum, and joined in.
“The truth? It’s stranger than the fiction,” Musk declared, as the large group debated the verisimilitude of the show and also tech versus Hollywood in general. “Most startups are a soap opera, but not that kind of soap opera.”
Musk did not much like the show and continued talking about the issue of truth versus fiction, in what was an instant television review of “Silicon Valley.”
The verdict of the digital Roger Ebert? Thumbs very much down.
“None of those characters were software engineers. Software engineers are more helpful, thoughtful, and smarter. They’re weird, but not in the same way,” he insisted. “I was just having a meeting with my information security team, and they’re great but they’re pretty fucking weird — one used to be a dude, one’s super small, one’s hyper-smart — that’s actually what it is.”
Musk continued his lively assessment, as waiters passed trays of sweetbread, truffled potatoes, Brussels sprouts and bacon and waffles around them, making larger points about the tech landscape and offering a kind of on-the-fly script notes session for those gathered.
“I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley,” opined Musk. “If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it. You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn’t even get fucking close to what’s in Silicon Valley. The show didn’t have any of that.”
Musk looked around the circle and asked who had been to colorful annual desert festival that is a favorite of tech’s elite. Not a one answered in the affirmative.
Then, Musk made the observation that the geeks are without the same social aspirations as those in the entertainment industry, an aspect which he thought the show completely missed.
“The parties in Silicon Valley are amazing because people don’t care about how they’re perceived socially, which I don’t think Mike [Judge] got. Hollywood is a place where people always care about what the public will think of them … and the show felt more like that,” he said. “I’ve lived in Hollywood 12 years, and I’ve never been to a fucking good party.”
Musk reached for a bacon waffle and proclaimed that he would take Judge to Burning Man this year.
Despite some misgivings about the show, it was clear that Musk was definitely more of a star than anyone present at the premiere. A coterie of millennial women, waiting for him to break away from the group, circled him.
Outside on the street, actor T.J. Miller was having a cigarette. Was he having a good time at the party?
“Yeah, but, and I’m not gonna name names, but if the billionaire power players don’t get the joke, it’s because they’re not comfortable being satirized,” said Miller, who plays a buffoonish character named Erlich, who owns the hacker house. “And they don’t remember that to be a target of humor is an honor — you have to be venerated to be satirized. Like, I’m sorry, but you could tell everything was true. You guys do have bike meetings, motherfucker.”
Also outside smoking was one of the show’s writers, Clay Tarver, who said he had been anxious about having the premiere in the heart of the Valley.
“We knew this would be either a lovely evening or the worst night of our lives,” Tarver said. “I’m still not sure which it is.”
Tarver said he felt that Silicon Valley was a perfect topic for satire — and that the increasing public resentment toward tech means that the show didn’t even feel that mean anymore (after all, earlier that morning, protesters had vomited on a Yahoo shuttle in Oakland).
“When I first read the pilot, I thought maybe it was too harsh,” he said. “But even just in the last four months, the resentment toward the Valley has come through the roof, so I think it works.”
The HBO jet was docked at an airstrip nearby, and the media execs started filing out to head back to Los Angeles. By the photo booth in the back of the banquet hall, the stars of the show were dancing with their girlfriends.
“The Valley is a place that takes itself too seriously, and it has yet to be properly lampooned,” said lead character Thomas Middleditch. “So it’s time for … it’s time for a wedgie.”
“It’s an interesting way to see how the rest of America sees Silicon Valley — awkward, nerdy, money obsessed but like to talk about helping the world,” said John Lee, who works at Viber. “Which is somewhat accurate, but we’re a lot more.”
Cameron Tompkins, who does business development for a Treasure Island-based food-tech startup currently in stealth mode, said he felt like he was watching his “reflection.”
“The name-dropping, the absurdity of what we’re all pitching,” he said. “I go into corporate offices and their fundamental value proposition is less defined than in the show, and they’re multibillion-dollar companies.”
Sitting at the long center table as the party closed out was 18-year-old Shahed Khan, who wore a Weebly-branded hoodie. He said he’d started his first company when he was 15. The premiere party was fun, he said, because he was finally meeting — IRL — Marc Bodnick, who was a friend he had made on Quora, the online Q&A platform.
“They nailed it,” said Khan. “I think they could have gone a little further, actually.”
[Editors update: The headline was changed after posting, because, well, it was meant more as a joke and no one got it and some text was added for clarity. That said, Musk still did not like the show, as the his quotes clearly indicate.]