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Mike Judge: "Silicon Valley" humor sparked by "awkward" tech culture

Mike Judge
CBS

The new HBO series "Silicon Valley" follows a group of programmers who aspire to launch the next Facebook or Google.

Anthony Mason recently sat down with the show's co-creator, Mike Judge.

Judge is the man behind the animated hits "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "King of the Hill."

For his first non-animated television series, Judge is going back to his roots. Before becoming a successful writer and director, Judge was an engineer working in the same industry where the next billion-dollar idea is just an algorithm away.

The new HBO series "Silicon Valley" is a comedic look at the culture of tech and the often awkward moments of the industry's newly-minted billionaires.

"We wanted to start this series out just showing exactly what to me is just fascinating about this world is these guys who are introverted, programmer types suddenly have a ton of money," Judge said. "And they're just like 'I want Kid Rock in my backyard', and they make it happen and just seeing how awkward all that is."

Judge is familiar with these characters and their language. He worked as a Palo Alto programmer after graduating college with a degree in physics.

Judge, asked if Silicon Valley is different from when he was there, said, "A little different. The tech is different. I think the personalities are very similar. The culture, I think, is similar for the most part."

Judge didn't stay in Silicon Valley long. He found another calling -- in animation. His "Beavis and Butt-Head" was a breakout hit. In 1993, Rolling Stone dubbed MTV's chronically-troubled teens "the voice of a new generation."

Judge said he's not sure why the show resonated with people so much. He said, "I mean, I was just tapping into the kind of teenagers I knew growing up in Albuquerque. And I suppose those teenagers are everywhere."

Buoyed by the good fortune he'd mined from irreverent humor, including 13 seasons of "King of the Hill," Judge moved to live-action feature films.

But his first, 1999's "Office Space" -- starring Jennifer Aniston -- didn't draw big numbers at the box office.

Judge said he was "bummed out" by the initial reaction to the movie. "Up to that point, like I'd had, 'Beavis and Butt-Head' show (and movie) was a hit, 'King of the Hill' was a big hit. And so this was - I was just hearing 'Oh what does he think he's doing live action for?'"

"Office Space" ultimately found its audience -- brisk DVD sales took it from cult classic to certifiable hit and Entertainment Weekly named it among the top 25 funniest films of the past 25 years.

"Silicon Valley" centers on a small start-up company launching the next big idea.

Mason said to Judge, "I don't think most people think of engineers as being funny."

"They're really not," Judge said. "I think the challenge of this actually yields really interesting, funny stuff. And there is a lot of funny absurdity to this world."

Reviews for the show have been strong, but this first season has not been without its challenges.

The show lost cast member Chris Evan Welch. He died at the age of 48 from complications from cancer. Judge said, "It came as a shock to us. He was sort of this breakout character for us. It was just a brilliant interpretation. Yeah, it was really, really sad, on many levels."

Judge says the show's characters, including the venture capitalist played by Welch, aren't based on anyone in real life, but cameos include notable executives like Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt, and "Silicon Valley" derives much of its humor by poking fun at the familiar -- and even peculiar practices of big tech.

Mason asked, "Did you find there was a lot of curiosity in Silicon Valley as to what you were up to?"

Judge said, "Yeah."

"You think they were worried?" Mason asked.

"Maybe," Judge said.

So should they be worried?

Judge said, "They have so many billions. I don't think they worry about Hollywood too much. I think we should be worried about what they think of us."

HBO has already renewed "Silicon Valley" for a second season, which begins filming next month.