Mike Judge’s Secrets To Exquisitely Skewering Silicon Valley

The former engineer spills on the creative process behind Silicon Valley, the show.

Mike Judge’s Secrets To Exquisitely Skewering Silicon Valley
Valley cat: Judge’s portrayal of startups is both exaggerated and eerily accurate. [Photo: Dan Monick]

Silicon Valley creator and executive producer Mike Judge is the first to admit that his satirical HBO series nails some things about the overheated tech industry spot on, while exaggerating others greatly for effect. (Elon Musk once told him he needed to do more research). But to create a show that strikes a nerve, Judge knows that some aspects of that reality have to become caricatures. “This isn’t like a propaganda film for Silicon Valley to promote it or make it seem great,” he says. “It’s just a comedy and it’s about these characters.” We asked him how he stays inspired while dreaming up just-recognizable characters born from the tech scene mold. Here’s what he had to say.


Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

From when I first started making animated shorts, I would say: “by any means necessary.” I think the Malcolm X movie was coming out and I kept thinking that: “by any means necessary.” I’d search my brain for any scrap of memory for any funny story, any interesting thing. And then I was getting writer’s block, getting frustrated just sitting around the house and no ideas were coming. So I thought: Well, I’m not getting any ideas, so I’m just going to wash the dishes, go mow the lawn. And then ideas started coming to me. So washing the dishes was the first breakthrough.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I get coffee, and check email, and then I shave. And then sometimes I walk out and look at the ocean for a minute. It’s at the end of the block. That’s my routine.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

How unglamorous it is. Someone I know said I should take a picture of the writing room. Just like four people and dry-erase boards with scribbles all over it. So that’s all it is. Sitting there, wracking our brains, trying to make stuff up.


What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

I was really liking Florida Man for a while there. You know, ‘Florida Man arrested for . . . ‘

How do you keep track of everything you have to do? Can you send us a snapshot of your to-do list?

I go in and out of keeping track. Let me see [looks at phone]. Sometimes I write it down. This is all just boring stuff: Get my motorcycle registered. Email my sister. Go to the dermatologist. Not superglamorous.

What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?

Doing the dishes or cleaning the garage. I get this thing where if I feel really unproductive I think, Well, if I do something menial, at least I won’t feel crappy at the end of the day. Sometimes, I just go walk around for a while. Just go snap out of it. Nothing that magical. I don’t play video games. I play piano a lot. I play bass. I’ve always been a musician, so that’s something I actually do. I actually do that in the mornings sometimes, too.


Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?

I don’t know if this is the best example, but Richard Feynman, the physicist, has a lot of really great lectures on YouTube. I really like the way he thinks. It’s kind of simple and honest. There’s a great one on there where this BBC guy asks him how magnets work and he gets a little frustrated and is just very honest and says, “To really understand it, you need to know all this stuff and math, and you don’t know that, so I’m not going to explain it to you.” He does this whole thing–if you came from a different planet and didn’t know anything, and if your aunt slipped on the ice and broke her hip, and if you didn’t know anything, you’d keep asking why. It’s this long-winded thing but it’s really interesting to listen to. It’s hard to explain how he thinks. I’m not good at articulating it. Eminem, actually. Love Eminem. I love a lot of hip-hop. The Geto Boys, that’s another thing I used to listen to all the time.

Click here for more insight from Fast Company’s 2015 Most Creative People in Business.