The ‘Big Head’ of startup culture: An Interview with Josh Brener of ‘Silicon Valley’

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With its ability to infuse sharp and wonderfully witty humor into issues ranging from the Valley’s cutthroat start-up culture to the personal shenanigans of its slew of hilarious characters, HBO’s Emmy Award-winning tech comedy “Silicon Valley” has without a doubt found its comedic groove.

Currently in its fourth season, the show remains both funny and extremely timely as it follows company founder Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), along with the remainder of the Pied Piper crew, as they fight tooth and nail for the success of their startup.

Unexpected shifts in the beloved comedy’s current season breathe new life into the show, as Richard attempts to construct a “New Internet” in the background of Pied Piper’s development and Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti (Josh Brener) grudgingly tries to find a place for himself in the tech world at his father’s insistence.

We were looking at a startup with small consequences – big technology but basically the small day-to-day of a small company,” Brener explained, referring to the growth of Pied Piper’s mission throughout the course of the show. “I think now with where Thomas’ character is heading, we’re going to start looking at the big picture and big ideas, which I think is so much of what the Silicon Valley thing is.”

Above all, the engaging quirkiness of “Silicon Valley” that has maintained the show’s success is intrinsically connected to its unique characters — it’s their oddities, such as Donald “Jared” Dunn’s (Zach Woods) hilariously undisturbed moral compass, or the utter lack of care expressed by Big Head, that steer the show’s comedic style.

I try to convince myself that Big Head and I aren’t that similar, but I think maybe we are,” Brener confessed. “I do have to give most of the credit for the Big Head character to the writers. I think they came up with something unbelievably funny and I’ve just been lucky to get to be the wide-eyed, confused dumb-dumb.”

Referring to the show’s success, Brener recalled that “It changed fast and a lot has happened and I think we’re all trying to do as much with the good fortune that ‘Silicon Valley’ has given us. It’s a grind out here, you definitely try to take whatever advantages you get. And ‘Silicon Valley’ is a huge lucky thing that more happened to us than we happened to it.”

The incredible success of “Silicon Valley” has not gone unnoticed in the high-stakes world of the real Valley, as the show continues to effortlessly wedge itself into the tech sphere.

In the 2015 announcement of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Google co-founder Larry Page gave a subtle nod to Hooli, Google’s fictitious counterpart in the world of “Silicon Valley.” In his letter, Page included a cleverly hidden link to HBO’s website for Hooli XYZ, Big Head’s division of the company that succeeded only in creating a catastrophic potato cannon.

The web connecting the show to its very subjects appears to suggest that peering into the inner workings of the Valley only results in the Valley peering back.

That’s definitely been one of the most fun things about doing the show – this feedback loop of people in the real Silicon Valley watching the fake Silicon Valley and then people from the show ‘Silicon Valley’ going up and doing research in the real Silicon Valley and meeting the people that they’ve been making fun of,” Brener laughed. “And the people they’ve been making fun of loving the show and not really necessarily realizing that the show is making fun of them. It’s definitely an odd ouroboros of satire.”

After a long run of successful seasons, it seems that the authenticity of the show’s depiction of the strange and often downright funny eccentricities of the true Silicon Valley are key to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the show.

As Brener summed it up, “I think with our show, a lot of it is pretty accurate and I think it’s because it’s so well-researched and the real-deal people in Silicon Valley appreciate that and enjoy watching themselves. I mean we’re all egomaniacs, right? We just want to watch ourselves.”

Season 4 of “Silicon Valley” is currently airing Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Manisha Ummadi covers video games. Contact her at [email protected].