Your favorite ‘Office Space’ character was based on one of Mike Judge’s coworkers

The New York Times Magazine this week sports a profile of Mike Judge, one of the most visionary humorists of our age. No, really — look at his CV if you haven’t in a while: “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “Office Space,” “King of the Hill,” “Idiocracy” and now the fourth season of “Silicon Valley,” which premieres on HBO April 23. Some highlights from the profile of the occasional Austinite:

Mike Judge at the Austin Film Festival on October 23, 2011. (Cliff Cheney FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Like many great writers, Judge is a champion (inadvertent) eavesdropper. “Frog Baseball,” the short that demo’d “Beavis and Butt-Head,” was something he overheard at work.

“First, he thought: That stuff happens. Then he thought: Who would do this? Beavis and Butt-Head offered an answer to that question.”

Milton in “Office Space” — he of the red stapler — was partially based on an engineer Judge worked with in San Diego post-college. And Judge’s next-door neighbor at one time was a mechanic.

“He would serve as inspiration for Lawrence, the construction-worker neighbor in ‘Office Space’; Judge’s neighbor in the other direction helped inspire Butt-Head.”

The article’s author has very specific ideas about satire:

“‘Beavis and Butt-Head,’ which thrived in part by savagely roasting both MTV (the channel that aired it) and the generation its programming had spawned …”

“If you set aside his long-running TV show ‘King of the Hill,’ which is much too loving to be considered satire …”

I am not sure about this. There is genuine affection for the leads in “Beavis and Butt-Head,” and the biggest critique of MTV itself was the fact that “B&B” was the only place one could see certain videos. (Also I suspect the author is young enough never to have actually seen MTV when it was, you know, showing videos all the time.)

Maybe MTV was playing Jawbox’s “Savory,” Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” and Shutter to Think’s “Hit Liquor” on the regular, but the only place I ever saw clips for those three excellent songs was when those two were mocking them.

As for “King of the Hill,” it was an incredibly sweet and thoughtful show, but satire need not be brutal all the time. Living in Texas made me appreciate that program’s singular combination of mockery and respect all the more. Also, naming a character “LuAnne Platter” was brilliant.

Yes, “Silicon Valley” has the enthusiastic cooperation of real tech companies. During a scene set at fake industry convention:

“Staged for a scene in the show’s coming season, the event had 28 booths, among them Pied Piper’s and, across from it, one for a fictitious mobile game. The other 26, however, were completely real, with many staffed by actual employees. Square was there, along with Roku and Oculus and Nest, which brought a fire truck that had been painted baby blue by the guys from ‘Pimp My Ride.’”

Some of the folks there were real employees, some were extras.

And as anyone actually in tech can tell you, the show is both spot-on and can be not a whole lot of fun.

“Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard … gets two responses from people in tech: They either love the show for its accuracy or find it so accurate that it’s too stressful to watch.”

Judge was amused by T.J. Miller’s body.

“(As Miller) walked by (at an audition), Judge saw his silhouette pass and started laughing. ‘If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh … they’re probably pretty funny.'”

Judge and cast members will be at Alamo South Lamar to screen two episodes of “Silicon Valley” and participate in a Q&A April 18. The event is sold out.

Author: Joe Gross

Joe Gross has covered books, movies, music and culture for the American-Statesman since 2002. He tweets at @joegross.

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