Mike Judge Talks 'Silicon Valley' Dick Joke, Navigating Christopher Evan Welch's Death
Appearing at Thursday's HRTS comedy showrunners luncheon, the creator talks about the Stanford-approved gag and his series' surprise loss—while Mindy Kaling, Mike Schur and Rob McElhenney join him in assessing the state of the sitcom.
It's not exactly a go-to subject for the lunch hour, but the male anatomy was the first order of business during Thursday's Hollywood Radio and Television Society's summer comedy panel -- moderated by The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Matthew Belloni.
Silicon Valley creator Mike Judge, joined on stage at the luncheon by Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Mike Schur (Parks & Recreation) and Rob McElhenney (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), was first at bat when asked about what went into the extended dick joke that served as the comedic centerpiece of his HBO series' freshman finale.
"We wanted something like in A Beautiful Mind, where he has this epiphany in the bar," said Judge. "One of our writers, Matteo Borghese, was talking about how his roommate said you could jack off four guys at once. [Episode writer] Alec Berg came to me and said, 'I think we've got that moment.' It turned into this scene that started getting a lot longer, and then we had a Stanford graduate, now a PhD, on staff. All I asked him to do was to put some equations on the board. Now it's a 12-page thesis. This thing just got way out of hand."
That report, Vinith Misra's "Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency: a model for male audience stimulation,” is now available to read in full online.
It wasn't all funny for Judge, however. He also took the opportunity to discuss the December death of Christopher Evan Welch. The actor, who played eccentric tech tycoon Peter Gregory on the series, died of lung cancer halfway through production of the first season. And though he didn't appear in the final three episodes, his character was still referenced and never formally written off.
"We're trying to figure out season two," he added, noting that he floated several ideas to members of Welch's family, who did laugh at the suggestions. "I think we have to deal with it in a comedic way, there's no way around it."
With Parks & Recreation already set for a final season, Schur spoke out on his plans for the comedy's final run—and, long story short, he does not yet know how that final episode will look.
"There's a cultural obsession with finales now," said Schur. "There's the expectation that the last episode is going to be the best episode. That's ridiculous to me. I'm trying to think about the whole of the end of the series, not the last episode. ... We have some ideas that have accumulated over the years."
None of the four shows represented on stage—five, if you count Schur co-creation Brooklyn Nine-Nine—is technically a ratings hit, and each of the writers was quick to dismiss the notion that anyone in TV is creating deliberately niche comedy.
"I don't think anyone means to be a niche show," said Kaling. "I happen to look like a niche show."
"It feels like the 'death of the sitcom' is something people have been writing about since the '70s," added McElhenney, who thinks there won't be a next Big Bang Theory on the air while there's already a Big Bang Theory. "I think we're going strong."
The idea of "broad" comedy, as many see it, is just as ambiguous as being niche—at least according to Schur: "That word gets tossed around, and all it means is they want more people to watch your show."
With Kaling's and Schur's resumes having some overlap from their shared time on The Office, there was also a funny reveal about how Schur, decidedly behind-the-scenes, came to play the recurring role of Dwight's (Rainn Wilson) taciturn, beet-farming cousin, Mose.
"Greg Daniels came to me and said, 'You're going to grow a neckbeard, go to the desert at five in the morning and chase a car like a dog,'" explained Schur. "Every time I did it was like August 17 in Simi Valley. ... Then, by the way, the show would run long and [they'd] cut it."
"I thought it was a crafty punishment because you were being impertinent," offered Kaling. "You got to be a mute Amish man in the background of Rainn Wilson's scenes."