The Silicon Valley Boys Aren’t Just Brilliant—They’re Part of a Comedy Revolution

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The Silicon Valley Boys Aren’t Just Brilliant—They’re Part of a Comedy Revolution

Today, nearly every major (and minor) network has at least one original comedy in its portfolio, from cable stations like BET (Real Husbands of Hollywood), truTV (Billy on the Street), and USA (Playing House) to streaming services like Hulu (Difficult ­People), Netflix (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Amazon (Catastrophe). And that’s in addition to YouTube, sites like CollegeHumor and Funny or Die, NBC’s all-­comedy online service Seeso, and the countless other online venues putting up new sketches and series every day. None of these shows are a drop in the Big Bang Theory–dominated ratings bucket, but all have devoted audiences.

“Even my bathroom mirror is now emerging as a really exciting outlet for new content,” says June Diane Raphael, a writer and actress who’s appeared on big-network shows like New Girl as well as streaming series (Netflix’s Grace and Frankie) and web programs (the hit Burning Love). “There are a million ways to get your work out there, albeit with varying pay scales.”

That onslaught of options, and their fluctuating salaries, means that many comedians diversify their career portfolios by using a steady gig—a sitcom stint, a writing-room spot, regular stand-up engagements—to let them do whatever they want. “I always hear this story about the Will & Grace cast getting Porsches when they got picked up for a second season,” Scheer says. “We’re not in that world anymore. But when you have a bigger anchor, it allows you the freedom to not have to worry about making ends meet.”

It also relieves comedians of the pressure of tailoring their act for one monolithic, mainstream audience—a near-necessity during the four-­network era that resulted in so many anemic sitcoms. Instead, “everybody can work on what they want to do and what works for them,” says Ron Funches, a stand-up and writer who stars on the NBC sitcom Undateable while also touring regularly and appearing on multiple cable series (Drunk History, @Midnight) and podcasts. “Not every comic has the personality that you want to build a whole show around. It was different [years ago], because there were fewer options—there were only so many networks and only so many ways to be seen. Now you can have a show on YouTube that still gets enough of an audience for you to tour off of and live off of. You’re not waiting in line for NBC or ABC to decide you’re worth something.”

Party Down, alas, arrived a bit too early for this revolution: It was canceled by Starz in 2010 despite nearly unanimous good reviews. (If it had premiered just a few years later, in time for the rise of show-saving Twitter laugh­tivists, it likely would have survived far longer.) For Starr, it was the second time a beloved show he was working on was prematurely killed. By the time he was offered the Silicon part in 2013, he says, “I knew that it was a great possibility that this show will not be as appreciated as perhaps we feel it deserves to be. You know that everything’s fleeting, everything’s passing.“ (He was raised Buddhist, which may explain all that equanimity.)

But, he says, that also helped inspire the Silicon cast members’ sense of camaraderie, as evidenced in part by the group’s on-set playfulness. “We all just care about each other, and we all want the show to be funny,” he says. “You have ideas for other people, and that brings value to the whole group. I mean, it’s just as much fun to watch someone else nail an idea that you had as it is to fuck around and find something for yourself.”


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The Silicon Valley Boys Aren’t Just Brilliant—They’re Part of a Comedy Revolution

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