Warning: Spoilers ahead
Like most of the comedy featured on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” actual technology was the inspiration for one hilarious moment on Sunday night’s show.
It entailed an armless monkey, a bionic arm, and primal instincts.
But let’s back up.
In Sunday’s episode, “Big Head” (Josh Brener) is suddenly promoted to run Hooli’s new “moonshot” initiative, Hooli [XYZ]. He’s partnered with Davis Bannerchek (Patrick Fischler), a pioneer in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.
For those who watch the show it will come to no surprise that Big Head does little to no work as head of [XYZ]. In fact, his contribution to [XYZ] is attempting to build a giant potato cannon, which doesn’t even work.
But Bannerchek is making major strides.
He shows off to Hooli head Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) a usable, bionic-like prosthetic arm powered through the use of magnets that his team has provided to a small monkey named Kiko, whose arms were severed following a land mine explosion in Nicaragua.
What follows after the arm is put on the monkey is the crude humour we’ve come to love from the show.
“Silicon Valley” co-creator, Mike Judge, and one of the show’s executive producer’s, Alec Berg, told Business Insider that the joke originated from a visit to the set from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“The guy brought this giant, scary looking laptop that had a lot of different things to show us on what they were working on,” said Berg. “One of the things was this new kind of prosthetic where basically you put a magnet at the end of someone’s severed limb and magnetically attach [the prosthesis] and it connects electronically through the magnets.”
But Berg and Judge’s heads really started spinning when they were shown a video of a prototype of the prosthesis used on a monkey.
It was instant comedy gold.
“You spend millions of dollars developing this incredibly complicated technology and you put it on a monkey and what is the monkey going to do with it expect masturbate and throw its own faeces,” Berg thought after watching the monkey video. “That just seemed really funny.”
In the “Silicon Valley” scene, something similar occurs.
Bannerchek shows Belson the bionic arm his team has created for the adorable Kiko. After the monkey realises it suddenly has an arm, it immediately begins to pleasure itself — and later throws its own faeces — to the horror of Bannerchek and Belson.
Berg wants it to be clear that DARPA was not involved in this joke and had no knowledge what the show would do with the information it provided to the producers.
Judge, who directed Sunday’s episode, said that once they figured out the joke there were numerous intense production meetings that followed to plan how to shoot it.
“People were like, ‘It’s going to be a closed set and nobody talk to the monkey! Only three people allowed by it! Don’t make any sudden moves!’ I thought, s–t, this monkey’s going to go crazy!” Judge recalled.
But after all the planning and concern over not making the monkey skittish, it turned out to be a very casual shoot.
“I think people got a little too over-prepared,” said Judge. “When we were done [shooting] people were like, ‘Hey, take your picture with the monkey!’ The monkey was on people’s heads, it was just holding court on set.”
Judge even had the monkey come back a few days later to shoot it in front of a green screen to get a few shots they missed.
“A lot of [the monkey’s actions] were just accidental,” said Judge. “It would look down at its crotch once because it dropped something and we were like, ok, we’ll use that.”
Judge said that the monkey used, a white-faced capuchin, did have arms. They were digitally painted out. The bionic arm attached to it in the scene was also done with computer graphics.
The trick to the joke working, Judge and Berg learned, was to not have the camera on the monkey.
“In the initial cut there was a lot more of the monkey doing its business,” said Berg. “What ended up being funnier was watching the character’s faces [watching the monkey]. Once you know what’s going on and how absurd it is, the less you see the monkey the funnier it becomes.”
Looking back on shooting the joke, Judge feels the monkey was more mature about it than the humans.
“To be fair to the monkey, it did everything on command,” he said. “It was very much a professional actor.”
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