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Silicon Valley: T.J. Miller hurls insults for nearly five minutes straight

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HBO

The April 24 season premiere of Silicon Valley not only introduced a new man in charge at Pied Piper — Action Jack Barker — it  begat one of TV’s finest insult-comedy scenes of the year. Miffed that he wasn’t the one who was tapped to replace the fired Richard (Thomas Middleditch) as CEO of their start-up company, Erlich (T.J. Miller) sought out the new boss, and when Jack (Stephen Tobolowsky) raved that he’s “a big fan,” Erlich retorted: “Oh, really? Of what? Metamucil? Polio? The phonograph? A nice piece of fish? Segregated water fountains? Senior citizen discounts at Perkins Family restaurants? Erectile dysfunction because of corroded penile arteries? Deviled eggs as an entree?… Liking Ike?”

Yes, his slew of ageist insults lasted more than 20 seconds before Jack managed to win over Erlich with admiration for his work on Aviato. ( “My… Aviato?” “Is there any other Aviato?”) Of course, things soon turned sour as the seemingly reasonable Jack proved to be an a-hole, and his bullheaded focus on stock price over product and disrespect of Raviga managing partner Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer) led to his termination in the May 15 episode of HBO’s tech comedy.

If you were guessing that the Silicon Valley folks had quite a day filming those barbs, you don’t know the half of it. Or, actually, the tenth of it.

“If you saw the episode and you say, ‘There’s a lot of them!’, the script had probably twice as many,” executive producer Mike Judge tells EW. “And then T.J. came in with, oh my God, so many. That’s where T.J. lives, in those kind of things, and he’s so good at it.” Executive producer Alec Berg sums up the philosophy of shooting the scene like this: “You just shoot a ton of ’em and sort out the winners in the edit.”

Miller’s wheels started churning from the moment he read the script. “I couldn’t stop laughing,” notes the actor. “I immediately started riffing and generating more quips to hurl. ‘Perkins Family restaurants’ is my favorite one, because it’s so Erlich to say the full name… A lot of them I came up with on the spot, and I can’t remember which ones necessarily, although I know ‘Liking Ike’ was there, and I thought an interesting choice for the final insult.”

After filming dozens upon dozens upon dozens of digs, the producers finally called for a ceasefire. “They actually had to stop us and say, ‘Listen, this continues to be funny, but we have way too much material,'” says Miller, no stranger to unleashing a string of colorful cut downs (See: Deadpool)“Once the writers and Mike and Stephen and I got started, it was difficult to stop. I love it because it was just a geyser of what it seems Erlich and myself are pretty proficient in: verbally eviscerating other people while remaining the biggest buffoon in the room.”

How did Tobolowsky hold up as Miller released a steady stream of invective? “Tobolowsky is a master,” says Miller. “I loved him in everything from Sneakers to Grifters, and he rarely broke. But when he was off-camera, he broke a couple times and that, of course, made me break. Few things are as complimentary as someone you admire cracking a smile… I also cracked up a couple times at the way Stephen said ‘Aviato‘ the first time. It really was the first time anybody else has ever said it on the show and pronounced it like Erlich does. So ridiculous.”

The producers wound up with such an embarrassment of insult riches, it was difficult to choose which one would make it into the episode. And believe it or not, they were concerned that the version of the scene that you saw wasn’t long enough. “I worried, ‘Are we getting to that joke where the joke is how long it’s going on?'” recalls Judge. “I wasn’t sure, because watching them shoot it, it went on forever.” Seconds Berg: “[The final scene] feels very short, if you’ve sat through reams of footage.”

And now it’s time for you to experience the full range of Erlich’s put-down prowess, too. EW asked Judge and Berg if they could assemble a supercut of the Bachman burn orgy, and they more than delivered the goods: It clocks in at four-and-a-half minutes, with 75-plus creative, misguided geriatric put-downs like “Buying stocks in 1928,” “The collection and organization of stamps,” “Being wheeled into a sunny spot,” “Genesis the book, or Genesis the band, because I knew it wasn’t SEGA Genesis,” “King of the Hill,” and “Radio plays starring white people as both black and white people.”

Enjoy a mega-size meal of Miller mayhem by watching the video above.

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