Silicon Valley producers on THAT monkey scene
[SPOILER ALERT: Read no further until you have watched “Server Space,” Sunday’s episode of Silicon Valley.]
As Silicon Valley entered its second season, everyone—cast included—knew that it would be almost impossible to top that scene in “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” in which the Piped Piper crew mathematically broke down how one man could bring a room of 800 men to orgasm in less than 600 seconds with his bare hands.
But hey, you might as well at least monkey around and see what happens.
On Sunday’s episode of the HBO comedy, titled “Server Space,” we ventured deep into the R&D recesses of Hooli XYZ, a division of the internet giant that is dedicated to impossible dreams and is overseen by Big Head (Josh Brener) and haughty Professor Davis Bannercheck (Patrick Fischler). While giving Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) an update and tour of the facilities, Bannercheck expressed his displeasure about having to work with the inferior Big Head, pointing to his malfunctioning potato cannon, and then showing off his own prized project—proof positive of the ingenuity and future-thinking that he was doing at XYZ. Meet Kiko, a monkey who had tragically lost both of his arms in a Nicaraguan land mine explosion and was now being fitted with a motorized prosthetic arm that returned him to full function. Alas, this moonshot turned into a money shot, as Kiko began masturbating with his bionic arm, much to the horror of Gavin. A flustered Bannercheck tried to shift the focus away from the monkey’s hedonism, insisting that this crude act was “not an indictment of the technology,” as Kiko finished off his mission of pleasure by exploring his backside and throwing his feces at the window.
It was this season’s most outrageous moment. And in a way, you have the Department of Defense to thank for it.
Earlier in the season, the show’s co-producer/technical adviser, Jonathan Dotan, recruited someone from DARPA (that’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for the acronym-adverse) to show off some of the latest technological advancements to executive producers Mike Judge and Alec Berg, including one that featured a non-surgical way of magnetically connecting prosthetic appendages that could read signals from the brain. “We saw a video of a monkey where it actually wires into the cerebral cortex, and [Alec] said, ‘What if the first thing he did was reach around to the back of his ass?'” says Judge. That, naturally, led to more provocative scientific discourse. “We started talking about what a monkey would do with a prosthetic arm. And if a monkey with no arms suddenly got its arms back, it would obviously masturbate,” says Berg. Recalls Judge: “I just couldn’t stop laughing at that idea. And we kept trying to work it in.”
Opportunity finally struck in episode 5 with a visit to the Hooli XYZ labs, where the writers could mine humor from next-level blunder, similar to the Telehuman scene from season 1, in which Gavin tried to communicate in hologram form with Big Head but was thwarted by faulty technology. “Nothing is funnier than somebody who is super proud of something that’s unbelievably expensive and it doesn’t work,” notes Berg. Agrees Judge: “I loved the scene in the original Robocop where they’re demo-ing it and it just ends up killing people.” Of course, in this episode, “nobody really gets hurt,” says Judge. “In fact, the monkey feels much better.”
Speaking of that guest performer, she’s no run-of-the-mill simian. Kiko is played by Katie, a 25-year-old female white-faced capuchin and is a Hollywood vet whose previous credits include Outbreak and… wait for it… okay, just wait a little longer because it’s really good…. FRIENDS. Yes, she was one of the two monkeys that played Marcel, friend of Ross! (“This is the second time I’ve worked with a Friends cast member,” says Judge who directed Office Space.) Wondering what kind of skill sets landed Katie the gig? “Katie was chosen because she can scratch her belly on command,” says Judge, “and from behind it looks like something else.”
To pull off the scene, Katie was fitted with green-screen gloves that went up to her shoulders so her arms could be removed in post-production and a motorized arm could be CGI’d in. In case you’re wondering, Katie—who was closely assisted by her trainer, who pretended to be a lab technician in the scene—handled the shoot with class and poise. “I just had this feeling Katie was going to flip out from all the meetings, but she did everything on command—nothing shocked her,” says Judge, quipping: “Katie was more of a pro than some of our cast.”
When she was brought back for a second day of filming to obtain another shot, “the trainer told me it was that time of the month for Katie and that she was a little cranky,” chuckles Judge. “That actually worked out well because we got some of the more animated stuff out of her.” The producers did have a little trouble getting her to do the throwing motion—you know, to simulate the hurling of feces—but, as Judge notes, it plays better off-screen with viewers only seeing a shot of her crap hitting the window. “The final version is a very restrained version of the scene,” says Berg. “We kept having these conversations during the edit where it’s like, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but less is more here.’”
The scene got a big response from everyone at the table read (“I do remember [HBO president of programming] Michael Lombardo probably laughed at that scene harder than we’ve ever seen him laugh at anything,” says Berg) as well at the shoot. Recalls Brener, who watched the scene being filmed from a bank of monitors in a nearby room: “It is the hardest that I’ve laughed on set in my entire life,” he testifies. “It was unbelievable. If there’s anything that’s come near the dick-to-floor scene, it’s the monkey. Everyone was cracking up, but we were getting shushed. You have to be super delicate around the monkey—there can be no sudden movements, no noises—it’s like you’re working with the most temperamental A-list celebrity that you can’t make eye contact with.”
Ross says he was curious how the simian would react to the thespian challenge, but he wasn’t bracing for an R-rated shoot. “I didn’t expect we would see an erect monkey—it is HBO, but there are some lines that cannot be crossed.” He adds that the actors, producers and crew that were on the set with Katie were quiet and respectful: “Everyone was trying to create a very healthy environment for this animal to be in.”
How did Ross manage to keep a straight face for the scene (except when he was supposed to make a horrified one)? When he filmed his grossed-out reactions, he wasn’t actually watching the monkey in amorous action; Katie was hanging out on the side of the set with her trainer. The final, special effects-enhanced scene “was done beautifully,” he says. “The technology has to look real or it’s not funny, and I thought it looked utterly realistic. All the comedy really stems from that…. It was hysterical.”
It was also a day on the set worth documenting. “I had the monkey jump on my shoulder so I could take a picture and show it to my children,” says Ross. “‘This is what Daddy did today. He watched a monkey masturbate.’”