Advertising Week Spotlight: 5 Questions for Martin Starr of Silicon Valley

Rap artist Martin Starr is a household name. Well, OK, no he’s not. Not quite, anyway, and certainly not as a “rap artist.” However, you probably recognize him from HBO’s Silicon Valley, the wildly popular satirization of tech startup culture written and created by Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis and Butt-Head). As Gilfoyle, Starr portrays the software engineer and “system architect” of Pied Piper, the algorithmic game-changing brainchild of Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch). On the show, he’s an avowed Satanist and the bane of Pakistani co-worker Dinesh’s existence. His delivery is dry, his wit even drier, and it would be difficult to imagine the show working as well as it does without his balancing presence in the face of the frenetic and over-the-top absurdity in which Silicon Valley often traffics.

If none of the above rings a bell, then perhaps the ring of a high-school hallway bell rings a bell? As “geek” Bill Haverchuck on Freaks and Geeks, Starr cut his comedy teeth under the tutelage of Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) while rubbing elbows with pre-super-famous James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel. If either of the aforementioned still mean nothing to you, then know this: Martin Starr is a rap artist. Collaborating with the folk/bluegrass band Common Rotation, who formed in upstate New York nearly 20 years ago, Starr has found a kindred spirit with which to express himself via spoken word and rap.

In advance of his upcoming performance with Common Rotation at ZEFR’s super-secret (not anymore) and invitation-only party at the 11th annual Advertising Week in New York City, Martin Starr visited with ZEFR to talk about Silicon Valley, Freaks and Geeks, and his ever-evolving relationship with YouTube.

Talk about your rap aspirations. This is not some ironic side-project related to your comedy, you are serious about music.
I was raised in Los Angeles, so hip-hop music is part of my natural culture. It just makes sense that I have a connection to it. Also, with my friends growing up, there was a very ethnic mix. I listened to a lot of different types of music. Country was never one of those types [laughs]. I’ve always had an affinity for rap music and when I got a bit older, like in my early twenties, I started doing spoken word. It’s a valuable resource for me, creatively, in much the same way that acting or writing is, or TV, or movies. It’s just a resource that I use to get out what I need to get out.

If we make a graph that includes David Bowie, Jared Leto, and Eddie Murphy, where do you fit on this imaginary actor-musician spectrum?
[Laughs] You forgot the dude who dated Angelina Jolie. [Pauses, thinks] Billy Bob Thornton, right? He went crazy when someone asked him about his acting career. All he wanted to talk about was his band. I don’t know where I fall [on that spectrum], I just enjoy it. I do a lot of things to express myself and if this is something that people connect with, that’s awesome. And if not, then I will just do it for myself and I’ll enjoy it just as much.

Did you know your audition tape for Freaks and Geeks has been uploaded to YouTube?
No, but I’m not particularly surprised.

Freaks and Geeks Martin Starr

There are a lot of fan uploads from Silicon Valley as well. Usually HBO is fairly strict about its content. You can’t even buy seasons of their shows online, you have to be a cable subscriber, or wait for the DVDs.
They still have to be checked. YouTube still has to clear them with HBO. So, it sounds like HBO has approved them. And who cares, right? It’s free advertising.

Silicon Valley Martin Starr

What’s your own relationship with YouTube? Do you find it a valuable resource as a performer? You have some short films and comedy clips uploaded to the platform. Are you on YouTube a lot?
It’s clearly a valuable resource, because it definitely evens the playing field when it comes to accessibility and people’s creative outlets. You can make a short film on YouTube and if it is really good, you can use that as your calling card to make a feature. The best part is there’s a really different atmosphere on set where you’re doing a FunnyOrDie video or a CollegeHumor video than when you’re on a set where it costs 20 million dollars to get all these people together to make a movie. I also have friends who have a few YouTube channels, so those notifications will pop up and I’ll check out something new. My friend Nathan Barnatt has a channel. I like his videos. He does a lot of gaming stuff and I’m a bit of a gamer, though I’ve fallen off a bit. Charlyne Yi is great. I don’t know if she’s put a video out in a while, but she’s one of my good friends. She always has interesting things that are almost anti-mainstream. She’s just very uniquely who she is and they’re not pandering to anything. They’re very intentional and awesome. I love them.

Martin Starr and Common Rotation will be performing at the “ZEFR Celebrates Advertising Week” private party in New York City.


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