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Roasting Silicon Valley: A comedy show where techies pay to be ridiculed

Three men, each holding a microphone, are superimposed against a cityscape with a fiery, dramatic sky. The central man wears a beanie, while the other two are speaking animatedly.
Comedians Nikita Oster, Austin Nasso and Jesse Warren perform a tech roast at the Marines Memorial Theater on Saturday. | Source: Illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard; photos by Camille Cohen for The Standard

An Nvidia product manager was under attack by three men in black. He was sweating, his beads of perspiration captured on an HD camera, and projected onto a large screen on stage.

“So you’re, like, really rich right now?” he was asked.

The Nvidia manager shook his head. “No, I joined a year ago.”

“Oh sucks to be you… how does it feel to know your colleagues pity you?”

The 500-strong audience cackled in delight.

This line of questioning would be considered horrifically rude in most circumstances, but it was exactly what the San Francisco audience had paid $43 to $139 to see last Saturday night at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre. The 90-minute “Socially Inept Tech Roast Show” was hosted by three “recovering techies,” Austin Nasso, Nikita Oster, and Jesse Warren, who are turning their disillusionment with the industry into a jam-packed comedy tour.

A crowd is enjoying a show, with two women in front; one covers her face, laughing, while the other smiles. The audience behind them is also laughing.
Founders flinch when they get called out on their bad startup ideas. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard
A man with a beard and short hair is holding a microphone and pointing to the sky while speaking on stage, with a camera operator smiling in the background.
Co-host Jesse Warren asks if anyone actually likes their job during the Tech Roast show. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

“Tech people recognize the absurdity of their jobs,” said Nasso, a former software engineer at Microsoft, in an interview before he took the stage. Furthermore, no one is roasted without consent, said Oster, a former game developer.  “People opt in… we’re not about calling people out.” 

The comedy trio’s modus operandi is not to humiliate individual techies, but to lampoon the broader absurdities of the scene, they stressed. But no topic is out of bounds, said Warren, a former AI engineer, who’s interned at SpaceX and Microsoft. “We lean into layoffs,” he said.  

Their cutting social commentary is why everyone from interns to engineers to Kyum Kim, the cofounder of Blind, and Bryan Johnson of Blueprint diet and “Don’t Die” infamy, have lined up to be roasted. (A 90-minute special starring Kyum Kim will be released on the crew’s YouTube channel this summer.)

Three men sit on a couch. The man in the middle, wearing a black "SOCIALLY INEPT" shirt, cups the faces of the two men on either side of him, who also wear black.
Comedians Austin Nasso, Nikita Oster and Jesse Warren get in the zone backstage before the show. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

Saisri Akondi, the 27-year-old CEO of D.sole, a smart insole that monitors diabetic neuropathy, made a beeline for the Socially Inept merchandise table before the show on Saturday. She perused the hoodies and tees printed with “I am not a robot,” and the Zoom “mute” button, before selecting a $25 “LAID OFF” tee, with the “AI” highlighted in red. 

A long-time fan—“The memes, they’re amazing,” she said—Akondi hoped she’d get roasted that night. Thirty minutes in, she got her wish.

“So, are you just really into feet, then?” commented Nasso, after Akondi told the comedians about her insole company. The screen promptly cut to a team photo from D.Sole’s website, with the founders awkwardly cropped mid-calf. “So you’re the foot girl, but your feet are cut off?” he asked. “Why should we trust you?”

Socially Inept was formed in 2018, a result of its founding trio’s burnout from their tech jobs. “Many people in tech feel trapped,” said Nasso. “They start by loving their jobs and then get disillusioned with them.”  Warren and Nasso met on the Seattle comedy club circuit, and immediately began workshopping tech roasts, figuring the industry was ripe for a takedown. Oster, also part of the comedy scene, joined shortly after, and the trio played their first San Francisco show in 2019.

Their satirical takes resonated with their audience, a broad mix of engineers, founders, venture capitalists and entry-level workers, and they quickly gained a techie following via in-person events. They transitioned to social media during Covid, and their audience ballooned. Today, the trio’s combined social media accounts have more than 2.5 million followers.

‘I felt like they let me off easy.’ 

Yu Shen Lu, a machine learning engineer at TikTok, was the only audience member (or the only honest one) on Saturday night who admitted to being on call for her job that night. If a TikTok superior needed her, she would have to rush out, she said. Her honesty earned her a place on the stage and a barrage of questions about her content moderation work.

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen?” Nasso asked.

“I’m in audio,” she replied.

“OK, the weirdest thing you’ve heard.”

“Pikachu porn,” she replied.

“How do you know it’s Pikachu porn?” he asked.

“It’s very….squeaky.”

A few pika-pika jokes later, Shen Lu returned to her seat.

The Socially Inept crew have noticed tech trends rise and fall. Warren said he has personally experienced cuddle-puddle mansion parties – “non-sexual,” he clarified—Big Tech office tours, and one-on-one Zooms with tech leaders. “Right now the conversation is all about cyber trucks and AI startups,” said Nasso. “There’s less crypto, less NFTs.”

Three men are standing on a stage holding microphones, presenting. They wear dark clothing and are in front of a large screen showing text and names.
The comedians heckle Nvidia employees in the audience. "How rich are you?" | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard
A man in a suit is laughing loudly while holding a microphone in a dimly lit theater. The audience around him is also smiling and laughing.
San Francisco influencer Zach Wilson cringes when he gets roasted. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

It’s never the same show, the group said, though they do have recurring bits: getting audience members to silently arrange themselves by total compensation package, live swiping on someone’s Hinge account, roasting people’s LinkedIn accounts on the big screen. 

On Saturday, they mocked an Nvidia intern for embellishing his resume, called out a project manager of a digital wallet for providing “entrapment as a service,” and told a Salesforce engineer that they’re too boring to roast.

“I felt like they let me off easy,” Shen Lu told The Standard after the set. “They could have roasted me harder…”