Here’s what it was like to watch the play about the downfall of Travis Kalanick with a load of Uber employees

Uber founder Travis Kalanick.

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Uber founder Travis Kalanick.
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REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

  • Groups of Uber employees in the UK went to see a new play in London about the downfall of Travis Kalanick.
  • “Brilliant Jerks” re-creates key incidents in Kalanick’s downfall.
  • The play also tackled themes such as drug addiction and adoption.

On Wednesday night, several groups of Uber employees sat in a cavernous space underneath Waterloo station in London and watched “Brilliant Jerks,” a play that re-creates the downfall of the Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick.

Of course, the crowdfunded play couldn’t specifically name Kalanick or Uber for legal reasons. So it was about a nameless taxi app, and Kalanick became “Tyler Janowski.”

Uber employees watched as actors re-created key events in Kalanick’s downfall: There was the infamous trip to a karaoke escort bar in Seoul, South Korea. And there was the incident where female employees weren’t given leather jackets but the male members of the team were.

The actors also portrayed the kind of workplace sexism that the former employee Susan Fowler described in her explosive blog post that contributed to Kalanick leaving the company he founded.

One actor played a female employee who likened the taxi company’s code base to a cathedral, built by many people over time to become a giant, intricate work. But the actor playing her manager discounted her metaphor, instead heaping praise on a male employee who had a similar idea.

It could have been uncomfortable viewing for the Uber employees in the audience, and for some it appeared to be as they looked on awkwardly. But others laughed along with the jokes and seemed to enjoy the performance.

The play told three stories: the downfall of the CEO, the experience of a young woman who worked at the company, and an employee’s difficult time working at the company.

But it also introduced new themes to the story. It grappled with subjects such as alcoholism, drug addiction, adoption, HIV, and homophobia. The cavalcade of issues became distracting after a while, but it helped to broaden the story beyond a focus on Uber.

“Brilliant Jerks” takes its name from a comment by Arianna Huffington, an Uber board member, who stepped in to help the company during its crisis last year.

“I made it very clear that we were going to abandon this cult of the top performer, which is often what excuses bad behavior,” Huffington told CNN in October. “So I called it from now on, no brilliant jerks will be allowed.”

This isn’t the first time employees of a large technology company have taken a trip to see a critical depiction of their employer.

In 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took staff members to a screening of “The Social Network,” a film that purportedly depicted the founding of Facebook. “To celebrate a period of intense activity at Facebook, we decided to go to the movies. We thought this particular movie might be amusing,” a Facebook representative told Reuters at the time.

“Brilliant Jerks” is being performed at the Vault Festival in Waterloo until Sunday.