The news out of Silicon Valley has been pretty grim lately.
Startup valuations are getting slashed. The share prices of some of Silicon Valley’s most admired companies are slipping by double digits. Venture capital funding is drying up, and the Bay Area real estate market might finally be overheating. And, of course, there are layoffs.
Why not throw a party to cheer everyone up? And what could be better to soothe wounded Silicon Valley egos than the ninth annual Crunchies, the industry awards gala put on by tech blog TechCrunch?
Held on Monday night in San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, opposite City Hall, the Crunchies are a tongue-in-cheek Oscars clone for startups and people who invest in them. Started in 2007 by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, the Crunchies are something like an excessively moneyed nerd prom. Attendees fork over at least $115 to watch tech employees claim prizes like Fastest Rising Startup or Founder of the Year.
Outside this year’s event, there were four rotating searchlights sweeping the sky over three shamrock-green carpets. There wasn’t a strict dress code, which meant that attendees’ outfits spanned kilts, tuxedos, startup t-shirts over jeans, startup t-shirts under blazers and women carrying Chanel and Prada handbags.
The Crunchies have an open bar and a recent track record of explosively bad behavior: Last year, Crunchies host and “Silicon Valley” actor T.J. Miller repeatedly called the girlfriend of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick a “bitch” onstage. The year before that, John Oliver made mincemeat of the crowd, dropping a viral rant about just how stupid and insidery the Crunchies are.
Between Oliver, Miller and this year’s host, comedian and actress Chelsea Peretti, it’s become a part of the Crunchies routine to hire a host who’s likely to say mean things to and about the people in attendance. This is probably because having an A-list celebrity tell tech employees and investors that they are overpaid dorks makes them feel flattered that they’re being paid attention to at all.
Given the depressing market situation, with Twitter and LinkedIn stock sitting in the toilet, attendees showed up on Monday night looking to be paid attention to in a way that didn’t hurt their bank accounts. Peretti did a pretty good job of delivering it to them.
“It’s the glam and glitz of the Oscars, with none of the public interest,” Peretti said right out of the gate. “I love what you did with the poor people [Audience laugh] … the last time I was in a room with this many rich people I was getting gang-banged at the Rosewood Hotel.”
Peretti zeroed in on Uber, the $62.5 billion startup-in-name-only that is perhaps most regularly held up as Silicon Valley’s darling child*. She specifically called out the company’s lax hiring standards for drivers, joking that they recruit from mental hospitals and comparing them to Kobe Bryant, who was once accused of sexual assault.
That last line from Peretti had such staying power that Troy Carter, Atom Factory CEO and co-presenter of the next award (Fastest Rising Startup), took a moment to marvel aloud that Peretti had made a rape joke at all.
Just a few hours before the Crunchies began, it came out that $4.5 billion insurance startup Zenefits founder and CEO Parker Conrad had left the company and its board because of a messy compliance scandal. But the company was still among the nominees for Fastest Rising Startup. A nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd when Zenefits’ name was called by Carter and co-presenter Josh Constine.
In easily the most poignant moment of the whole evening, when Slack won the above mentioned Fastest Rising Startup award (it was runner-up to Yik Yak last year), four black women engineers accepted the award on behalf of co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield.
But by and large, the Crunchies were a bloodless and, at times, awkward affair. Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann (the butt of many of Peretti’s jokes) blurted out his phone number in a confusing joke about scoring a date**. Michael Arrington, the notorious founder and boss of TechCrunch when it was a much more garrulous and personality-driven publication, appeared onstage and looked as though he had wandered into the wrong room.
One immediate and obvious observation from the night was the number of major award recipients who were not on hand. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Travis Kalanick all sent surrogates to accept awards. Last year, green carpet attendees included Marc Benioff, Kalanick, Tinder co-founder Sean Rad, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel and angel investor Ron Conway.
Benchmark’s Bill Gurley, winner of the VC of the Year award and one of the industry’s loudest critics of unicorn startups, took photos at the top of the green carpet. When asked what he thought about the current state of the market, he said that he expects Silicon Valley to “move onto a more sober environment.”
“But that’s not the proper topic of conversation at an awards show,” he added.
Michael Arrington, who attempted a more discreet exit, said that this year’s show “was definitely better than last year.”
As for the way things have been going? How do the Crunchies fit into the current chaos?
“Well, things have changed a lot. And they’re going to change more.”
*One company that wasn’t targeted: BuzzFeed, whose founder and CEO is Chelsea Peretti’s brother, Jonah Peretti.
** The phone number he gave is legit. We checked.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.