It's 1975. Computers are the size of a city block, take several months to add 2 and 3, and are ignored by the vast majority of the populace. During this time, a small group of technically-inclined people, the 'nerds' of the world, gather in the Homebrew Computer Club to share their latest inventions. A one-sided rivalry quickly springs up between two of the nerds, The Casanova Steve Jobs and the Hollywood Nerd Bill Gates, which is exacerbated when Jobs wins the club's competition (by presenting a computer with an actual monitor) and also steals the heart of the most attractive girl in the club, Sally. Gates is, once again, left with nothing, but he vows that he'll strike back and never again lose to Jobs.
From here the play follows both nascent software moguls as they move through life. Jobs has a meteoric rise to the top of the computing industry, aided every step of the way by his long-suffering best friend Steve Wozniak and his girlfriend Sally. Gates, meanwhile, works with his best friend Paul Allen to backstab, steal, and cheat his way to the top, ruining everyone he comes across (including Tim Patterson, inventor of DOS, and Tom Watson, head of IBM). When Jobs' ego finally gets the better of him and drives away his supporters, Gates takes the opportunity to raid the Apple offices, steal their designs, and establish Microsoft as the only game in town. Jobs is fired by his board of directors and rendered homeless, Apple is circling the drain, and Microsoft is poised to take over the world with the few remaining independent nerds too disorganized to mount any resistance to Gates' literal hit squads. It's up to Jobs to remember his roots, rally the nerds, and challenge Microsoft — first in an antitrust lawsuit, then in a climactic lightsaber battle — for the future of computers, technology, and nerdom as we know it.
...needless to say, it's Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
A 2007 musical by Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner with music by Hal Goldberg, Nerds: A Musical Software Satire chronicles the lives of the two most influential people in computer history — Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — as well as many other key players, including Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Tom Watson, and Tim Patterson. Thoroughly devoted to the Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny, this musical is chock-full of gags, shout outs, and homages, while at the same time chronicling the path of computer technology from the ENIAC to modern machines. An Updated Re-release was produced in 2013 which was renamed to just Nerds and incorporates the last six years of computing advances, including the glut of social media, the rise of mobile devices, and, of course, Steve Jobs' death.
- A God Am I: Jobs, explicitly. He sends an email to God after he's been thrown out of Apple, telling God that, since he (Jobs) is also a kind of god, he could use some peer-to-peer advice.
- All Just a Dream: When Jobs is infected by the Microsoft virus, he hallucinates Oracle dancing with him and teaching him to 'Think Different.'
- Angry Mob Song: 'Revolution Reprise', which features the united nerds vowing to take down the Microsoft empire.
- Bad Boss: Tom Watson, who fires employees for singing off-key, and who attacks the sound guy when his mike doesn't cut off after his scene is over.
- Jobs and Gates turn into this as their companies grow. Jobs is just a jerk who steals his subordinate's ideas, but Gates will have people abducted and forced to dance at his whim.
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The Italian clown whom Gates summons after Myrtle decides to test Gates' claim that he can have 'anything at all.' The clown enters and does a quick routine before being tazed and dragged away. This dance nothing to do with anything, although the clown does make a few appearances later on.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Everywhere. From Watson attacking the sound guy when his microphone doesn't cut off soon enough, to Gates trying to end the play before his inevitable loss by bribing the cast (resulting in Jobs yelling at the curtain pullers to raise the curtain back up because the play isn't done yet), this play heavily breaks the fourth wall.
- Cardboard Box Home: Jobs, after being thrown out of Apple. Watson and Patterson too, after Gates is done with them.
- The Casanova: Jobs, at least before he is consumed by his own ego.
- Climactic Music: 'Battle of the Century', which occurs during the final lightsaber battle.
- Comically Small Bribe: Gates and Allen want to buy DOS, so they offer three Playboy magazines, 2 meat sticks, and an action figure. Patterson takes it, saying it has to be worth more than his other option (a 50% stake in the then-nascent Starbucks).
- Crazy Homeless Person: Tom Watson, who becomes a destitute, paranoid cocaine addict after Gates forces him out of IBM. Tim Patterson is also rendered homeless after Gates scams him out of DOS, but he at least seems to be marginally sane.
- Create Your Own Villain: Tom Watson teaches Gates to be totally ruthless, which allows Gates to scam Patterson out of DOS. But instead of selling DOS to IBM, Gates keeps DOS and forces all hardware-centric companies to buy the only software on the market at that point — his. Watson is thrown out of his company and trampled mercilessly underfoot. Oops.
- Darkest Hour: After Jobs loses his company and his secrets, he winds up homeless and living in Golden Gate park. Sally won't talk to him, Woz has his own problems (namely, Apple's continuing collapse under the Microsoft onslaught), and his email to God is blocked by a mailer daemon. And then he gets infected with the Microsoft virus. Meanwhile, without Jobs, the nerds are scattered and helpless against Microsoft.
- Dark Reprise: Several songs have them. 'Revolution Starts With One' and 'Whatever It Takes', originally sung by Jobs and Wozniak and by Gates and Allen respectively, have reprises after Jobs and Gates have driven off Wozniak and Allen. Both inventors realize what they're missing. Additionally, 'Revolution' has another reprise when the nerds unite to take on Gates.
- 'I Hope I Win' begins as an energetic, peppy song with the nerds hoping to win the Homebrew Computer Club competition. Its themes are repeated when the nerds fight desperately to stop Gates from conquering the world.
- Dirty Coward: Watson and Patterson flee rather than help Jobs when he's infected with the Microsoft virus.
- Double Entendre: 'Let's Merge' is full of these. It features Bill Gates and Myrtle Wengert (inventor of the first web browser) salsa-ing across the stage as they breathily talk about how they have 'the urge to merge' right away and to do it all night.
- Dream-Crushing Handicap: Allen might not be disabled, but Gates is accurate in his assessment of Allen's chances at playing in the NBA — namely, he doesn't have any.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Bill Gates was just a nerd, but he becomes a ruthless software titan, having Macintosh users hunted down and infected with his computer viruses, and abducting foreign clowns to dance for his amusement.
- His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Oracle insists that 'Oracle' is her name, not a title, so Jobs needs to stop calling her 'The oracle'.
- Hollywood Homely: Myrtle, the nerd that is attracted to Gates. She has headgear, but that's about it.
- Hollywood Nerd: Everyone to a certain extent, but especially Bill Gates and Myrtle Wengert.
- Gates tries to derive what 'cool' is mathematically. When Allen tells him this is stupid, he just sends goons to abduct Steve Jobs and force that information out of him.
- Homage: Several of Star Wars. Bill Gates' office and outfit are identical to Palpatine's, and the final duel is a lightsaber battle.
- Hope Spot: After Jobs is infected with the Microsoft virus, Wozniak finds him and contacts Apple technical support to debug Jobs. They seem to be making a little progress... at which point a Microsoft hit squad breaks into the Apple support center and infects the entire staff with the Microsoft virus.
- "I Am" Song: 'I Am Just a Nerd'.
- "I Am Great!" Song: Bill Gates' rap after stealing Apples' secrets and using them to build a superior system. He brags about himself and his company during the product release."From Harvard, there's no testing me!
"One six double donut on my SAT!
"Paul Allen, he's my right-hand guy!
My crew's IQ never ends, like pi!"
- "I Want" Song: The first song, "I Hope I Win", with the nerds wanting to win the Homebrew Computer Club competition.
- Near-Villain Victory: As the second act begins, Microsoft owns 76% of 'everything' and has no serious competition.
- Rap: After Gates steals Job's secrets (regarding both computers and social activities), he does a big rap song ('Windows Rap') for his next OS update announcement because he thinks it's 'cool'. Additionally, the final battle starts as a rap battle between Jobs and Gates (which Jobs wins) before escalating to a lightsaber duel.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Gates tries to build a replacement for Allen after Allen resigns, but the robot malfunctions.
- Scare Chord: IBM has them, and they play whenever someone says the letters I, B, or M. This causes problems when Watson tries to just say the letter 'I' but can't because the first chord keeps interrupting him. Microsoft gets some better ones once Gates outmaneuvers Watson.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In the original, Gates gets the antitrust lawsuit shut down by bribing the judge and the government, forcing Jobs to attack him with a lightsaber. In the rerelease, he tries this (and Patterson accepts), but Jobs refuses, eventually causing Gates to take up his lightsaber.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Myrtle, after she develops a web browser, is also much more attractive to Gates.
- Shout-Out: To several memes and games.
- The pie chart indicating how much of the world Microsoft owns is shaped like Pac-Man. When Gates and Allen talk about taking the rest of it, the Pac-Man 'mouth' opens and closes, and Pac-Man Fever sounds play.
- To get into the resistance meeting, the nerds have to pass captcha tests.
- When the nerds are trying to figure out what the internet is for, Phyllis and Therkla announce that they think you could post videos on it. Their example is Two Girls One Cup.
- The clown cries out, 'Don't taze me, bro!'
- Oracle teaches Jobs to 'Think Different.'
- The nerds sing that the final lightsaber battle would be cooler 'in 3D', referencing the fad of 3D movies.
- Of course, since it's a live performance, it's already in 3D. Doesn't stop the nerds from putting on 3D glasses, though.
- Soapbox Sadie: Sally, who cares about the environment and leaves Jobs when he abandons his initial goals to revolutionize society with computers in order to bask in the limelight.
- Special Effects Failure: Subverted. Gates draws his lightsaber and makes a buzzing sound with his lips. Jobs mocks him and says it's obviously a plastic lightsaber. So Gates cuts off the clown's arm with it.
- Sudden Musical Ending: During the bowing, the cast breaks out into a completely unrelated song, 'I Wanna Get Down and Nerdy' which has nothing to do with anything that came before.
- Summon Backup Dancers: Oracle seems able to do this in her song. The dancers include Ghandi and Amelia Earhart, examples of people who knew how to 'Think Different.'
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Gates and Allen try to rap during their first product release, but they can't even get the rhymes right. Gates fixes this for his next product release.
- Talking the Monster to Death: Gates wins the lightsaber duel, but when Jobs begs him not to hurt him, Gates is reminded of his own past as a bullied nerd, and realizes that he's become what he hates. So he starts a charitable foundation and agrees to stop with the hit squads, the code stealing, and his other misdeeds.
- Updated Re-release: After Jobs' death, the play was reworked to include both that event and other major advancements in the interim, such as the rise of mobile devices and the glut of social media.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There was a real Homebrew Computer Club, but neither Gates nor Jobs were part of it. Jobs visited Xerox's PARC labs and was inspired, but he didn't actually loot the place. Similarly, Gates didn't actually break into Apple and slap Steve Jobs around until he gave up his code. Jobs was fired by Apple, but his next company, NeXT was actually quite successful. And there was a real antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, but it didn't end in a climactic lightsaber duel.
- Villain Song: 'A Step Ahead' for Watson, and 'Whatever It Takes' for Allen and Gates.
- What an Idiot!: Patterson, who repeatedly turns down offers of stock in companies like Starbucks and Google because he doesn't think they could possibly ever be worth anything.
- Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: The clown's plan for dealing with Gates. Jobs convinces the nerds to go with his antitrust lawsuit plan instead.