T.J. Miller is perpetually having a moment. The comedian left Silicon Valley amidst a hail of self-generated controversy, taking care to blast executive producer Alec Berg and love tap former co-star Thomas Middleditch on the way out. But that’s not to say his star will dim any time soon.
Here’s just a sampling of what’s on his plate: He’s the star of the upcoming The Emoji Movie, a recent HBO hour-long standup special and Comedy Central talk show The Gorburger Show, in which he plays an alien monster that hosts a Japanese-style game and talk show. That show just wrapped its first season on the network and has drawn rave reviews from fans and general confusion from guests. For The Emoji Movie, he’s parasailed into Cannes and confused Tilda Swinton for good measure.
In person, T.J. Miller is somehow more of a dynamo than one might expect. His energy is almost astounding, and he alternates between quiet contemplation and loud jocularity almost like a human Pixies song. But the first thing I notice is his immaculate French manicure, picked up during his trip to Cannes. That’s because Miller walks up to the interview holding a rubber chicken, with which he periodically fidgets throughout. Behind me sits his bodyguard, a product of his newfound Silicon Valley fame.
One wonders how he ever finds his off-switch or if, indeed, he even has one. I, for one, hope he never finds it any time soon. Read our conversation below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
So you guys are debuting at Cannes?
That’s what Tilda Swinton asked my wife because she was confused when we said we were there to promote The Emoji Movie and Tilda Swinton said, “Are they showing The Emoji Movie at Cannes?” And we were like, “No.” And she’s like, “Well, then why are you here?” We started saying—we debuted the international trailer, and I parasailed in. And she’s very fashionable, so yeah. It’s confusing to us too till then.
Well, congrats on that and Gorburger, right? That’s your new show?
Oh, yeah. And, you know, I often do interviews with—I don’t even know what they’re about necessarily, but Gorburger is a new show that I’m doing on Comedy Central. I’m EP'ing it, but, you know, it’s just—what I’ve been saying to a few people is it’s this really interesting opportunity for me to do my kind of my Louie, my Master of None, my Amy Schumer Show in the sense that I don’t want to do a show about my life. That’s not interesting to me. If I’m going to do a movie-like project, this really is it ‘cause I’ve always wanted to be a talk show host, but I don’t think anybody’s really that interested in the T.J. Miller Show. I’m bored enough with myself that I wouldn’t want to kind of see me every night, and so it’s this fun thing where instead of John Oliver, who has a very specific viewpoint, very specific comedic voice, Gorburger has a different voice, different sensibility, and is interested in the human condition. He doesn’t have any opinions other than the fact that Usher is the greatest human dancer that’s ever lived, and he is having trouble distinguishing the difference between a hog and a chicken. So these are the kind of things that he is trying to figure out. Also, if human beings have the ability to release the death anxiety, whether non-morality is relative or absolute, you know? Just the really funny stuff. Just the real giggly, lovely stuff.
So balancing everything—all the shows, movies, everything—how do you set up—
All of them, mediocre. All of them, mildly amusing. You know, golly. When will we be able to just bring into the narrative, Silicon Valley?
You started with Emoji. So you already opened up the door to other things?
Right, exactly. No, no, no. I feel as though, you know, if I didn’t have kind of this work ethic that was driven by this sort of altruistic mission to pepper people’s lives with comedy because life, at times, is this tragic endeavor that’s permeated by sadness, hardship, and challenge. That combined with sort of trying to help people understand that in a post-religious, post-meaning society, time is the closest thing we have to a deity. That sort of stuff, which I deal with in my standup—which Comedy Central has been really helpful with—that really drives me to work as hard as I do. So it’s just a question of, like, you know, knowing that you have to come—I was just in New York yesterday doing press for The Emoji Movie and parasailing into Cannes, and just all kinds of stuff like that. Hey, Abe, can I have a water? All sorts of stuff like that.
It is hard to all balance, but when it means a lot to you to make people laugh, and you know that you can only reach some people with Gorburger, but completely different people with Transformers and The Emoji Movie, completely different people with Silicon Valley, and your standup, I’m trying to make as many people laugh as possible. Lately, what I’ve been saying is that I’m really a commercial artist. I like big movies. I like working with Viacom and doing a comedy show on Comedy Central. That stuff is really interesting to me. It’s like, you know, the real street credit culture, artistic stuff, I leave that to my wife, Kate. And in the meantime, I just scream in funny voices using puppets.
From three different comedians. Do you just view them all as the TJ Miller overall project?
Yeah. I just did this film called Underwater, with Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel, the coolest man in all of France. And, you know, I was the comedy in that film, but I had to match the tone of the film just like I did with Cloverfield. And so, yeah. I mean, actually, that’s a really good way of putting it; that this isn’t, like—this project, this thing—it’s like my music album. Like, that joke was made to satirize celebrities that crossed over into mediums that they shouldn’t just because they’re famous. But the payoff for that joke is actually coming in two years when I’m famous enough to refuse to talk about anything in any interview or press unless it’s about that album and the remix tape and how it was received. So this really is kind of a life that bleeds into comedy. Comedy bleeding back into the life, and then you know, in some ways, all of this—my wife and I just got a place in New York, and somebody said all of this—Patton Oswalt said this—that all of this is, in many ways, to get people to see my standup and decide whether or not they like it because that’s the only medium that I can directly speak with the American public and the world at large. And we need that, especially right now. I think these are all mediums of comedy. You’re either producing television, starring in television shows, being in movies, getting a French manicure. These are all the kind of—
Were you joking? Is that really from Cannes?
That’s legit. That’s really a French manicure.
So weird. It’s so weird.
You got them done in France?
Yeah. And we were so jetlagged. I kept falling asleep while it was happening. And the manicurist didn’t really know how to navigate that. So she kept trying to talk to me, but she couldn’t speak any English. She just spoke French. So she would ask the same questions. “So, you arrived last night?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And then, she would go, “You arrived when? Last night?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So it was pretty—that was a very strange experience. But is there any other way for the executive producer of Gorburger to arrive at Cannes Film Festival?
You got that Gorburger money, dude. Now, you’re done.
Oh, yeah. That’s the real deal—that sad union scale puppeteering money. 'Cause Gorburger is not just one puppeteer. It’s someone is in the suit, and then there are three puppeteers working his eyes and his sort of—this mask kind of expression. And then, I control his mouth and facial movements. So it’s one of the more collaborative things I’ve done. And I mean—and I was in Yogi Bear 3-D.
And then, by the end of the interview, he was in a fur coat, and he stormed off the set and got in a car and left.
Miller on Larry King’s interview with Gorburger
Do you always feel like there’s almost an Adult Swim arm of Comedy Central that’s happening at late night that you’re now the second show of?
The first of which would be?
Yeah. I mean @midnight doesn’t strike me as particularly Adult Swim. We never pitched Gorburger to Adult Swim because we felt it was too much like an Adult Swim show to be on that network. They also, I think, were kind of like, “Well, we have The Eric Andre Show, and that’s the craziest talk show in the world.” It was like, “Well, what about a host from another world?” And so, you know, I think Comedy Central—I think it’s a really good question in the sense that I agree that that’s beginning to happen, but because it’s Comedy Central—and again, this is the way I like to word it—it’s much more mass accessible. Like, Adult Swim has, you know, white on black chyrons of how few people are watching the network. They’re almost proud of the fact that they’re, like, hipster, and nobody really watches their stuff, and everything’s too obtuse to really wrap your mind around. And that’s either not the case, or if it is, then who are you making this content for? Whereas, Comedy Central has a real mind to, like, you know, have programming that’s everything from The Daily Show and Problematic with Moshe Kasher to Another Period and Drunk History. It’s a network that is looking to bring comedy to all kinds of viewers and every demographic of audience. That’s the business I’m in, baby.
Would you ever host a straight-up talk show?
I don’t think I would ever host a talk show. I think Gorburger is a much better realization or actualization of that skillset. 'Cause I am an improviser by trade, and I do love learning about other people. Like, one of the most thrilling things from this season was Gorburger asking Larry King, like, what makes a great interview? You know, how are you a great host? How do you do that? And then, Larry King started—just because of who he is—he slowly made his way back to interviewing Gorburger, and Gorburger was able to be like, “Larry, you’re doing it right now. You’re back to just asking me—let me ask you the questions, and all you have to do is answer them.” And it was so funny to sort of see him in a situation that he’d never really been in. And then, by the end of the interview, he was in a fur coat, and he stormed off the set and got in a car and left. He didn’t even say goodbye. And I wouldn’t either if I was Larry King.
Yeah. Gorburger told him that the interview would be done at a certain time, and the minute after that time, Larry King was like, “I’m out of here, dude.”
He’s a pro.
Yeah. Well, when you’re his age with his—yeah. When you’re him, you’re like, “Fuck this. I’m done talking to this puppet. I’m out of here.” And we loved that. We thought—you know, and it made for really interesting television.