• Labels be damned: T.J. Miller is dedicated to funny (Laughspin interview)

    You may know T.J. Miller from his role as Ranger Jones in the 2010 flick Yogi Bear, his brilliant comedy hip-hop album The Extended Play E.P. from last year, his seemingly endless appearances in high-profile Web videos and short films, his stand-up comedy special and DVD No Real Reason… you get the idea. He’s all over the place. You’ll even be able to see him early next year when Fox’s midseason series The Goodwin Games premieres.

    More immediately, the curly-haired funny man’s new stand-up showcase series Mash Up on Comedy Central debuts tonight at 12:30 am ET. The unique show features comedians’ stand-up sets, which are intercut with a fully cast video sketch, basically serving as an act-out for each bit. There’s also stand-alone video sketches scripted around two seemingly disparate words or concepts. Comedians Hannibal Burress, Jared Logan, Deon Cole and many more will be featured throughout the season. I chatted with Miller about the show, trying new things and the “alt beast” and much more. Check it out.

    It’s possible you have the most fun website ever.
    Was that fun pulling around a hamster? Tugging him down from the balloon? The Lynx are pretty fun, too. I used to work with that guy at Radio Shack and now he’s my webmaster.

    So Mash Up is about to premiere. Did you personally select the comics for it?
    You know, Comedy Central chooses the comedians ultimately. They were very sweet. They let us have quite a bit of input on who would be chosen. I just wanted to be representative of the people who I thought were really funny. Then we wanted to show comics that people had seen before, but not in this format. Then we wanted to show comics that no one had really ever seen before but deserved to be seen. Then we wanted to show one or two comics that were terrible and shouldn’t be on TV. We got a good mix.

    Wait, you actually wanted people on the show who you don’t think should be on television?
    Oh yea! I wanted to show terrible people, man. You have to have one or two really bad comedians to make everybody else seem better. No one ever really thinks about that. You want to sort of lower the bar so that everybody else exceeded expectations. Does that make sense?

    I just never thought of it like that before.
    That’s the difference. That’s why I have this show on Comedy Central. You want to leave them wanting less, always.

    That certainly opens the door for comedians with no credits to go, ‘Hey, I can be that unfunny guy that makes everyone else seem better!’
    That’s what I’m hoping for! There aren’t a lot of places in television where you can showcase one, two, three, or even four terrible comics. I think they deserve a place in television just as much as the greats do. I mean, I’ve certainly made a career for myself, haven’t I?!

    T.J. Miller: providing opportunities to those who don’t deserve it.

    But it’s not a straight stand-up show. It’s sort of like Premium Blend meets Shorties Watching Shorties. You can tell even by the trailer though that you guys went all out on this. Pacific Ocean shoots. Real live bed monsters. Super surprising celebrity cameos by not-to-be-named Full House stars!
    We really tried to. I come from sketch comedy and improv at Second City in Chicago. And now I’m here. It’s sort of the perfect thing. Here I know all of these great sketch comedians from Chicago. Then I know a lot of stand-ups from being a stand-up there. But we really wanted to go all out because you usually only get one season. I just wanted to try and get the best show that I possibly could while giving good opportunities to people who I think deserve it.

    You certainly have a great cast of people who deserve it: people like Hannibal Burress and Jared Logan.
    And also C.J. Sullivan and Sean Flannery and Nick Vatterot and Pete Holmes and Kumail Nanjiani was on the special. Those are all Chicago guys. And the sketch players in all the films were on my Second City touring company and now we’re on this TV show together. It’s so exciting.

    I saw The Gorburger Show last week. Hilarious. [TJ stars in a new web series on Funny Or Die as a big, blue furry giant monster who takes over a Japanese talk show.] (see video below)
    I was worried it would be too weird. I loved working with the directors of it. It’s kind of like the Illegal Art remix tape (The Extended LP), which is out now, where I’m clearly trying to change some things. It’s a remix of the original satirical fake music album that I did to make fun of celebrities that try to crossover to music. I remixed my own album like the way rappers do the same thing. And I did that with Illegal Art, which is now a real label. They do Girl Talk and all these sort of great electronic artists. They’re starting to begin a megamix on that album. It’s really cool. You should listen to it. It’s all streaming online.

    It really seems like you’re trying to flip everything on its head. The Gorburger Show is kind of like the ‘anti-talk show’. The Extended Play EP was like the anti-rap album. You’ve got this stand-up show. It’s not quite a stand-up show but it’s not just a sketch show. You’re really just trying to flip things around, aren’t you?
    That’s a good way to put it. I like to flip things around whether it’s my girlfriend or a coin or this final hand of blackjack that I’m dealing. I like to flip things on their heads. Because I’m doing Yogi Bear or because I’m on the Goodwin Games, a Fox sitcom, and because I’m in Gravity Falls (on Disney)– those are very mainstream. It’s important for me as a shitty creative artist — not necessarily funny but can make a lot of weird faces — it’s important for me to do things that are different. I’m trying to make everybody laugh. I think it’s important to be on a Fox sitcom because those people aren’t going to ‘get’ Gorburger at all or be interested in either of my fake music albums or particularly get into my stand-up. But Mash Up is more in the Gorburger realm so I just try to be all kinds of stuff.

    I just did a scene in something that was very sentimental and very sweet and I make this big speech about my “daughter.” I can’t flip that on its head at all. I can’t fuck with that at all. I just try to do the best job that I can with that. But then I can get on Twitter and mess around with different stuff. And if it’s not Mash Up, then it’ll be something else. It’ll be animation in a totally different way. Or it’ll be just a sketch show with a weird spin. I think TV needs to provide people with two options: either they can see something that they are usually accustomed to or they can see me doing things that nobody should be accustomed to.

    You’re almost sneaking in ‘alt comedy’ into the mainstream.
    Yea. With Mash Up, Nick Vatterott and I–

    Love Nick Vatterott.
    Fucking amazing. He’s just brilliant. He’s been my co-producing partner for years. He and I produce Mash Up. That’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning. That’s what Chicago taught everybody. You have this alternative sensibility but you can also do it in mainstream venues in front of mainstream audiences if you work hard enough. Nick Vatterott and I have always seen it the same way. The job is not doing stand-up. The job is banging our heads against the wall to figure out how to get audiences in Kansas City to go nuts for our weird two-man sketch stuff and getting people to understand that that’s okay.

    Nick doing his monster hands bit and weird giant set list bit in Myrtle Beach is a big part of it. I’m not a huge fan that kind of just stick to the curb. ‘Okay, well, I think I’m fine with just making people laugh in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago.’ Those cities. I don’t fault them. But they’re not really doing everything they can. They’re shying away from the real challenge: doing the thing that makes everybody laugh at a community theater, or at Stanford and Sons Comedy Club [in Kansas City], or at Skyline in Wisconsin, or an intellectual crowd in San Francisco.

    Now you work both clubs and the ‘alt scene.’ A lot of people see you as an ‘alt comic’ and I think my favorite way that you put it was in an episode of Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird where you said, ‘Am I really part of the alt community? I play clubs all over. I’m not an alternative comedian just because my material is stupid.’
    That’s exactly right. Just because I say stupid and silly things doesn’t mean I’m necessarily an alternative comedian. I came up in the alternative scene in Chicago because there wasn’t much of a club scene. The rooms that I was learning to do stand-up in for three years were all alternative rooms: bar shows, shows in weird spaces, back of diners, open mikes. That’s where I cut my teeth and where I got my teeth bandaged.

    I was an improviser and I was acting and doing sketch comedy and stand-up. I just kind of transitioned into more stand-up because it’s more profitable and very challenging– there’s plenty of funny work to be done in stand-up. You can spend your whole life doing nothing but stand-up and still never have spent enough time on it. A lot of the comedians on the show are good friends of mine. But a guy like Deon Cole doesn’t even see eye to eye with me. I had been watching him do stand-up in Chicago. He’d be performing on the South Side and the North Side rooms then he became a writer for Conan and regular performer and such a powerful stand-up– to look up to someone your whole life and ask them, ‘Hey, would you do my show?’ is just awesome. I imagine it’s like staring into the eyes of a unicorn and then realizing it’s an old gypsy woman? It’s like that.

    Alternative comedy has grown into an entirely new animal. If you could draw the ‘alt beast,’ what would it look like?
    That’s so funny. It’d look like a giraffe riding a man riding a small tricycle.

    Check out Mash Up tonight at 12:30 am ET on Comedy Central and every Tuesday at 12:30 am ET. For more info on Miller, check out TJMillerDoesNotHaveAWebSite.com.

    Billy Procida

    Laughspin editor-in-chief Billy Procida is a stand-up comedian in New York City. He hosts The Manwhore Podcast where he talks to women he's hooked up with about sex, dating, and why they didn't work out. Reach him on Twitter.

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