Real Talk with TJ Miller

The homecoming performer's exclusive Torch interview

T.J. Miller was soaking wet by the end of his performance at the Homecoming Comedy Show. The absurdist comedian closed his set by emptying a bottle of water, or “facial spray,” on himself. See, it’s hard to know what to expect from T.J. Miller. He’s devoted to “the absurdity of it all.”

When the Torch first reached out for an interview before the show, Miller wasn’t around; his voicemail greeting confidently joked “You should have confidence today because you look great and you should feel great, because you are great.”

Miller eventually called back and his kindness over the phone made me wonder if the voicemail greeting was a joke after all.

Torch: What’s it like playing at a college as opposed to a traditional comedy club?

T.J. Miller: Well, you know… They’re all stupid. They’re all in their early 20s so I really try to dumb it down and only use single syllable words. But really, it’s Michigan, so it feels to me like it’s going to be hardworking, smart, down-to-earth people. So it’s good, but I’m an absurdist so it’s really a gamble wherever I go.

Torch: The comedy show is in celebration of homecoming week. Do you have any interesting homecoming memories?

T.J. Miller: Well, I went to a ghetto high school in Denver. So our homecoming theme was “players club presents: red light special” and I wore like a fubu vest and saggy jeans. But they had metal detectors and shit so my homecoming was not exactly a pep parade. More like “lets make sure there are no guns here.”

Torch: You were a psychology major, correct?

T.J. Miller: Yeah I went to George Washington University. I majored in psychology with a concentration in situation theory and social influence. That’s how I’ve gotten America to think that I’m a good comedian.

Torch: You think psychology informs your comedy?

T.J. Miller: Yeah. I’m interested in how the world makes itself believe things, many of which aren’t true. A lot of my work in stand-up right now is about death. How to sort of perceive death and talk about death. People being afraid of death, (pauses) and they really shouldn’t be. The general job of a comedian is [to ask] what are these presuppositions and what are these values that we all take for granted? So those are the things that I talk about in my stand-up. It ranges from casual observation to, you know, the subjects of death and morality.

Torch: So how was it to work with Michael Bay on the newest Transformers movie?

T.J. Miller: It was (long pause), a challenging and rewarding experience. Michael Bay is everything that people think he is and yet he’s nothing like you would expect. Um… have you seen the new Transformers?

Torch: No, not yet.

T.J. Miller: Okay well walk, don’t run (laughs), it’s a long movie. But when you’re the director of a $250 million movie, you’ve got to yell. You’ve literally got 300 crew members and things that need to get done, or the whole thing falls apart. So in the midst of all this trying to corral people, he would yell “Stop! Stop!” and hundreds of people stop doing what they’re doing. But it’s weird like, what exactly am I doing here? I hope people enjoy the comedy that I bring to it, but I’m not an action hero. I look like a toddler that was given a growth serum. So they’re holding me to the standard of Mark Wahlberg, who was just in Lone Survivor. Meanwhile, I was recently… at a Burger King, so it was arduous.

Torch: You also do some writing, what are you working on currently?

T.J. Miller: I wrote a movie called The Nihilist and we’ll probably produce that in the spring. It’s not a traditional comedy; it’s a lot of talking about meaning. Is there meaning and if there is, does it matter? So I am the nihilist and he’s a low-level drug runner who truly doesn’t care if he lives or dies. If you put a gun to his head, he’ll put it in his mouth. That’s sort of the energy and the style of the nihilist.

Torch: Between comedy, your podcast, the rap album, television and movies, I’m sure we could talk all day. Is there anything specifically you would like to plug?

T.J. Miller: The “Cashing In with T.J. Miller” podcast is a fun thing that I think people can get to know a different side of me through. I’d also love people to see “The Gorburger Show.” It’s weird dude. If I were you, I’d smoke a little weed and sit back and relax to understand how insane it is. But put back a full six-pack before you get into that because it is beyond bizarre.

Also, I’ve been doing this a lot. I’ve been promoting different types of trees and aspen trees are what I’m really pushing right now. So I just encourage everyone to learn about aspen trees. Learn about their growth cycle and what elevations they grow best. So if you could do that, just plug the idea of an aspen tree. Again (referring to meaning), no knowledge is more or less valuable than any other knowledge. That’s why I know more about giraffes than anybody else.

Torch: So is this maintaining the concept of nihilism?

T.J. Miller: Well, I don’t know about that. I just know it’s important that I know more about giraffes than you or any of your friends or anyone that you’ve ever met.

T.J. Miller can be found on Twitter @nottjmiller and on his website