T.J. Miller kicks up his pace
T.J. Miller is easy to spot, poolside, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. On a warm, midweek afternoon, Miller is relaxing between the afternoon’s meetings. But even while kicking back, he’s hamming it up for this reporter, who has just arrived and is scanning the bustling crowd for him. Amid the twiggy, burgeoning starlets in wispy bikinis and smartly dressed, fedora-clad producer types, the 6-foot-3 Miller stands frozen in midjog — fruity drink in hand, a manic smile on his face and wearing a glaring, red-and-white candy-striped shirt that screams T.G.I. Friday’s.
Miller’s comedy career, however, is anything but standing still. He’s coming off a storm of projects — in 2010 alone, he appeared in six studio films, including “Get Him to the Greek,” “Unstoppable,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Yogi Bear.” And he’s in an upcoming comedy starring Paul Rudd, “Our Idiot Brother,” as well as the now-in-production Steve Carell film “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” Miller also just finished shooting his first Comedy Central special in his hometown of Denver, due out this fall. And there’s both a comedy podcast and a rap album in the works, the latter debuting this September on Comedy Central Records.
It’s a blitz of multi-genre productivity, but the former Second City comic remains rooted in live comedy; he keeps up a steady stream of gigs locally, playing at clubs or in shows “several nights a week, nearly every single week,” he says. He’s often at the Improv, Laugh Factory or Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and his name regularly pops up on fliers for alt-comedy shows like “What’s Up Tiger Lily” or “The Meltdown,” among many others.
“Stand-up and sketch and improv, that’s the most direct contact you can have with somebody, making them laugh,” Miller says. “I like that. I like the intimacy. If there is one thing that makes me unique, it’s that I riff a lot. And that works best, I think, in live [settings].”
Miller is launching his own monthly comedy show at Largo, “T.J. Miller Makes Mayhem,” that will open Sunday. He envisions the show as less of a comedy variety show and more “a variety of comedy show,” he says. The debut lineup is something of an A-list alt-comedy crowd, featuring stand-up performances by himself, Doug Benson, Pete Holmes, Tig Notaro, Natasha Leggero, Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane and many others.
The show will also be shot through with musical bits. Long Beach hip-hop group Ugly Duckling will perform and Miller is flying in DJ Steinski, whom he calls “one of the godfathers of sampling hip-hop.” Steinski will headline, playing a mash-up of comedy and music weaving together Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, Grandmaster Flash, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Pryor. In the future, “Mayhem” also will include improv and sketch acts, and Miller is even contemplating “clown elements.”
“All the absurdist elements and juxtaposition I bring to the different weird types of comedy I do, I just wanted to do that in the [Largo] show,” Miller says.
If it’s possible to “own” a weekend, then the coming one belongs to Miller. In addition to the Largo show Sunday and filming his big scene in the Carell movie Monday, Miller’s also going to be the subject of a UCB roast Friday — in honor of his 30th birthday. Many of the same faces from the Largo show will be performing, along with comics Andy Kindler, Jeff Klinger and Miller’s writing partner, Nick Vatterott. Miller’s father and sister also will take turns at the mike. “It’s gonna be crazy — we’re gonna destroy each other. I’m the easiest person to make fun of,” Miller says.
The hip-hop album — called “The Extended Play E.P.” and produced by Jesse Case, a musical director at Second City — will be a comedy-music hybrid. It’s in the vein of musical comedy trio Lonely Island but with more stock in the music, says Case. Ugly Duckling and rapper Johnny Polygon will appear on it; as will comedians Doug Benson, Bo Burnham and actor Ethan Suplee. Donald Glover is working on a track for it. There’s even a humorous song about Miller’s Lasik eye surgeon.
“This album walks a tightrope — is he trying to be funny, or is T.J. Miller actually trying to be a musician?” says Case."That’s the eternal question of this album.”
Forays into new mediums and budding film projects aside, it’s performing live comedy that resonates most deeply for Miller. Fame for fame’s sake isn’t an end goal, he says.
“I don’t think it really matters,” Miller says. “Patton Oswalt already treaded this ground much more articulately than I could: You don’t do stand-up so you can do movies. You do movies so more people will come to your stand-up.”