By Graeme Wiggins
CALGARY – When an interview begins with the interviewee singing a song loudly into the phone, one would imagine it sets a particular tone for the interview. TJ Miller began our interview with an ode to Alberta he’s been working on.
“Alberta, I’ve heard of ya! Alberta, you’re certi…fiably wonderful.”
This was definitely in keeping with what one would imagine the star of the Yogi Bear movie would be like. But for someone most commonly recognized as the voice of the loud-mouthed friend in numerous animated hits (Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon) and for having done a few fairly controversial interviews in the last year, the Silicon Valley star is surprisingly philosophical.
“I really like bypassing political satire and social satire and doing philosophical satire. It’s not really a genre that exists,” explains Miller. “It’s really hard for people to talk about philosophy without sounding like pseudo-intellectual douchebags. I never take myself seriously.”
It showed through in moments of his last HBO special Meticulously Ridiculous, but should be more pronounced on the one he’s working on now, The New Nonsense.
“It has Nietzchean principles in it. It’s about morality being relative. But it also has 10 to 15 minutes on cows. So less telling you how to think, which is what political and social satire is, and it’s more asking you how to consider.”
It’s that philosophical way of framing things that led him to garner some notoriety earlier this year on the back of a couple of controversial interviews following his surprising departure from hit HBO series Silicon Valley.
“One of the things that I’ve certainly learned is that authenticity, no matter what kind, is something people crave right now. So I did some interviews where I wanted to be very authentic and kind of fuck with the press a little bit. See what it’s like to break the news cycle. I learned a lot from that.”
This lead to lots of clickbait articles and commentary. The result taught him some important lessons about the media: “There’s so much media. It’s like pornography. There is so much of it that it washes over pornography from three or four months ago. There’s such a craving or need for that content (and political content and commentary and all of that kind of stuff) that people forgetting what the fuck happened three weeks ago. They’re consuming so much just to keep up. Some of my friends that are porn stars are like ‘Yeah, I can leave whenever I want and no one’s going to be like hey, wait a second, aren’t you a porn star? Because by the time I enter the work force as a nurse, no one will remember me.”
This has lead him back to working on things that he wants to do, rather than just fame-seeking.
“I went back to doing things as usual, because that’s the kind of guy I am: the guy who is on an altruistic mission to make people laugh, because tragedy permeates everyday life. And that’s what I’m in it for. That’s why I continue to tour and why I do the podcast, Gorburger. So why not produce more of that than get the huge pay cheque for doing season six or seven of a show that is beloved but is going to be just as good or better without me?”
He’s currently on tour throughout Canada on the Just For Laughs Presents: The Alternative Comedy Tour, and has found a pretty good audience for his style of comedy in Canada.
“Canadians have a great sense of humour. They’re self-effacing. They like absurdist stuff; it’s the home of the chicken lady and SCTV. That’s where a lot of our best absurdists have come from. I haven’t had a bad show yet. Hamilton was a bit rough around the edges, some people had to be kicked out, but even then, afterwards people apologized for it.”
Catch TJ Miller as part of the Just for Laughs presents The Alternative Comedy Tour, November 12 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary), November 16 at the Bell Performing Arts Centre (Surrey) and on November 17 at the Vogue Theatre (Vancouver).comedy, Just For Laughs, stand-up comedy, TJ Miller