It would seem there are several TJ Millers to encounter, and depending on what time of day it is you could get one or another. On the one hand there’s the manic antics of the small-market morning show TJ Miller. Crazy, hilarious, quick to morph into a comic menace. Then there’s the actor TJ Miller who, as of this week, has just won Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series by the Critics Choice Television Awards, which he accepted with a mouth full of food, opening his speech by saying, “I would say awards are for children,” before dropping hints to his parts in films like Transformers 4, Yogi Bear 3D, and of course HBO’s Silicon Valley.
No matter which Miller you meet, the end result is the same: He’s a funny, funny guy. And if you’ve ever seen his stand-up, caught his podcasts (“Cashing In with TJ Miller,” done in partnership with comedian Cash Levy), or gotten a taste of his crazy new HBO project The Gorburger Show—which he’s described as “like Triumph the Insult Dog if he was positive and optimistic”—you know his brand of misdirection and the subversive style of his joke delivery that has left crowds howling and Hollywood watching.
I caught up with Miller on the phone before a recent show in Atlanta to talk Silicon Valley, Boston, and what goes into voicing talking wads of snot.
You’ve come through town in the past. Do you have any Boston anecdotes?
It’s not really a night out in Boston unless you see at least one fistfight over the weekend, right? And that’s what does it for me. And if I have to start a fistfight to make it a night out in Boston, then that’s what I’m gonna do. And I only have one night there, so …
Speaking of brawling, who would win in a street fight: Mike Judge or Michael Bay?
Oh god. Bay probably. As you’ll recall someone tried to kill him with an air conditioner in Hong Kong, and he’s also friends with Navy Seals. My money is on Bay.
Are you guys like your characters in any way? There seems to be an ease of self in the performances. Like, is Zach Woods really that timid?
We’re all extensions or magnified versions of ourselves. So he’s a fairly… he’d rather read Jane Austen than yell at someone in the street, and I’m the opposite.
Boston’s been hailed as mini Silicon Valley of the east. Does it measure up?
Denver says the same thing, the “We’re our own mini Silicon Valley”. I think the show is successful because every city has these … the way our economy and culture is going forward, everyone wants to start up some kind of tech, an app or service. Society is driven by tech now. People always ask, “How much research did you do for your character?” Well first of all I’m not a very good actor, but second I didn’t need to. Someone like Ehrlich, and me, doesn’t know much about software and coding and hardware. He just has to be aware of how tech is progressing in our culture. I do the same, always have latest apps and read the tech trades. So yeah, it’s time the world shined a light on Silicon Valley, but the world is becoming a big “Silicon Valley” in a sense. It’s really a timely piece of satire.
Speaking of your character Erlich Bachmann—whose hair is more presidential, Donald Trump or Erlich?
Probably Erlich [and] he has the facial hair of a Mongolian prince. Trump is running? Jeez. If he wins he’ll put “Trump” on the White House.
What’s up with Gorburger?
Oh we’re so fucking excited about that, man. If we can get that picked up it’s going to be a game changer in so many ways. It’s great, it’s like Triumph the Insult Dog if he was positive and optimistic. Because its [host] is a monster. For whatever reason—I know the reason—but I can really get celebrities to talk to me about [what] I couldn’t ask them about as TJ. I can ask celebrities about death, fame, loneliness, isolation, and celebrity and adoration and staff fucking. Stuff like that.
That’s my main thing. Film and TV stuff, I’m only going to do that until my podcasts and my appearances on friends’ podcasts takes off. So let’s talk it out, man.
If you could do a podcast during any historical moment, what and when?
I think it would be funny to do with Cash Levy. I think a play-by-play of the speech … supposedly Andrew Jackson got stabbed in the chest, and had to give a presidential speech but decided to wait to see a doctor until after. So it would be funny to do a play-by-play, talk about, “Wow he’s really doing a lot of hand gestures….and he seems to have what could be a mortal wound … his arms are flailing,” and Cash would be like, “Let’s see if the wig stays on….he seems to be getting a little faint there … he’s doing well, and he’s losing energy.” Meanwhile blood is seeping into his shirt and so on. That would be fun.
Is it true you voice the talking ball of mucus, “Mr. Mucus” from the Mucinex commercials?
Uh … fuck YEAH I do. What are you out of your mind? Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I? I sound permanently congested. That’s my whole sound—someone who’s sick and has a cough and has been smoking.
As an actor, how do you play a talking wad of snot?
Well first of all I don’t have reporters from alt-weekly newspapers refer to me as a ball/wad of snot. It’s “Mr. Mucus.” And you have to think about how hard it is to be a sickness that has just showed up and all you’re trying to do is get rid of him. There’s a lot of loneliness to it, a lot of hardship that Mr. Mucus goes through. And yeah, it’s been a challenging role to be sure. I mean, you [obviously] saw my work in Yogi Bear 3D, so, I think I know what the fuck I’m doing.
TJ MILLER. WED 6.17. THE WILBUR. 246 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. 617.248.9700. THEWILBUR.COM
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.