T.J. Miller Thinks An Alien Perspective Is Necessary To Cut Through Talk Show Politics

Getty/Comedy Central

Most of you probably know T.J. Miller as Erlich Bachman, a software designer on HBO’s Silicon Valley whose previous company was called “Aviato.” (His pronunciation of this word is mesmerizing.) Then again, just as many of you may know the 35-year-old as a stand-up comedian, a profession the Denver native has participated in for over a decade. After The Gorburger Show premieres Sunday, April 9th at midnight on Comedy Central, however, some of you may come to know Miller as an alien talk show host with a penchant for pop culture human flesh.

At least that’s what Miller and his collaborators Josh Martin and Ryan McNeely, a.k.a. The Director Brothers, hope will be the case. The oddly sweet weekly late night show, for which Miller voices and partially puppeteers the Gorburger character, operates much like any other talk show on television with a studio audience, guest interviews and a musical act. Unlike The Tonight Show and The Late Show, however, Miller stresses the surreal Gorburger Show offers viewers something decidedly “apolitical.” That is, a talk show that offers audiences an escape from other programs’ constant attention on day-to-day political news, though not necessarily as a form of escapism.

T.J. Miller: Uproxx. Andrew from Uproxx. You know I love Uproxx.

You mentioned us on Silicon Valley, which we really appreciated.

Of course. I just can’t stop referencing random things.

Having watched the original web series run of The Gorburger Show, it’s nice to see it coming to television.

We’re very lucky. We were lucky to have had HBO take a shot and do a pilot with us, and we’re infinitely more lucky they released it to Comedy Central. And Comedy Central thinks it’s the right time to do it, so we couldn’t be happier.

I noticed you and the Director Brothers have a lot of the same beats in the first Comedy Central episode as in the web series.

We tried to make that as minimally different from the original as possible. I think it had to do, mostly, with legality issues. Since we were doing the show on a new network, that meant having to reshoot and re-cut almost everything. But a lot of the original beats, including the intro, were precisely what we wanted, so we just stuck to it. I mean, fuck it. You’re getting another round of Gorburger, so let’s try to make the intro a little different but stick to the spirit of the original. I’m always fine with something that is equally funny, but strangely different. I was behind it 100%.

It does hit a lot of the same beats, but it’s obvious you guys added lots of new flair.

We’re also trying to prove a web series can more work as a TV show, and why it should work. I hope people like it well enough. We want to expand it, to take more field trips. We want to do a school special. We want to got to the south west, out west, to Bonnaroo, to Bumbershoot, and hell — even fucking Coachella. We want to take Gorburger to all of it. Have him interview multiple bands, and let that become the comedy. Some of them can even be live. We want it to be pretty crazy.

How would you do that live? Would you just be off to the side voicing the character, or are you in the actual suit?

I am not in the suit. There’s better puppeteer than me who’s in it. In fact, Brian Hillard — who’s from Lord of the Rings — is really heavy duty. Two other puppeteers control the brows and the eyes. They’ll study my face to figure out how Gorburger expresses himself when saying certain things. Meanwhile I control the mouth and most of the other expressions. It’s a really collaborative thing.

The show is mostly scripted, but I imagine puppetry makes improvisation next to impossible.

I’m not sure how much of the show you’ve seen before, but it’s wildly impressive to me that we’re able to do what we do because the monster itself is very fluid. We take a lot of our cues from Jim Henson. We’re trying to walk in the footsteps of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal‘s success.

I love Gorburger’s voice, but doing it so often must take a toll. It’s so loud and excitable.

Because he’s excited about everything. Everything is new to him. He’s constantly positive, and he’s just enamored with pop culture, and the right kind of pop culture. Like Kim Kardashian. But he also thinks, “Oh, boy. Justin Bieber’s so good. Usher’s the best dancer alive. Yeah!” The Director Brothers and our producer, Sean Boyle, are heavy duty. I swear they’re ahead of the “tweenager” curve when it comes to pop culture. They were millennials before millennials were. And they’ll still be like that once it’s passe to have a generational name. They know pop culture. They know music.

Every single piece of music on The Gorburger Show is wholly unique. You can’t hear it anywhere else, because the collaborations between a band and a guest only happen on our show. We’re probably going to do a Gorburger Seasonal Album. You’ll be able to pick up these collaborations in something like that, which is great. Because mashups like Reggie Watts and Thundercat’s on the first episode is dope as fuck. Our shit is fucking real on the music side of things. It’s much further along, I think, than anything anybody else is doing — Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, whoever. It’s one thing to have a new band on, but it’s quite another to have two new bands, or a band and a guest who collaborate and destroy. All these songs are sick.

Will Gorburger ever get involved in these musical collaborations, or is it always just the guest and the musician?

Gorburger, I think, never will participate because he wants to watch. Maybe that’s why he came to earth in the first place. What he’s most excited about is humanity’s pop culture. Maybe his planet only has 30 or 40 individuals, and therefore not enough to build anything quite like what we call “pop culture.” We don’t know much about his origin other than he really digs it, especially its American variants. He thinks it’s fucking amazing. There might be something to it.

Let me put it this way. If I were a member of an alien species, I could decide to colonize the planet, kill everybody and take their resources. Or, if I recognized humanity as advanced, and felt like they could contribute to some kind of universal understanding of existence, then — on the condition of living or dying — maybe I wouldn’t colonize them and let them keep doing what they’re doing. It fits with Gorburger’s story. All of this is amazing to him. He went to the Magic Castle. He goes to a place where they make real dolls you can have sex with. He goes to the junk yard where they keep crushed cars and he can’t believe it. He thinks, “Is there a machine that can crush a machine that crushed the cars?” He is absolutely ecstatic about it. I love that.

I figured, especially right now, we need something apolitical on TV. As in, an apolitical talk show where you can ask people not about their political views, but about being a human being. About being an American, but not with a political bent. We look to and hope that that will be a component of the show. That’s the main thing, because I consider myself to be apolitical. I really am. I don’t care enough about this shit. I think like Seth Meyers has done such a wonderful job with that kind of material. But my motive is to simply have a puppet talk to people and give them some sort of a forum. A forum to say whatever they want, and in a different, apolitical style.

It’s an interesting idea, especially since it suggests being apolitical in the late night market right now requires an alien point of view. In Gorburger Show‘s case, an actual alien.

Listen buddy, that’s the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into.

You’re not wrong. Well before I go, I wanted to quickly ask you about your upcoming HBO special. You recorded it in Denver last summer, and HBO confirmed it with their upcoming stand-up slate, but I haven’t seen or heard anything since.

We’re looking at June. We would like to do it in conjunction with the end of Silicon Valley, but the biggest thing about that special is we think it will divide my audience. It’ll take the Silicon Valley audience from something they’re familiar with to something they’re not, probably. It may alienate the audience who thinks I’m funny and would come to my stand-up because of the acting roles I have. People who are like, “I like his acting, but his stand-up is fucking weird.” Meanwhile, the stand-up fans who know my comedy will be okay. I’ve had other specials or collaborations air on Comedy Central and elsewhere, but there’s no real public awareness that I’m even a stand-up comedian.

Right. Well I know you more as a comic than as an actor in Silicon Valley and Crashing.

I hope you like it, because it’s something I’ve been working on for four or five years. It’s decidedly different, and people will either like it, be really confused, or not care at all. I hope you’re in the former category. I can guarantee the special will have come out in about a year and a half, at least, and I’ll do the club to make it easy.

The Gorburger Show premieres Sunday, April 9th at midnight on Comedy Central.