Ten minutes into our conversation, it dawned on me that T.J. Miller had been doing all the talking. I’d only managed to squeeze in a cordial introduction and my first question. Meanwhile, Miller had already covered everything from his youthful adoration for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the “Snap Into a Slim Jim” commercials he made in the ’90s, to working with Marianne Muellerleile, the actress who played “Wrong Sarah” in James Cameron’s The Terminator. Turns out the Silicon Valley star is a veritable encyclopedia of discussion topics, and I was merely along for the ride.
What the actor and stand-up comedian brought to the table provided for a compelling discussion of branded content, of all things. After all, Miller’s chief goal was to promote his four new commercials for Slim Jim, which were produced by the company famous for its popular meat products and Funny Or Die. While such things often lead fans to label their celebrity promoters as “sellouts,” Miller’s argument that bits like this are just as funny as Saturday Night Live is quite convincing. It doesn’t hurt his case that in order to play Greg the Genie, the character he created for the Slim Jim spots, Miller was painted blue from head to toe.
Looks like you’re the next “Macho Man” Randy Savage, at least in Slim Jim’s eyes.
Randy Savage has always been a big hero of mine. The “Snap Into a Slim Jim” spots were so iconic. “You want excitement? Snap into a Slim Jim!” It’s like the Kool-Aid guy. He’s an integral part of our experience with culture. If you’re in your 30s, you really, really remember it. It was so ridiculous, even at the time. This wrestler makes pizzas fly out of the f*cking oven and smash into a guy’s face.
I signed on because it seemed like it just would be really fun to work for Slim Jim. I just found that to be in my wheelhouse of irony. You know, because I’m obviously the premier talking bear comedian in the world right now. I was actually in, I don’t know if you know this but, the fourth installment of a film franchise based on toys… Johnny Depp kinda doesn’t have sh*t on me. That’s when I realized I was going to be “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Were you a wrestling fan back in the day?
I wasn’t a die-hard fan, but I watched wrestling. The Undertaker, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan — you know what’s going on. But no, it was much more the advertising. Even at that age, I was much more into comedy. I just thought this was so funny. It seemed to be a joke on the Kool-Aid man, so it’s almost absurd in that way. Those commercials were always very funny to me, so I was into that. And of course I ate Slim Jims when I was a kid. I mean, come on.
I’ve always loved funny commercials. Some are just as funny as any other piece of comedy. So Slim Jim became this iconic brand in terms of that commercial and what it meant at the time, and how funny it was. I tweeted about his being “a large pair of sunglasses to fill,” but I’m going to do my best. It is just sort of a fun, bizarre passing of the torch to me to be the “Snap Into a Slim Jim” guy. I love it.
Do you still eat Slim Jims as an adult?
I used to get intoxicated and have Doritos and a Slim Jim as my appetizer and main course. For dinner. That was a real thing.
How did the idea for “Greg the Genie” first come about?
The idea that they pitched was, “What if he’s a genie, but he’s not a great genie? He’s not bad, but he’s not the best genie.” That’s how we came up with “Greg the Genie.” They let us go for it. They’re pretty weird spots for such a huge, mainstream company. They let my cousin and writing partner, Miller Davis write them. The Director Brothers, who do [The Gorburger Show] with me, they directed the spots. I was going to do it with Jorma [Taccone] of Lonely Island, but it ended up working out that the Director Brothers could do it. We had just come off Gorburger, so we were sort of in top form. They’re really funny, and they’re pretty weird.
You’re very, very blue in these spots.
I refused to do the spot unless I could be blue. Even the Director Brothers were like, “I don’t know, man. I don’t think you can be blue.” It came to a point where I had to be like, “I’m not going to do this unless I can be blue.” We had these ridiculous Hollywood conversations which were, “Look, they don’t want you to be blue because part of it is that people can recognize you. It’s funny because they recognize you.” All I said was, “They’ll recognize me. They’ll recognize my voice. I need to be blue.” The Director Brothers finally said okay, so we did the makeup test. They let me do it, thank God, because that’s the funny part. Genies are blue. Let’s get serious about it. I wouldn’t go into Silicon Valley not having gained 35 pounds for it. I’m an actual actor.
Gaining weight is tough work, man.
It is tough work. You have to fall asleep with pizza on your chest.
Where did you come up with these ideas?
It has always been a dream of mine to do some piece of comedy where it’s about having 15 elderly Polish women as the people I party with. I thought about hiring background actresses who were Polish to go to a premiere with me as my entourage. Funny story, but at the end of that one, the actress who says the pierogi “is goat” is Marianne Muellerleile. She played the original Sarah Connor, the first one that Arnold Schwarzenegger kills in The Terminator when he gets it wrong after going through the phone book. Marianne’s only in the film for a second, but it’s a pretty memorable part because it’s the beginning of the bloodbath. So yeah, Slim Jim made my dream come true by letting me do this Polish women joke.
That all sounds like fun, but these are commercials…
I’d much rather do this than be on Saturday Night Live. This is kind of what you’re always looking for on SNL, a character you can sort of plug and play and use endlessly. We found it, but in a Slim Jim commercial, weirdly.
Traditional advertising isn’t working, so they’re doing branded content and product integration. Americans see more advertisements now than they ever have before. It’s an onslaught. So I’ve taken a pretty strong stand that, if I am who I am, which is a comedian that’s driven by the philosophy that I need to inject as much comedy as I can into people’s everyday lives, then I’ll do Transformers and Big Hero 6 and Silicon Valley and the Mucinex Man. What I’m trying to do is say, “If you’re going to have to absorb this ad content anyway, then I hope it’s at least really funny.”