I was interviewing outgoing Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller and his wife, the artist Kate Miller, while dancing with the pair at the downtown Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse, when my exhaustion began to take hold. I had slept little due to a poorly self-arranged travel schedule, and the 2:41am Amtrak train I had to catch in seven hours loomed before me like a dissected corpse. Or maybe it was just the wax replica of one displayed in the House of Wax, a museum cum bar at the theater that would later host the after party for a family and friends-only screening of Miller’s new HBO comedy special, Meticulously Ridiculous.
“This is the first time anyone will see it on a big screen,” Miller explains, “but we previously showed it on a smaller screen. Kate and I commissioned an artist to make a smartphone 30 times smaller than a normal-sized phone, but that was still functional. We gave people these goggles with magnifying glasses in them, so they could see what was playing on these small screens in a big way.” Kate, dancing alongside T.J., adds, “They wouldn’t be able to see what was going on with these huge magnifying glasses. It was like putting it under a microscope. Does that make sense?”
I tell her it does, and in a totally unsurprising way no less, as premiering his comedy special in the smallest way possible sounds precisely like something Miller would do. The concert film (and the tour from which it’s taken) is titled Meticulously Ridiculous, after all, so it should come as no surprise that Miller’s bit about spending $73,000 on carnival games is purposely crafted to sound absurd. Nor should you be surprised by one reviewer’s belief this absurdity actually happened, and Miller’s subsequent using it in a new bit during his Late Show with Stephen Colbert appearance.
“I love the idea that people will examine this and think, ‘Is this real or not?’ And they decided what I said was real,” he laughs. “It’s like, ‘Whoops!’ But it’s also about like, ‘Hey, listen man. I’m a stand-up comic.’ Just like other comedians will say, ‘I’m an actor, man.’ It’s just stupid. You’re trying to make people laugh, and this is just another medium to do that in. I like that I’m able to be very divisive in this way, but I also think it’s better to be polarizing than neutral.”
To Miller’s credit, “neutral” is a word I have ever used to describe him. “Polarizing,” however, is way more applicable — especially considering things like his arrest last December for allegedly assaulting an Uber driver during an intense political argument. That, or his shocking Conan appearance (recreated at later red carpet events) with a fake safety pin lodged through his ear and loads of fake blood — which also happened in December. Even the first trailer for Meticulously Ridiculous presents Miller’s comedy in a similar manner, combining otherwise standard bits with snippets of a more exasperated stage presence.
As for the special itself, Miller doesn’t waste time bombarding the audience with his unique comedy — sometimes literally. Those brave enough to sit in the first few rows of the Paramount Theater in Denver, Colorado, where Meticulously Ridiculous was filmed last summer, are frequently sprayed with bottled water, water from an aerosol can, and Miller’s rapid-fire delivery of surreal, roast-like jokes. It’s akin to witnessing Andy Kaufman and Gallagher’s heir apparent breaking into the Friars Club and making himself at home. Even so, screening it for another audience on a movie screen weirds Miller out.
“I didn’t want to do this. I think this is weird. I think it’s weird that I would be like, ‘Hey, guys? Want to see me? Watch for 45 minutes. It’s just me. I’ll be in the back.’ That’s fucking really weird, so I’m not going do that,” he later tells the crowd while introducing the special. “When I say that some of you will not understand what is going on in the next hour, I’m serious. Some of you will get it, but many of the others won’t. Either way, please enjoy it and thank you for coming. I will not be in the room.”
It’s a familiar line, for Miller confessed he wasn’t sure most people would get what he was trying to do with Meticulously Ridiculous in a previous interview with Uproxx. “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,'” he said in April. “It’s decidedly different, and people will either like it, be really confused, or not care at all.” Judging by the packed Alamo Drafthouse crowd, however, the comedian doesn’t have anything to worry about.
Most jokes, like the trailer’s alcohol bit and the context supporting it, killed. Other, more seemingly irrational bits — like Miller’s overabundant use of water bottles and aerosol water sprays — also scored plenty of laughs from the crowd onscreen and those of us watching them laugh, albeit with more awkward pauses. Miller wants people to enjoy his material, to be sure. “I saw Louis C.K.’s Hilarious at Sundance, which I guess was like seeing Richard Pryor’s stuff on a big screen. It felt like you were at a concert, but in a theater,” he tells me. “So I hope people get that watching my special.”
Miller’s new focus isn’t the only reason he decided to leave Silicon Valley, but it did play a role. After all, he just moved to New York to do more comedy, a gig he only thought to try after seeing Ardie Fuqua perform. And while movies and podcasts were on Miller’s mind when he told Entertainment Weekly he left to make “different things,” comedy is key. “I think a big part of it was Kate said, ‘Do you really want to do this? People love this character, you love the character, but for you, right now, it seems like this is what would be best,'” he tells me with complete seriousness before cracking a smile. “And she said, ‘You know, you’re spending $73,000 a year on carnival games. You need more time to play carnival games.’ And that’s always supportive. It’s a blessing. Every time somebody sneezes, I’ve been talking about what a blessing it is.”
Of course there’s no stopping a performer once he’s on a roll, so before I can squeeze in another question, Miller’s playful answers take on a life of their own. “I had quit show business in 2010, at the advent of Yogi Bear 3-D. The confluence of it and other events told me I needed to exit show business completely. Then, a series of misadventures in a boxcar with several teen-fiction protagonists led me to continue working in Hollywood.” Nodding along with a straight face and a drink in her hand, Kate quips, “That’s factually correct. I can attest to that.” Miller adds that he wants to “play carnival games more” and “write a book about how I will never write a book.”
I can’t tell whether or not he’s suddenly being serious about writing a book, even if its pitched plot concerns never writing a book. But the history of stand-up comedy is rife with comedy writers composing all kinds of printed works — be they purposefully exaggerated autobiographies (Norm Macdonald’s Based on a True Story and Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up), or heartfelt, humorous memoirs (Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist). Who’s to say Miller’s comedic followup to Meticulously Ridiculous won’t be a book about his not writing a book? Before I have the chance to ask, the man who made Erlich Bachman king playfully accosts me.
“Wait a minute,” he says after a brief exchange with the DJ, “you’re not even dancing.” I’m not, though I did begin the interview while dancing with the two. My body quickly reminded me just how tired it was after the first few minutes. Being exhausted isn’t the best state to be in when discussing comedy or watching a stand-up special, but it’s especially the worst way to go about doing both with Miller, whose energy in person and onstage requires a similar commitment from anyone he engages with. “Wake up!” he laughs, reigniting the conversation.
T.J. Miller: Meticulously Ridiculous premieres Saturday, June 17th at 10pm ET/PT on HBO.