FEW STAND-UPS are truly anarchic. Many appear so, thanks to a wild delivery or incendiary, twisting trains of thought. But usually, the seemingly wild ones are actually working within the rules of comedic convention with utmost precision.
Not TJ Miller, though—he's off the fucking chain.
Miller is the kind of flailing performer who might break something onstage (perhaps not on purpose). He's the kind of eccentric who could get in a fight with the audience over the most ridiculous thing (though he'll more than likely be invited to the afterparty). And he's the kind of loose-lipped cannon who's ready to start a beef at any moment (like he did, hilariously, after Dane Cook bumped him).
Miller is a comedian ready to go Out There. Like Hunter S. Thompson said: "Buy the ticket, take the ride."
And no two rides are the same. "At least 25 percent of every show is riffing," Miller says by email. "I have riffed entire stand-up sets (an hour long) before, and I will continue to, but it takes a very specific set of circumstances both internally and with the audience to riff an entire show."
His work spans the comedic spectrum: observational, impersonation, physical, confessional, storytelling, jabbing, and swerving. Watching him explore is enthralling. The adrenaline bursting from his off-kilter, eye-thumbing, whimsical, net-less tightrope walking becomes not only apparent, but also contagious.
Which, in part, explains "No Cancellations," Miller's national tour, where instead of traveling to a different city each weekend and playing drink-minimum comedy clubs for the traditional three-day, five-show run, he's touring more like a band—a new city, a new rock club every night.
"It was an experiment—try to play alternative venues (for lack of a better term), and do a nationwide tour and see if anybody shows up," Miller says. "It's been pretty fucking awesome. Very grinding, but fun and very unique.
"And you get this weird feeling on a tour bus," he continues. "It makes you feel a little like a rock star, but in my case a rock star that reads Nietzsche and is a bit of a homebody. Or busybody, I suppose."
Indeed, Miller has been hard at work—and not just onstage. In 2012, he helmed a hybrid stand-up/sketch series, Mash Up, for Comedy Central. He's behind a hyper-insane web show and multimedia project, The Gorburger Show, where he controls and voices a giant, blue-haired, eye-popping, Japanese-style anime creature who hosts a talk show. And his list of proper film credits is ever growing. This year he's already set to appear in five films, including blockbusters like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Transformers 4.
Such by-the-numbers, saccharine productions don't appear to dovetail with Miller's frantic, deranged, sometimes highly psychedelic (and perhaps actually twisted) onstage persona. In part, that's a testament to his range.
"Hollywood pays me to play a version of myself," Miller says, "an exaggerated version, a weirdo or dum-dum, stoner, slacker outsider, maniac."
"I suppose I am a bit of a maniac," he says. "But probably in a very different way than you would assume. The madness is thickening, it is a dense fog of truth seeking and questioning. I do my best to harness it. Stuff it in the comedy. I think I do. Also, I took some of the drugs I was given after the show just before answering this final question. Licky Lizard Herbert Wagon Specific."