As seen on Apartment 613
Ottawa is in for a special treat on Friday night, as the always hilarious T.J. Miller performs in the capital for a first time. Although he’s had starring roles in big-budget films like Deadpool and (unfortunately?) The Emoji Movie, the role that led him to widespread fame was that of cocky tech entrepreneur Erlich Bachman in the critically-acclaimed HBO comedy Silicon Valley. However, at the height of the show’s popularity, Miller announced that he’d be leaving the show and his character was left at season’s end living in an opium den. Although many questioned his decision to leave, Miller’s true love is stand-up comedy, and he left the show to be able to spend more time stretching his boundaries on stage.
Joined by Rhys Darby and Nick Vatterott, T.J. Miller is embarking on a cross-Canada tour as part of the Just for Laughs Alternative Comedy Tour. Miller spoke with Apt613 ahead of his headlining performance at the National Arts Centre.
Apt 613: You’re doing a tour of some Canadian cities that don’t get much love (Red Deer, Surrey), what are you most looking forward to on this tour of Canadian stops off the beaten path?
T.J. Miller: Well I’ve been working in Edmonton for almost a decade, so I’ve been involved with Canada for a while, but this is my first time in Calgary, first time in Red Deer, and first time in a lot of places. I love Canada so much, but the closest I’ve gotten to a lot of these cities has been the upper peninsula ofMichigan. This tour will be different than others, what I wanted more than anything was to come to Canada and play the entire country, not just hit Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Just for Laughs happens in Montreal every year so I can go back there. I was more interested in visiting Ottawa for a first time and sort of understanding Calgary.
Apt 613: And with the president you have in America now, is there any chance you run away and try staying here?
T.J. Miller: I can only think of 500 reasons that I’m happier to be in Canada than the United States right now, but to go through them would only bring up 500 more. I’m very happy to be here. The big thing is that these shows are not the time for me to come up here and talk about politics and get into that whole thing. It’s a time for Nick Vatterott and myself to provide an hour and a half or two hours where you can just come and take your mind off stuff. That’s the big thing: I want people to just stop looking at a screen for an hour and actually be present. Actually, this is a big reason why I left Silicon Valley. If I was still doing the show and collecting my paycheck, then I would not be here, I’d be stuck in Los Angeles. I left Silicon Valley to be able to do this very thing, so when I tour you’re not gonna see anything that you can see on my HBO special or online. You’re going to see an event that only exists in front of you and that will never be seen on a screen. I’m encouraging people to tear themselves away from media for a second and go have a live experience. Go see a show. Have a night out.
Apt 613: In your recent HBO comedy special Meticulously Ridiculous you ask the crowd who their favourite American historical figure is, and you mention that your favourite is George Washington Carver (inventor of peanut butter). I was wondering if you have a favourite Canadian historical figure?
T.J. Miller: Right now it’s your Prime Minister actually. I know that’s super current and some people in the United States still don’t know how to pronounce his name, but I feel that right now, Canada is really emerging on the national stage in a really positive way. I’m really proud to be one of your neighbours in the south. I just think that right now you guys are emerging more and more as having it really together and having a progressive ideology that is not only enviable, but should also be emulated.
Apt 613: Tomorrow night you’re going to be in Ottawa for a first time. What expectations do you have for the capital?
T.J. Miller: Well so far three comedians have already reached out and given me recommendations in Ottawa. The comedian Matt Bergman who’s so funny and does a lot of work in Canada said that Ottawa is one of his favourite cities, and that I have to go to the Elgin Street Diner for poutine. He told me to get the poutine with mushroom gravy, not to mess with the beef one. Canadian audiences are so great, and for Ottawa specifically comedians have sort of singled it out as having great audiences. People are there to have fun, they’re good drinkers – but not super disruptive, and things haven’t gone well for their hockey team so they’ll need something to get their mind off it. Actually on this tour I’m most excited in some ways for Ottawa and Winnipeg. Winnipeg just has a silly name and I hear it’s so cold that people can’t stop laughing because everything else is so chilling.
Apt 613: What will you miss most from working on Silicon Valley?
T.J. Miller: Jimmy O. Yang, I think. Little Jian-Yang. I saw Kumail Nanjiani at a wedding last week, and you know the friends that I have from that show will remain present in my life, it’s just working with Jimmy O. Yang that I’m going to miss. He is so funny, so easy to work with, and so collaborative and I might not have a working relationship with someone like that ever again. Something like that really only comes around once. We’re talking though about doing a movie together about this thing in China where they hire white people just to be in business meetings. We’re thinking that would be so funny, where I would be this token white guy in the room for his company. We just really enjoy the dynamic between the two of us. We bonded because we also have backgrounds in stand-up, and that’s something that only a few of us on the show had. I’m sort of a comic through and through, and Jimmy is the same way. He does film work, television work, and is very dynamic, but at the end of the day he’s a very good stand-up comedian. Also, I do just like yelling “Jian-Yang”. I’m gonna miss that. Every so often I’ll just call him up and scream “Jian-Yang” at him and then hang up.
Apt 613: What do you think will prevent the show from falling behind the way a show like The Office did after they lost Steve Carrell?
T.J. Miller: Nah I don’t think that’s gonna happen, Mike Judge is such a comedic mind and that cast is so good that I don’t think they’re going to suffer from any of that. I think with The Office, that show was really about Steve Carrell’s character, whereas Erlich Bachman on Silicon Valley was one of many reasons to love the show. I think the show is going to change and grow. I don’t see it going anywhere but up.
Apt 613: But are you still going to keep Erlich’s facial hair?
T.J. Miller: Haha one of my wife’s vows when we got married was, “I love you with whatever facial hair you have, no matter how weird”. I think secretly she’s really excited that I don’t have to gain 25 pounds and look like an idiot from the neck up for a portion of the year any longer. So no, the facial hair’s become more normal.