TJ Miller is not only one of the strongest new talents in comedy today, he's also a terrific actor. And why not, he studied at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford England. Plus, he can stilt walk. And he makes porn! Very bad porn. In fact, there's not even any nudity or sex on Verybadporn.com, but there's plenty of hilarity!
How did Very Bad Porn come to be?
I was working my law secretary day job and came up with it. I think I was looking at some ridiculous site my friend sent me (my friend) like bigsausagepizza.com and I thought "this hasn't been done in this way. . ." and I realized then it was the best idea I've ever had. The melody sands video was the first one I thought of, where the camera gets knocked to the boom operator. That actor, Brenden Jennings was working with me at the law firm at that time and I told him the idea on the way out and he sort of went "Yeah. . .uh, yeah that sounds funny." I didn't think he thought 8 months later he would be online.
What's the back-story of Very Bad Porn and who are some of the characters and the people who portray them?
I wanted to be a character who was ethical and real and likable and who was funny because there were mental obstacles in his way, not that he was stupid. He's incompetent, but not stupid. I play Chelsea Humboldt, that character. He's named after my first dog and the street I grew up on, naturally. Chelsea got his friends together, Mark (Mark Raterman), Dillon Thomas (Thomas Middleditch), Scott (Scott Rutheford), and a boom mic guy (Brenden Jennings). They try and get women to get on their website (played by many of the most talented female improvisers in Chicago, including Susan Messing as my mother), and they're basically clueless to the fact that it's not really working. Chelsea is tenacious in his pursuit of this version of the American Dream, and that's why he will never give up. He used to work at a Radio Shack type job, and he saw everyone doing this online and thought "I can do this." He can't. Just like I think really, I couldn't.
What sort of research did you do to prepare for this endeavor and what were some things that you learned about porn and, as a result, about yourself?
I read Kafka. A lot of Kafka. I learned that you quickly become accustomed to being almost naked. I learned that I have as much trouble getting an erection on camera as in real life with a woman I just met. I think I learned that there is even more comic potential in this medium than I expected, and I expected there to be a lot. I also learned that the reality of these situations is something that is so real it's funny no one has really shown them in this way. That last sentence really made little to no sense.
What is it about porn dialog that's so funny and is there any that you'd like to share?
The dialog is so absolutely secondary to the utilitarian objectification of an act that was for so long vicseral and humanistic and hence is absurd in it's very inclusion. I think I spelled visceral wrong.
What are some of your favorite porn premises?
I really like the one where the guy is fixing the cable, and the girl is worried that by objectifying herself sexually, she will simultaneously disappoint her parents but fulfill the need within herself to be needed and worshiped, deep down knowing that this is the product of American culture's objectification of humanity in general. And then they do it on the ottoman.
Can you come up with three porn premises right now?
As Chelsea: "Alright, one, would be, okay, so she comes in, and I'm doing something super hot like making drinks, or making food or something, and then she walks in and she's like "you are really hot and I'm ready for intercourse" and I say something witty like "social or sexual" and then we have superhot sex on the kitchen island. And the other two are just different interpretations of that."
Do you find that surprise and juxtaposition are just as effective in porn as they are in comedy?
Yes. I'm serious about that. I love when you are watching pornography and something surprising happens, that can be very fulfilling. I don't know what juxtaposition means, unless you're talkin' bout having sex in the juxtaPOSITION! Bow chicka bow bow, (low voice) oh yeah. . . .twix.
Tell me about the launch parties that you had?
We did a launch party in Chicago at IO and at UCB/Serena bar. The was a lot of drinking and sexual tension, especially among me and all the girls, and the girls and all the guys and not me.
What are your plans for the future of Very Bad Porn?
Second City is in the process of optioning it as a feature film, and I would really like to do more videos. I would love to team up with superdeluxe.com or some other internet forum where we could produce a bunch and release them weekly, or something akin to that. I would love to see more from this character and this premise, because I feel pretty strongly that porn is something that needs to be satirized because it's such a big part of our culture, and I'm so baffled by my simultaneous disgust and fascination with it. It's really complicated.
What are these shows that you're doing with Pete Holmes?
Pete and I are doing stand-up together where we riff almost the entire set. We have similar energies and really try to improvise entire sets. I think he's really funny and really smart, one of the funniest and of of two of the smartest, and I enjoy his joking. We're trying to get a monthly show with CBS-NY, and we want to host rooms (one of which is gutbucket monthly at UCBNY).
Did you know Pete in Chicago?
Yes. It was weird.
What sort of acting training do you have?
I studied at B.A.D.A., the British American Drama Academy in Oxford England, and studied some theater in college, and I've taken on camera classes. I'm serious about being good in that medium, and I think it's important for me, as a comedian, to be proficient in all mediums of comedy, including funny mouth noises.
Tell me about studying acting in Oxford.
I was accepted to B.A.D.A., which was a summer program in Oxford, studying classical acting. I sort of felt like it was going to be a waste, and my parents encouraged me to go, but it ended up being important because I found that classical comedy was an important part of my education as a comedian, and I really grew as an actor and a person (height wise). The thing that I got out of it the most, was a sketch I did with the now nearly famous Charlie Todd, that basically parodied the entire program. It killed, and it solidified even more for me that comedy was where I was supposed to be. Charlie and I became friends at that program (how random is that? I mean, how like completely totally random is that) and I suggested he take classes at UCB. He wanted to be a director of theatre, and I said "you're really funny man, you out to take classes." And he said he'd think about it, and now he's one of the funniest guys over there, and he and I are actually in LA, I'm shooting this ABC pilot and he's shooting an NBC pilot for Improv Everywhere. Wacky. We had pizza and beer and talked about how weird it was that we were here now after B.A.D.A. Then I threw up at a bowling alley after doing a set.
What sort of role will you be playing in Carpoolers?
I play Marmaduke Brooker (if it get's picked up, if not, I'll be playing TJ Miller, guy who was in a pilot one time), the 20-something son of Gracen, the main character in the Carpooler. He's really weird, sort of esoteric and in his own world, not really understanding why he doesn't fit into the real world. He's in his underwear a lot, which I'm less than pleased with but prepared for because of Very Bad Porn. I'm excited because they let me be funny as the character in my own way, and I like the physicality I'm doing, which is super awkward. I hope it turns out well, but with this team I can't imagine it won't. Unless I decide to. . . blow. . .it. . . up.. . .bomb. . .style. . . .
Tell me about studying clowning.
I never really studied clowning or juggling. I sort of picked them up on my own. I've taught clowning at Camp Winnarainbow, and juggling and stilt walking, but I've never formally trained. I studied circus arts (stilts, acrobatics, physical theater) at Frichess theatre Urbain in Paris, and that is how I can walk on stilts like motherfucker. I'm still interested in stilt walking, I'd like to get back into it. It's great for street performance, which is another thing I would love to get into, but haven't yet.
Tell me about Practice Scaring a Bear.
That's the name of a show I did with Thomas Middleditch, we now do a show called Tuesday Riot at IO Chicago. I'm a huge fan of Thomas and a huge fan of our two-man improv, it's probably my favorite improvising I do. We are fast, absurd and insane, and I hope to do more of it in NY and LA soon.
Do you plan on using stand up as a launching pad for an acting career or do you plan on having stand up as a fixture of your future?
Stand-up is not a launching pad for anything. It's a complex and baffling art form, and I think I will always do it. I don't do stand-up to do other things, I do it to do it and be good at it. Acting is just another medium for comedy. I'm a comedian, and I just want to do the highest caliber work in every medium of comedy I can. That's how you get bitches, that's how you smoke weed. Believe that.
What is Blerds?
Blerds.com is a website that is a super dope collective of Chicago comics who Blog and create video with the super dope Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and we have very funny stuff, and perform live shows together. It's definitely one of my favorite projects. We're going to launch a site with our videos on it soon.
Tell me about the concept behind your website
tjmiller.com was taken. No, seriously--it was. But really, if you want to get real with this, I enjoy absurdity most of all, and the site, URL and all, represents that philosophy, by asserting that it is what it is not, and that it doesn't exist. I made it myself (hence how ugly it is) and I wanted it to be a place where people could see something absurd and different and check out what I'm doing. I would like to publicly apologize for how much I slack on updates, but really, it's hard people. I got drinks to drink.
How'd you get involved with standard deviants and PBS and what projects of theirs have you participated in?
That was a college thing! It was a phase. Let's not talk about it. I did it a few times, that doesn't mean that I'm an edu-tainer, you know? I'm who I am. I just wanted to experiment. That's it. Seriously, get off my back.
Did you ever have aspirations of being a teacher? What sort of aspirations did you have before going into comedy?
No. Never. I liked psychology, and still do, and philosophy, but comedy really was what I wanted to do. I was passionate about it early, it just took time to understand how I could do it, and part of that was building a philosophy and belief system that supported my vocation being the best possible thing I can do with my life, which is the creation of that ephemeral escapism that is laughter. I hope I'm coming off smart in this interview. Because I'm looking up a lot of words.