T.J. Miller’s comedy is often fueled by barbecue. The standup comic and actor is chatting over pulled pork while calling from a barbecue joint in Syracuse, New York. After talking about some of his favorite burnt ends from Kansas City and North Carolina, Miller spoke of how much he enjoyed Pig Out in the Park.
“That was the last time I was in Spokane (in 2018),” Miller said. “I love barbecue, but it was beyond barbecue at the Pig Out in the Park. There was every kind of food Spokane had to offer. I loved it. I know there’s nothing like Pig Out in the Park when I come back, but I’ll find some barbecue when I come in.”
Fans never know what Miller, who has five dates at Spokane Comedy Club through Saturday, will deliver when he hits the stage since the former star of HBO’s acclaimed “Silicon Valley” isn’t certain what will emanate from his barbecue sauce-covered mouth.
“That’s part of the fun,” Miller said. “When I come back to Spokane, I have a lot of material, but I might just do improv and not do any of my material. It depends how the show goes. Part of it is how I feel. I need to have a good memory to go with killer improv. I ask audience members their names, and I might call back to earlier riffs, so I can’t smoke weed before the show.”
Miller, 40, is a throwback of a comic a la Robin Williams and Sam Kinison, since he works as if he’s walking a high wire without a net. Miller constantly takes chances. “To me, that’s what standup is all about,” Miller said. “I love to take risks.”
If Miller does render material, he plans to chat about his Crazy Tour, which was when he performed in 2020 in states that allowed live performance during the early days of the pandemic. “I call it the Crazy Tour since I performed in Florida, Tennessee and Texas,” Miller said. “I started performing in June of 2020. It was crazy since I was performing in crazy places. I was working on the front lines.
“I’m not comparing myself to a nurse, but I was out there performing with the unmasked. When an audience is laughing, we’re dealing with forceful breathing that is directed right at you when they are laughing. I had two fans blowing across the stage that would blow back the COVID, so you got a double dose of COVID if you were sending it my way. It really was crazy. I remember talking to a guy who owned a club in Port Charlotte, Florida. He said nobody in the area had COVID. I found out that he had COVID. It was absolutely insane. I joked about COVID there just like I’ll joke about it in Spokane. I’ll give the people in Florida credit for having a sense of humor about it.”
However, Miller notes how some folks in the San Francisco Bay Area don’t get the joke. Miller’s “Silicon Valley” was based in the Bay Area. “I can’t believe these people who live in that part of country,” Miller said. “They’ll see me at airports or wherever, and they’ll say, ‘It’s so cool someone finally made a show about us. We’re the funniest, most interesting people in the world.’ They really believe that.”
Some fans of “Silicon Valley,” which was created by Mike Judge of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “Office Space” fame, had no idea they were being skewered during the run of the show, which ended in 2017. “It’s absolutely absurd,” Miller said. “But we live in an absurd world.”
The absurdity inspires the quirky Miller, who loved comedy while coming of age in Denver and whose credits also include “Deadpool” and “She’s Out of My League.” “I grew up loving Steve Martin,” Miller said. “I would look back to his standup and just be obsessed with it. I was influenced by the Far Side, Andy Warhol, and my favorite living comic was Norm Macdonald, who unfortunately is no longer with us.”
Like the recently deceased Macdonald, Miller is uncompromising and fearless. “I don’t know any other way to be as a standup,” Miller said. “Being a comedian means everything to me.”
Unlike many of his peers, Miller never uses standup as a vehicle for film or TV projects. “If anything, it’s the opposite,” Miller said. “I left ‘Silicon Valley’ (in 2017) to focus on standup and work on other projects.”
“The Loneliest Megaplex” is what Miller is focusing on when he’s not delivering standup. “It’s about when movie theaters opened up in June of 2020, and nobody showed up,” Miller said. “I’m the only one working there. We haven’t shot it yet, but I’m excited about the show.”
As enthusiastic as Miller is about “The Loneliest Megaplex,” Miller can’t help but wax about standup. “It’s always meant so much to me,” Miller said. “That’s why I couldn’t wait to get out and perform after the lockdown. I was out there only three months after we were shut down. I even agreed to perform in Florida.
“I don’t know if I could be any more passionate about what I do. I had to get out there and leave my living room to go on the road. Now I’m on the way to Spokane. I wish there was a Pig Out in the Park when I come back. I’ll just have standup when I arrive, but that will be enough for me.”
Miller wonders what’s next, and so does his pal, the aforementioned Judge. “Mike Judge called me and said, ‘What’s going to happen?’ ” Miller said. “I said you see the future (a reference to Judge’s hilarious film ‘Idiocracy,’ which is primarily based in the year 2505). I get it. Mike has daughters.
“With the pandemic, those in Hollywood wondered if the world was going to end. It kind of did. The America we knew no longer exists, but we’re starting a new wild world, and we need comedy to keep the new world sane.”
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