T.J. Miller on real bears, Yogi Bear and Denver's comedy scene
Gold teeth are not cheap. That's just one of the many things we learned during our chat with T.J. Miller, a Denver-raised comedian who has since gone on to mind-boggling heights of fame with supporting roles in such movies as She's out of my League and Yogi Bear. But his first love is comedy, and as such, he'll be in Boulder Saturday night for a live taping of No Real Reason, his upcoming one-hour special on Comedy Central (free tickets are available); in advance, he schooled us in the ways of working with bears both real and fictional, the absurdity of hip-hop and repping the Denver comedy scene.
Westword: It's nice of you to come back to the hometown for your special. Well, sort of the hometown.
T.J. Miller: Yeah, I'm excited to be coming back to the D-Town to represent. Logistically I had to take it to Boulder -- I had wanted to do the Gothic, but it was too small, and there were a couple of other venues we looked at that didn't work out -- which is okay, because even thought they're constantly stoned up there and they're just a bunch of liberal hippies, the Boulder Theater is beautiful, so it's good. It's not too far away.
WW: Where are you living now?
TJM: I live in Hollywood, in the neighborhood that is Hollywood. You know, I don't like living in L.A. really, but I do like the work that I'm doing, so it's a trade-off. Hollywood itself is a little dangerous, it's a little scummy. It's like Colfax -- well, I guess Colfax isn't the same Colfax it used to be. When I went to high school -- I went to high school at East -- Hollywood is like that Colfax, but not as good. I always tell people, Denver's my favorite city, I'd rather live there than anywhere else, but I just can't do what I do in Denver. Actually, speaking of that, remind me to talk later about Denver's comedy scene.
WW: Please do.
TJM: Alright. I think one of the interesting things that's happened in the fairly recent past is that Denver's comedy scene is coming into it's own. You know, I'm friends with Andrew Orvedahl and Chuck Roy and Adam Cayton-Holland and all those guys, so it's really nice, and I'm hoping that sort of hyping that I'm from Denver will kind of push some attention toward the Denver scene. Because I think Denver's a great town. It's well educated people that are liberal and smart and cultured -- if you're from Denver you've been to a museum.
So I want to represent. I'm releasing an album on Comedy Central Records that's a ridiculous music album, and it's one of those thing where I wanted to emulate the rappers who talk about where they're from, so I have a song about coming out of Denver. I really want to make that a part of who I am as a comedian. I want to talk about being from Denver and I like representing Denver and I like to say the word Denver.
WW: I feel like that's something you like to play on a lot in your jokes, the dissonance of you as a geeky white guy embracing these kind of gangsta cliches.
TJM: I think I'm interested in the absurd. That's my M.O., is all that is ridiculous, and there are very few things to me that are more absurd than hip-hop -- the hip-hop lifestyle, the demeanor -- but simultaneously there's something very alluring about it, because it's about confidence and ambition and being the best. There's this very American element to it.
So this album is mostly hip hip, because that's the stuff that I find ridiculous. I don't care about music at all -- I've been to like two concerts. I've always been more into words and language than I have been into music, and with hip-hop that's the focus, is the lyrics, the language. And also I own a grille, and once you get one of those, you have too be into hip hop. I mean gold teeth are expensive. Owning a grille and not being into hip-hop, It'd be like getting her a piñata the day after her quincinera, am I right?
WW: How much is a grille, anyway?
TJM: Depends on whether or not you've been in Yogi Bear.
WW: Actually, I was wondering, is it weird to work on a movie that depends so heavily on CG? Like, what do you look at when you're talking to Yogi?
TJM: Ping-pong balls on the end of sticks. And you interact with stand-ins. It's difficult. I openly say that I'm probably the foremost talking-bear comedian in the United States. I don't think there's anyone as good or as funny as I am with talking bears. I've worked with real bears and I've worked with animated bears, and it's much harder with an animated bear. You have to change your rhythm to match a bear's comic timing. It's really the rhythm and cadence and tonality of the comedy, and that last word is something I essentially invented.
WW: Working with real bears, I'm guessing, refers to the video you sent to Warner Brothers auditioning with an actual bear. Why did you want that part so badly?
TJM: I didn't. I sent that as a joke to Warner Brothers, because I thought that would be hilarious. I actually had already auditioned; I went in with their casting director and did a line reading and I killed it, and they wanted me to do it, but before they announced it, I sent that to them and they thought that was the most ridiculous thing they had ever seen and they offered me the part. And I ended up being in a really great piece of cinema.
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