GIGGLE CITY: The riffs of T.J. Miller

By the time that Comedy Central special finally comes to the paradoxically less funny Canadian counterpart, the Comedy Network, it’s already old. It’s over. It’s ready for the History Channel.

Not this time. This time, up-and-coming comedy star T.J. Miller is bringing a bootleg copy of his new Comedy Central special to screen for patrons of his late show at the Comic Strip on Saturday night – which happens to be the night of the premiere of the show in America. So Edmonton, of all places, will get to see fresh television comedy at the same time as all those hip Americans – who’ve been pretty funny lately.

(Mature content below.)

Q: If you could be any (other) celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: I think it would be pretty fun to be Paris Hilton and totally flip the script and come out with: “You know, I just realized there’s no reason I should be famous. So I’m going to ask that everybody stop paying attention to me.” Or Kim Kardashian: “It turns out I really shouldn’t have had a show at all. I want to apologize that I’ve been so entitled and forced this reality show on you.”

Q; Best heckler story?

A: In Atlanta, this man charged the stage and wanted to fist fight me because he felt I was making fun of his wife.

Q: Do you remember what you said to make him do that?

A: I was making fun of his wife. She was drunk and shouting out dumb stuff, just being rude and selfish. It’s all based in selfishness: “Look at me! I want to be part of the show! I don’t care about anyone else in the room!” And I asked her politely to stop and I asked her again and finally she said that her infant child had died recently. Which is, well, tragic – but also completely inappropriate to tell a roomful of strangers at a comedy show. I had to do an entire show after this women megalomaniacally told everyone that her son just died. At that point, she’s not ready to go outside. She needs to be in counseling still. At the end of the show I do these characters and I did this one that was vaguely about her being selfish, that everybody has things to deal with in their lives, everyone has experienced tragedy – that’s why we go to comedy shows. So her life situation is not so much more important than anybody else’s that she should selfishly take over the entire show. And then this guy in camo trucker’s hat wearing shorts and a Bud Light T-shirt wasn’t particularly pleased with my assessment of the situation. He ran right on the stage. I was ready to fight him, but the bouncers stopped him just in time. That was pretty exhilarating.

Q: Other comics have said that it’s impossible to get the better of a female heckler. Do you think that’s true?

A: It’s tough. Most comedians are not very good at dealing with hecklers. They have stock lines that they use: “Shut up, you cunt!” You can’t say that. “You stupid bitch!” You’re just being as rude as that person. You can’t call names. The way I deal with hecklers is not like that. I just recontextualize their behaviour and shame them into stopping. And also when I make fun of people, it’s not mean. It’s usually just effective. But that’s sort of my forte. One of the things I do is deal with hecklers. That’s the only reason I think I do well in England. They come out there: “Hey, nice face! You fucking Yank!” They’re terrible. It’s not even a show in some parts of the UK. It’s just a drunken brawl where one person was given a microphone.

Q: Do you bring it on yourself?

A: I talk to the audience. I do a lot of crowd work and I riff a lot, but that’s quite different. The reason audiences do it for me is that I’m riffing so much and when people yell things out, I make it funny. I’ll tease that person for yelling out what they thought it was funny. And some people think, “Hey, if I yell something out, that helps the show.” It’s a tricky thing.

Q: Do you have a joke you’ve dropped that you were sad to let go?

A: My first few years I did comedy, I closed with this bit about these families on four person bicycles that all seem so happy all the time, but you just wonder: does all that happiness dissolve when they get to a hill? Dad’s yelling, “Hey, Jeremy, are you pedaling back there? God damn it, pull your weight!” It used to be my closer, then it didn’t work so well, so for the last five years I’ve been trying to bring it back, but I can’t do it. No one else has a  joke about four person bicycles.

Q: Do comics steal jokes from each other all the time or is there a code?

A: Oh, yeah, there’s a code. There’s not one comedian I could be friends with who is a known thief.

Q: Then why do we hear so many of the same jokes from different comedians?

A: This teacher in Chicago, Ali Farahnakian, he owns The Pit in New York City, he said this thing once: “We’re all looking for the same Easter eggs.” When you arrive at the same place as other people it’s because you’re on the same hunt. Did we steal this from Ari Shaffir: “We’re going to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out. Who’s going to build it?” That’s a joke lot of people came up with. Did Leno steal from Fallon and Kimmel or did Kimmel steal from Leno in the joke about the dumb news story that day? We’re all living the same life.

Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be a good comic?

A: You have to question things. You have to be able to look at your surroundings and find out what’s absurd about them. If you’re just floating along, saying, oh, this is really good, it wouldn’t work. “Have you been in a grocery store? Everything’s lined up perfectly! It all works so well, you get through the line, everything’s relatively reasonably priced.” That wouldn’t work for stand up.

Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?

A: I am interested in the idea that pornography was only consumable en masse in my generation and this generation has an even higher tier of pornography accessibility than I had. I often think about how pornography has affected guys and their sexual relationships with women. It’s going to be a weird world for kids that when they were 13 had one of their own buddies show them a video of a girl fucking a horse. Once you see that, you can’t get it out of your head.