T.J. Miller on his new video, "Denver," and why Colorado has the best comedy scene
T.J. Miller loves Denver. He was educated by the rough blocks of Colfax, by the teachers at East High School, and by the comedians who came before him. After working odd jobs here and there to support his comedic obsession, Miller has finally established himself internationally on the comedy circuit -- but does not define that as "making it."
We caught up with the native Denver funny guy to find out why he decided to compete with rappers on his new album and, specifically, what landmarks that define this cowtown made the cut for "Denver," his tongue-in-cheek music video that debuts tonight at Film on the Rocks.
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Westword:Are you out in California right now?
T.J. Miller : I'm in Beverly Hills, actually.
I'm just here to see a plastic surgeon. I'm going to get my nose moved around and have it put where my ears are.
Well, Beverly Hills is the place to do it, and you know everyone will follow suit eventually.
And then I'll have to get my nose put back where it was originally because it will be all the rage.
Boom goes the dynamite. Well, I've seen a preview of the "Denver" music video that you are working on. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
First of all, thanks for taking some time to talk. It's exciting that Denver is getting behind this idea. I made this satirical music album for Comedy Central Records -- it's an extended play album -- and it's sort of a comical splattering of all these hilarious ideas. One of them was that I would "rep" the city where I'm from: Denver. Mainly because all hip-hop artists rap about where they are from, and not a lot of people are doing this for Denver. I wanted it to be ridiculous. Me saying, "Denver! Denver! I'm from Denver!" would be the most absurd thing! I did music videos for several of the songs, so it's kind of a continuation -- how much hubris and arrogance does an artist need to have to believe that you should be buying something that they made in an area where he has no skill? It's basically celebrity branding. Once you are the star of an ABC sitcom, you should seriously try to be a rapper. Once you are done rapping, people should take you seriously as an actor. How self-absorbed do you have to be?
I guess really self-absorbed?
To continue that, I wanted to make a music video that is as professional-looking as possible, and equally as good as what the professional rappers are putting out there. I needed to make some music videos, and kind of the joke is that people should always be wondering, "Is he being serious?"
I just wanted to work with like-minded people. For "Denver," I wanted to support people who were talented and doing what I was doing. I heard about the Nix brothers, and I knew [Andy Juett] from some radio spots. I also have become close with a lot of the comedians and stand-ups in Denver. Ever since Denver had a comedy scene that was rising to prominence, I have tried to associate with that because I'm from Denver. It is a big part of my identity.
That makes sense. How does the video show that?
The character I am playing is kind of a culmination of all the comedy in Denver. It's sort of a weird hiphop video from Denver's comedy world, but also making fun of Denver and myself. We started talking about the concept of the video, and quickly came up with over twenty locations where we wanted to shoot. We had to boil them down. So the video is about trying to be in front of the horse at DIA, the microbreweries, sports and kind of showing the skyline, the mountains and all these different things. We wanted to set up the crazy lawyer dubstep section, which is for nothing other than being as insane as possible in Civic Center Park. We brought out all our favorite Denver comedians for it, and it was great. We ended up shooting more than we could use, and it almost came down to making two music videos.
Just circling back to the comedy scene in Denver, in your professional opinion, how do you think Denver ranks in the national scene?
In my unprofessional opinion, I think Denver has one of the best comedy scenes in the country. It has to do with Denver, its audience, and it has this alternative scene that is totally supported by Comedy Works. Comedy Works is the best club in the USA, or at least the top five. That is undisputed in the comedy community. It's why so many albums are recorded there. The downtown Denver audience is young, they love to drink, everything is smart, but they are not liberal and touchy, which is something you run into in somewhere like California. Geographically, Denver is in the perfect place, being so close to Colorado Springs and Boulder.
What about your past? What kind of things have you done in order to be able to do comedy full-time?
I went to school in D.C., and worked part-time at Radio Shack for a little while. I was fired, though, and I guess I was just a really bad cell-phone salesman. Then I was fired from a daytime bartending job. So then I picked up other gigs; I basically worked seven days per week, anywhere between ten and fourteen hours, just so I could keep at it.
It seems like it has paid off. Do you consider your current status as "making it" in this industry?
I think it's a harsh way of saying, "Once you are doing what you want to do for a living, you've 'made it.'" I think making it implies there is a level that is reached and you will be happy. If you look at The Great Gatsby, once you achieve the thing that you thought would make you happy, it isn't what you thought it would be. A lot of people think rich and famous will make you happy. It doesn't.
"Denver" will debut at Film on the Rocks tonight at Red Rocks before the screening of Bridesmaids; Land Lines will be playing starting at 6:45 p.m. Find more information here.