T.J. Miller talks Dane Cook, Denver comedy and eating mustard out of a can
Several local comics have gone full time into their craft, but to support themselves they have to tour. Do you think to survive as comedians they have to leave Denver for L.A. or Chicago?
Well, Chicago...I worked as a comic in Chicago for four years, and while it's getting easier there, the nature of the game is still, if you really want to be in there, at this level, you have to go to Los Angeles. Or New York. But I think what Denver and Chicago are showing is that you can have a healthy standup community in any city -- you just need like-minded, intelligent people who like to go see comedy. The problem is that there's not much money in it. But the Denver underground scene is exploding, and that's going to give a lot of comics a space to develop.
So does Denver need to start filming large-budget productions here before we can afford to financially support comedians?
The problem is there are only so many clubs, only so much paid work in Denver -- just like Chicago -- and there will always be more comedians than there are slots. Even comedians in Los Angeles have to tour. You can be based in Denver and be a big touring comedian. But if you want to be in film and television, you have to come out to Los Angeles. And it still is the case that people who get on TV for standup are in New York or L.A., because they're taken more seriously. And I think that's erroneous.
Instead of asking, "Will Denver be able to compete with Los Angeles or New York?," Denver should be excited that their city is becoming this breeding ground, the incubation period, for a lot of great comedians. As a comedian, you want to be in a setting with a lot of creative people who are very driven; you're producing content and you're learning from people about the content they're producing. But you don't have the industry watching over you; you don't have the anxiety of first three or four years of doing standup where you're thinking, "Boy, if I fuck up this one, I won't be able to get into this or that club, and these Comedy Central executives are here..." L.A. infects you, just like any place with a lot of money and opportunity.
Which prompts the question: if you spend your developing years outside of the industry, in a city not infected by money and opportunity, does that provide more opportunity for authenticity?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. That's a great point. I think that's why I am the comedian that I am today: Chicago was a huge scene, but nobody was paying attention to standup. So we all did whatever we wanted to do, and learned from each other.
So much of your identity is wrapped up in Denver; how do you feel you've been received by the Denver comedy community, considering you made a name for yourself elsewhere?
I think I maintain my identity as a Denverite more than people would like me to. There are a lot of aspects to my personality that are very embarrassing -- most of all to me, and I'm sure to my city. I'm such a weirdo. I look like Ryan Reynolds pushed his face against a brick wall for an hour and a half. I eat mustard out of a can, and mustard doesn't even come in a can! So I'm squeezing mustard out of a bottle and into a can and eating it out of a can, spilling it all over myself...
But, yes, Denver is an important part of my identity. I grew up in Capitol Hill, went to East High School.... Anyone who lives in Denver and is in any way rational loves Denver! No one says bad things about it. No one I'm interested in hanging out with says, "There's nothing to do in Denver. Denver's so boring." It's such a great city. All the comics were so accepting of me, and I love all the comics in Denver. So I've tried to help them. Andrew Orvedahl has been opening for me lately. I try and play the Grawlix and Fine Gentleman's shows whenever I'm in town. This Saturday I'm doing two benefits for Denver. I do that a lot, and want to continue to. I donate to East High School, and every time I come back, I talk to the drama class.
So I try and give back to the community, like a rapper would -- but I have a much worse car.