TJ Miller on becoming a comedian.
At a young age, were you exposed to comedy, were the cause of laughter, or were referred to as funny?
Absolutely. I saw a great deal of comedy growing up, my parents were big fans of comedy, and so I was exposed to all mediums of comedy: Live performance (theatre mostly), movies, television, radio, etc. I also remember making kids in school laugh at a young age, and I was referred to as funny when this happened.
What do you think first motivated you be funny?
I really like laughing, and I liked making other people laugh. It’s very fun. I think also, early on, I found that acting silly, to me, was very funny. I liked when other people acted funny, and so I strove to emulate that action and response. It almost always has been a split between something that is fun for me and the enjoyment it brings others.
Do you think that by being funny you may be counteracting a sense of inadequacy caused by a defect of self or circumstance, I.E. poverty or social ineptitude?
Social ineptitude perhaps, but I’m not sure. In grade school and junior high I wasn’t in the popular crowd, but always had friends that were. I remember though someone saying around 6th grade that Erik Hellman (now a successful actor in Chicago) and I were the funniest kids in the grade, and that made me very happy. In high school it was different, I was very well known, socially fluid, and later became the president of my school. All of this was a result of my sense of humor and my comedy, not vice versa.
Did people think you were funny before you thought you were funny?
I’m not sure, I think probably. I don’t think you think you are funny and hope people follow suite, I think that you slowly see that you can make people laugh, and that people think you are funny, and then you begin to pay attention to it. It was many years after I was performing in high school that I even considered stand-up comedy. I don’t think I ever considered it as an option. I thought I might be an actor who did comedic roles. So I’m not sure I really realized if I was funny enough to be a comedian until long after others did. My mother always tells the story of when I won a competition in drama (high school) and she couldn’t believe it, and the woman next to her said, “You didn’t know? It was obvious. They were the funniest by far.”
How did you learn to be funny?
First just by seeing what made people laugh. Seeing what I did that made people laugh. Then, as I became more invested in the art of comedy, and more interested in pursuing it, I began to study it, watching as much as I could, listening to cds. I probably learned most everything I know from my father and mother, and what they did that made me laugh, made others around us laugh. My father kills at dinner parties and restaurants. And my mother is a very silly woman. She watched “Steve Martin Live” over and over with us. I bet I saw that 50 times. My sister and I can quote almost every line. It’s tricky though, you can only study so much, and then you have to just go and do it, begin working on your own, otherwise you will become an imitation of those before you. You must have that balance.
Was there a moment when you eventually thought, “I am funny.”?
I can’t pinpoint it, but I remember thinking at one point “Alright, someone is writing these movies, doing this stand-up, making these shows. They aren’t super human, and I’m funny, so I must have a shot at being one of them, right?” That was a big realization. I think bigger though was the moment that I really understood how fundamentally important the work was, that comedy wasn’t something that was just fun to do and a way to pass the time for people, it’s an integral part of our social fiber and existence. And it gets you laid.
When did you make the decision to make comedy your career?
Around sophomore year of college. I got in an Improv group where no one was acting, and I realized comedy was its own entity and I that was all I wanted to do, so that’s what I would do.
The goal of these questions was to support, rebuke, or amend my grand unified theory of comedy, which is as follows: At a young age comedians are either exposed to comedy, are the cause of laughter, or are referred to as funny. They want to receive the same response and attention that the comedy that they saw or were the cause of achieved, possibly to counteract a sense of inadequacy caused by a defect of self or circumstance, I.E. social ineptitude or poverty. However, it is more likely that the comedian recognizes and appreciates the utility of comedy. They try to be funny, they are referred to as funny, they accept the label of funny, and, lastly, they decide to make funny their career. What do you think of this theory and do you think it describes you?
The theory is good, but I’m not sure it always counteracts a sense of inadequacy. I had to use a myriad of techniques to counteract that sense, and many people feel inadequate and deal with it in different ways. As I grew up, being funny became the thing that made me socially valuable, and still is my most appreciated quality (as it is in everyone, humor is the most prized social skill). That order is right though, I wanted to be and was referred to as funny, accepted that, and finally decided to do it as a vocation.