T.J. Miller looks back on his time in Chicago
On the cusp of stardom, Miller recalls his Chicago roots.
T.J. Miller has GEICO to blame for crushing his initial shot at comedy stardom. In 2007, the former Chicago comedian got cast in ABC’s short-lived sitcom Carpoolers (Miller is especially funny as the often pantsless, slacker son). But the lead-in was Caveman, a critically panned Neanderthal buddy show based on the GEICO car insurance commercials. “ABC didn’t have their brand right at the time,” says Miller via cell phone in Detroit. “Comedy-wise they weren’t exactly sure what they were doing.”
But four years and dozens of parts later, success is finding Miller one way or another. First in Cloverfield, the 2007 disaster-horror flick, and more recently in a spate of films including She’s Out of My League, Yogi Bear and others.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: He recently filmed a pilot with Heather Locklear for CBS; premiered a short film at Sundance in February; hosted Mash Up, a Chicago-centric Comedy Central special in March; will appear in the upcoming feature My Idiot Brother with Paul Rudd; and has countless other projects in the hopper. “There’s a weird thing that’s happening right now which is I’m becoming famous,” says Miller. “Hecklers now don’t yell at me about my act, they say, ‘Fuck you, your movie is stupid.’ ”
Miller was raised in Denver and attended college in Washington, D.C. “I came up with this philosophy of doing comedy as a vocation,” he says. “Then I was like, how do you do comedy?” He reasoned he could write it, act it and try his hand at sketch, improv and stand-up. Chicago offered all those opportunities, so he moved here in 2003 and grabbed the scene by the horns with stints in Second City’s TourCo, indie improv group Chuckle Sandwich, sketch quartet Heavyweight, and with countless hours at the mic. “You know what made me best at all the different comedy stuff I did in Chicago?” Miller says. “It was just Chicago. I lived in a city where the stand-up scene was invigorating, loyal, alternative and crazy competitive and there were so many opportunities to perform, but so was the improv scene.”
But in 2007 his agent got him the Carpoolers audition and additional opportunities soon followed. Miller decided to make the leap to L.A. a permanent one. “Los Angeles is a spread-out, weird, shitty place, but what can you do?” he says. “Once you put your foot in the water in Hollywood and the sharks start circling, it’s better to just get in and learn how to swim.”
This month, en route to Denver where Miller will film his first solo Comedy Central special, No Real Reason, he’ll hit Chicago’s Lincoln Lodge. “The Lodge was the most important thing to me when I was a young comedian,” Miller says. “I come back because [founder] Mark Geary was the first dude who was like, ‘You’re awesome.’ It’s important to stay connected to that.”
Miller plays the Lincoln Lodge Wednesday 11 and May 12.