TJ Miller: «The internet is turning everything back into high school»
After his brilliant 90-minute stand-up show at Rick’s in Bergen, we sat down with comedian TJ Miller and talked about how social media is essentially ruining our lives. Ironically, you’re probably reading this article based on a link from a social media platform, but hey, you win some, you lose some. Check out what TJ had to say about Norwegian culture and the vicious world of the internet.
PS: Due to the length of this article, we also made a podcast for the people who don’t like to read.
By: Andreas Enehaug & Marius Helland Prestøy
Check out our podcast:
Most of us know TJ Miller as the eccentric character «Erlich Bachmann» on the popular HBO-show «Silicon Valley». Some of you might also know him from his role as the sympathetic, yet crude bartender «Weasel» in the two «Deadpool»-installments.
Despite making quite the name for himself in Hollywood, TJ recently left both the TV-show and LA in order to move to New York City. This particular choice was not only to be near his wife, Kate, a famous NY-based artist, but also to be able to do real, live and intimate stand-up shows. Or «more substantial stuff», as he refers to it.
«I could work on Silicon Valley for six months, and you could binge-watch it all in a weekend» TJ remarks, pointing out that he clearly prefers creating unique and memorable moments on stage. His personal desire and public encouragement to try and live in the moment is crystal clear.
A nihilistic showman
TJ Miller describes himself as both a comedian (of all sorts), a clown and a nihilist. The clown-aspect is more or less self-explanatory, due to his ever changing hair- and beard-cuts, original wardrobe and the fact that he’s famous for his energetic personality. We, however, found the the latter definition more interesting. A «nihilist» is essentially a person who believes that all societal and moral values are baseless, and that there’s actually no point to anything. Now that’s interesting!
So, based on his nihilistic point of view, what is on TJ’s mind? After an exceptionally strong opening act by the local power-house, Christoffer Schjelderup (in English for the occasion), TJ took the stage, dancing and singing along to the tune «Tenker Feil» by the local hip-hop duo Sushi x Kobe (obviously without knowing any of the words).
While sporting a checkered suit, tons of bling jewelry and awkward white guy-dance moves, he clearly lived up to our early expectations of clownish behavior. However, the man had some surprising tricks up his sleeve.
«Yesterday I was in Oslo, Norway. It’s so good to finally be out of Norway!». The crowd roared with laughter. He had everyone in the palm of his hand already, clearly referencing the local half-ironic motto «I’m not from Norway, I’m from Bergen».
Usually, international performers devote maybe a minute or two to pander to the local audience and try to pronounce a few words, but not TJ Miller. He took that game to a whole new level. For about half an hour he talked in detail about Norway, Scandinavian culture, Bergen, Oslo and the rivalry between the different cities. It was 100% on-point and almost absurd. Luckily TJ also refers to himself as an «absurdist» (which according to him is a «nihilist with a smile»)
Now, it’s obviously bad journalism to reveal a comedian’s jokes in an article, especially considering the fact that he’s got more tour-dates coming up. However, when you take into account TJ’s desire to make each show unique and custom-made for the venue at hand, we feel it’s only natural to tell you what made the Bergen-show so special.
«I love to study», he said both in our interview and on stage. Alongside his wife, Kate, who’s joined him on tour for the occasion, he’s read several PHD-articles about both Norwegian- and Scandinavian stereotypes to prepare. «I studied a lot about your culture and social norms, and I really like it. I don’t know why» TJ utters with a huge grin on his face.
«I like to fuck with culture»
The nihilist-clown downright thrilled the audience when he highlighted the difference between the cab-drivers in Oslo and Bergen. The woman who drove them into the capitol struggled to name any celebrities or landmarks, but the driver in Bergen boasted non-stop from the airport to the city center about famous DJ’s and beautiful tourist attractions.
«Oh, so you think you’re a little cooler in Bergen?» TJ asked. The driver calmly replied «no, no, no… We ARE cooler!». Suffice it to say, the audience at Rick’s went wild. One could easily argue that TJ was playing into our hands by stroking our ego’s, but this was no ordinary show and it really didn’t feel like pandering.
The man was well-prepared! Through his extensive research, as well as his upbringing with a father of Swedish ancestry, he knows that Scandinavians love to hear jokes about themselves, and that we can take the hits. In fact, we actually welcome it with open arms.
TJ describes Scandinavia as «a family». When asked to elaborate, he explains that in his opinion, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are like siblings. They might fight or have silly discussions about petty stuff, but when push comes to shove, «you guys put up a united front. I love that».
A Norwegian word TJ has picked up on, which he finds utterly fascinating and pronounces differently almost every time, is «dugnad». For any international readers, «dugnad» describes the gathering of friends, family, neighbors or even strangers to do volunteer work.
«You guys are encouraged from early on to help each other» TJ adds. We’re guessing his fascination lies in the fact that this particular Norwegian philosophy is somewhat different to the American dream, which to a certain extent relies on being the master of your own destiny. «If I ask a guy in the states to pick up trash with me, I’m a fucking asshole» TJ concludes. We smile and reply «you might be considered an asshole here as well».
«Bergen is like Denver»
Todd Joseph Miller was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, a mid-western city surrounded by mountains (similar to Bergen according to the man himself). The weather is shitty, but the population is used to it, and the people are generally friendly. When asked what drew him to Norway in the first place, he replies, «I went to Oslo with a terrible ex-girlfriend years ago to see a Fleetwood Mac-concert. And I just immediately loved Oslo. I loved Norway, and I wanted to come back».
TJ mentioned on stage that it’s his first time in Bergen. When asked about his impressions so far, he replies: «The audience in Bergen is definitely rowdier, and I mean, Bergen is just so beautiful… and Oslo is just a dope city. And you guys actually like each other despite saying you don’t. I find that cool». Once again, we nod and our overall conclusion is that almost all of those statements are true.
«Social media is unhealthy»
One of the segments we found most interesting in TJ’s show, mainly because we wholeheartedly agree, is that there’s way too many negative sides to social media.
«Social media is turning everything back into high school. Everyone’s a bully, but it’s always behind your back». When asked afterwards to elaborate on these opinions, TJ tells us that it’s so unhealthy, that in a couple of years it’ll be like cigarettes. Once considered cool, now just awkward and stupid. «If you’re gonna be on social media, go to the other room, it’s disgusting!».
TJ tells us that he really opened his eyes to social media-hatred after he did «The Emoji Movie» (an animated feature film for children between the ages 6-12). The amount of negativity and slander he undeservedly received for this was, as he points out, «out of this world».
«Social media brings out the worst in us» TJ sighs. He also points out that aspects of living in the US right now is horrible: «when the president, who’s a lunatic by the way, tells us that the press is the enemy of the people, he’s actually challenging freedom of speech».
TJ is crystal clear about the fact that freedom of speech and the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms, in other words: carry a gun) is what the US is all about. His reason for pointing this out, is that in the same way you can abuse a gun, you can abuse social media. In other words, it can be utilized to hurt people. And sadly, that happens way too often!
TJ urges everyone to pay attention to how much time they’re using in front of their screens.
«It’s destroying the world» he says with a sincere look on his face. During his stand-up routine in Bergen, TJ actually took the time to address an audience member who looked at his phone.
«I’d like to encourage you to live in the present, and acknowledge that this is a real show, happening right now» he said to the somewhat baffled audience member. TJ then stepped into the crowd and shook his hand. No harm, no foul. Just a polite reminder, which happened to work. The audience member in question didn’t look at his phone once for the remainder of the show, and TJ praised him for that several times in between jokes (as a joke in itself, of course).
«Twitter is for being mean, Instagram is for bragging»
As we continue sinking deeper into the abyss of social media-negativity, we discuss the aspect of presenting so-called «fake lives» on Instagram. This includes showing off perfect meals, perfect bodies, perfect relationships, and not worrying about the fact that impressionable audiences actually buy this «happiness» as the truth.
His thoughts on Twitter aren’t much better. «Twitter is just vicious» he bursts out.
«It encourages cowardness. In fact, you’ll automatically be meaner, because you’re not facing the person in question. Usually you’d just punch someone in the face». It’s obvious TJ despises the web-based hatred we throw at each other on a daily basis. «We should be using social media to connect with people, share tastes and build up culture, not tear it down» he quips.
When we tell TJ that we sincerely hope Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook will be able to regulate this better in the future, the conversation becomes even darker. «Facebook isn’t trustworthy, man» he replies. «It’s very hard to expect McDonalds to regulate how they make food and just trust them. The same way it’s hard to trust that Facebook will regulate and take care of all their problems».
This exact point leads us to one of the reasons why he chose to leave «Silicon Valley», a hugely popular TV-show, which centers around the tech start-up environment in California.
«What Silicon Valley made fun of were all these people saying: we’re making the world better, we’re changing the world, we’re the good guys. But what happened in the last year or two, is that the show isn’t funny in the same way anymore, because the curtain has been drawn and when you see the Wizard from OZ, and in this case, it looks a lot like corporate greed».
TJ goes on to explain that in the same way some companies are evil, «Silicon Valley» sadly isn’t much different. Out of respect for TJ, and not potentially misquoting him in any way, we’re leaving it at that, but we were encouraged to see that he lights up by saying «that’s why I do this», referencing his stand-up.
He subsequently talks about his desire to do even more pointed satire, which he obviously couldn’t do on a TV-show with a different agenda than him, but he can and will do it on stage. «Luckily, I can make stand-up funny, however I want. It’s more dangerous, more interesting, and I can change everything tomorrow».
«We live in a dark time, but there’s hope»
As our interview with TJ draws to an end, we refer back to his cigarette-analogy and ask «how do you think it will end, in terms of this social media-bubble? ». TJ replies «I don’t know, man. I wish I did» while shaking his head. He does, however, talk enthusiastically about an ever-increasing trend of going off the grid, shutting down, and seeking activities that doesn’t require the internet.
«There’s these apps available» he says before mentioning that he recently met up with a friend, who’s in solar energy, and saw his phone go off, effectively telling him that he had spent his internet-limit for the day». Refreshing!
«The final curtain call»
Our time with TJ is up and somewhat annoyingly we have to grab our «social media vessels» (a.k.a our phones) to get a picture with the man before he leaves. TJ graciously agrees and poses with an energetic smile, before hugging us both, thanking us for our time and heading back to his hotel.
This happens after 90 minutes of stand-up, another 90 minutes of taking selfies with fans and an additional half hour with us, just because we asked him politely. Without sounding like crazed fan boys, we were undoubtedly impressed, not only by TJ’s show, but also his dedication, sincerity and devotion to his fans.
So in conclusion, we’d just like to say: we’re looking forward to meeting you again, TJ. Let’s just hope it’s in person and not on social media… Let’s have a dugnad!
All the best!