Comic T.J. Miller: Trained Clown And Student Of Nietzsche The Silicon Valley actor, and former Shakespearean clown, says his latest role is right up his alley: "I'm interested in morality and mortality, and Deadpool kind of has all of these themes."

Comic T.J. Miller: Trained Clown And Student Of Nietzsche

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

T.J. Miller is by no means a one-dimensional talent. Kids might know his voice from the movies "How To Train Your Dragon" and "Big Hero 6." Adults may know his I standup comedy or recognize him as the arrogant tech entrepreneur in the HBO series "Silicon Valley." Now Miller is featured in the new R-rated comic book movie "Deadpool." NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: As a comedian, T.J. Miller is always adapting to the room when he does his stand-up, to the character or to the microphone.

T.J. MILLER: And then sometimes I'll get a little bit louder like this because louder is funnier, and it's one of my only crutches that I can really lean on. And then other times, I'll sort of do my NPR voice, you know. I'm going to kind of talk in a way that's soothing but also informative and nonbiased.

BLAIR: Know the situation. Know the character. T.J. Miller digs deep. Take Fred, the hippie school mascot in "Big Hero 6."

MILLER: He's just a really likable laid back guy who's got a really warm heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

MILLER: (As Fred) Welcome to mi casa. That's French for front door.

I am very similar to Fred, and I also - I think I change my underwear more often, hopefully.

BLAIR: Fred is proud of how he conserves his underwear.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

MILLER: (As Fred) One pair last me four days. I go front. I go back. I go inside-out. Then I go front and back.

DANIEL HENNEY: (As Tadashi) Wow, that is both disgusting and awesome.

JAMIE CHUNG: (As Go Go) Don't encourage him.

MILLER: (As Fred) It's called recycling.

BLAIR: T.J. Miller's character in HBO's "Silicon Valley" is nothing like Fred.

MILLER: He is an obnoxious, abrasive, totally un-self-aware blowhard.

BLAIR: Slovenly with shaggy curly hair, Erlich Bachman is ridiculously full of himself. He's constantly berating his housemates, like the time there were only wide spoons left in the drawer when he wanted to eat his yogurt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SILICON VALLEY")

MILLER: (As Erlich Bachman) I specifically posted a note on the refrigerator saying that the more narrow spoons be reserved for the eating of Fage yogurt by me.

BLAIR: T.J. Miller admits there is some of him in Bachman.

MILLER: He is just sort of, unfortunately for me, kind of a magnification of certain aspects of my personality mixed in with a couple of fictional things. But we are in line with each other sort of as nihilists. It's kind of - Erlich really believes that you got to be a real a-hole to make it in this world. And he thinks you should tell it like it is. There's no reason to sugarcoat stuff. And why not have an incredibly high opinion of yourself because it doesn't - everybody's opinion, including yours, doesn't mean anything. It doesn't matter.

BLAIR: "Silicon Valley" co-creator Mike Judge says T.J. Miller uses all of his comedy chops - improv, physicality - to make Bachman likable, even when he's saying something crass.

MIKE JUDGE: There's this odd kind of vulnerability to T.J.'s face in his expressions when he's saying these things sometimes that make it kind of innocent.

MELODY DUGGAN: He was that typical, classical, class clown, scared a lot of the teachers to death.

BLAIR: Melody Duggan was T.J. Miller's drama teacher at East High School in Denver, his hometown.

DUGGAN: He understands the frailty and silliness of the human condition, and I think that's really where he comes from, better than any kid I've ever had.

BLAIR: Duggan included stand-up in her curriculum. She says Miller was a natural. She knew he would do comedy full-time someday. Miller says she made him stretch.

MILLER: She was casting me in musicals, and she made me do "Oedipus Rex." And she said, you have to learn everything.

BLAIR: He studied circus arts and Shakespearean clowns. He was in Second City Chicago's touring company. There was a time before all that when Miller thought of becoming a psychologist like his mother. But he figured making people laugh was more important than ever.

MILLER: We're surrounded by poverty, tragedy, sickness. It's really - it's a tough thing. It's a tough run. You know, you're born, and then you have a tough run, and then you die. But so to do comedy, you can lift people out of that for that amount of time. That's sort of this ephemeral escapism that I think is so vital to modern life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter).

BLAIR: On stage at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal last year, that laugh got T.J. Miller's attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: He's got it right, though.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: That's exactly right. And I'm not making fun of your laugh. I would never make fun of your laugh.

BLAIR: Miller improvised.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: I don't - have any of you had someone make fun of your laugh, a friend make fun of the way you laugh? Has anyone? You know, that's basically your friend saying, hey, you know that sound you make when you're happy and joyful...

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: ...And the tragedy that permeates our everyday life is momentarily abated for an ephemeral escapism? Yeah, you sound stupid.

BLAIR: T.J. Miller adds to the comic relief in the new movie "Deadpool." Warning, it's nothing like those children's movies but just as funny. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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