Ubiquitous on the Chicago comedy scene in recent years, and an increasingly prominent fixture in Hollywood of late, T.J. Miller spent the latter half of June off the grid, touring parts of the Amazon with his photographer girlfriend.
Chilling for a bit in an eco lodge in Ecuador where a cheap phone call to L.A. could be made, the 27-year-old Denver native had nothing but nice things to say about his exotic vacation in a continent he’s grown to love since venturing to Argentina as a college student for a Spanish immersion program.
The only challenge to report: getting his comedy to translate in a different tongue.
Luckily for Miller, translation hasn’t been a problem in terms of platforms and genres.
Coming out of the final Aspen Comedy Arts Festival early last year, his Second City-honed acting and improv skills were tapped for the ABC comedy “Carpoolers.”
Launching last fall, the skein succumbed after 13 episodes, but Miller received notice as Marmaduke, the perpetually underwear-clad adult-son slacker of one of the lead commute sharers.
For Miller, the transition from Windy City Second City denizen to L.A. sitcom actor was a bit abrupt, but manageable in the end.
“Living in Chicago, you’re in this bubble of the standup scene, which is very alternative, focused on satire and edgy,” he explains. “Then I had to come to L.A. and do a sitcom that runs in the family hour.”
Concurrently with that, he was cast by Par in this low-budget horror film.
Of course, the fact that “Cloverfield” was being produced by J.J. Abrams was reassuring, but Miller had his reservations about being the comic relief in a scare pic.
“I wasn’t doing standup seven nights a week in Chicago because I wanted to do a horror movie,” he explains. “I was tired of seeing horror films in which the comic relief has obviously written corny jokes. ‘Oh, guys, we have a monster of a problem outside!'”
Happily, Miller’s apprehension quickly abated when he figured out that Abrams and company had recruited him for his improv skills, not to read corny lines.
And, of course, he was further set at ease when the film grossed more than $170 million worldwide.
Next up, he has a role in the DreamWorks comedy “She’s Out of My League.” He also has a voice part in the DreamWorks Animation toon “How to Train Your Dragon,” due out next year.
Refreshingly, Miller is not one of those comics who professes to shun the mass-audience limelight of film and TV for the intimate comforts of live performance. “I’ve always been drawn to film and TV and the Internet in the sense they have the largest distribution,” he says. “My focus is to be proficient in all forms.”