In 10 Words or Less
Quasi-famous comic's manic stand-up hits awkwardly
Loves: Stand-up comedy
Likes: Successful Alcoholics
Dislikes: Overt physical comedy
Hates: Low-hanging leaves
Apparently, T.J. Miller is one of those "comedian's comedians," where his popularity inside the industry is much higher than it is outside it. I've heard his name frequently when talk of up-and-coming comics is bandied about, but I've seen far more of his acting work (like his excellent short film Successful Alcoholics or his bizarre audition tape for Yogi Bear) than his stand-up (outside of some late-night appearances). Now that I've had the chance to soak in his act, I must say...something?
To let you in on a personal trade secret, when reviewing a stand-up show, I always keep a pen and paper so I can write down the topics covered as a bit of a cheat sheet for when I write it up, making little notations for particularly funny segments or noting themes. I've never written a more extensive list of topics than the one I scribed for Miller's act. In this one 67-minute set, he touches on over 40 distinct concepts or ideas. A quick bit of math (a skill I severely lack) will tell you he doesn't spend a lot of time lingering on anything. This is run and gun comedy, which is perfectly suited to his on-stage persona, which is summed up in the word wacky. Crazy faces, flailing body parts, screaming, a confetti assault, props... it's a bit of everything in one rapid-fire stew. It's so wildly divergent, that when an audience member disrupts the show with an outburst that I couldn't figure out if she was really reacting to his act or just part of the gag.
It's hard to look away from the wild eyes and wilder hair, looking a bit like a disturbed Will Ferrell (a reality he refers to in his act), as Miller swings from talking about being moderately famous and the effect of creepy hand motions to bringing pinatas through airport security and having ketchup bottles for legs. It's somewhat stream of consciousness, segueing quite smoothly from piece to piece, though in spots he'll stop things cold before going into special "sections," like his group of "short jokes" which are mainly about wordplay, or his characters (a concept done far better by Zach Galafianakis.) When he's hitting, it's hilarious. Meth-heads selling babies at Walmart or Stephen King being scared by his own writing equals funny. But sometimes in his attempts to be weird or unique, he just draws crickets, like his Big Lots joke, which was a thudding bomb. Fortunately for him and his hometown audience in Denver, he's successful more often than not.
Considering how physical Miller is on stage, making some of the silliest faces you'll see in stand-up, including his final bit about taking his DMV picture (a joke he's recently done on late-night TV,) he risks becoming gimmicky, especially with the amount of crowd work he does. The goofiness is entwined with his near-stoner persona that it just works for him though. I'm not one to get much out of over-the-top sight gags, but when he mimes posing with a fan, I actually laughed out loud, something that happened often, whether he was acting out maintaining eye contact while vomiting or the bizarre sex acts he likes to perform with women, or even exposing his stomach (again, Ferrell-style.) It may be a bit low-brow, but it's definitely funny.
This 67-minute special arrives on one DVD, in a standard keepcase. The disc features an animated, anamorphic-widescreen main menu with options to watch the special, select chapters and check out extras. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, but there are no subtitles, though closed captioning is included.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc is quiet lovely, offering Miller's skintone appropriately, along with the cool blue of the set design, while presenting a good amount of fine detail, capturing his facial antics quite well. Unlike many stand-up releases, there seems to be no loss in quality from angle to angle, and there are no problems with dirt or damage and no noticeable digital artifacts.
Like the best stand-up DVDs, the surround mix puts you right in the midst of the performance, with Miller standing front and center, while the crowd gets the side and rear speakers to react in. There's nothing in terms of a dynamic mix, but the separation between the channels is solid, and captures the comedy concert feel well and without distortion.
There are a few extras here, which is always appreciated on a stand-up DVD. Up first is a trio of bits cut from the special, one of which is labeled as "A Work in Progress." While that one is actually a bit too long for the feel of the show, they'd all fit into the special if judged on tone, and they are pretty funny. They are followed by a pair of short films starring Miller, The Building Blocks of a Great Day and The Stoop. They are right in Miller's wheelhouse, featuring whacked-out comedy, though The Stoop is a touch more entertaining, if only because it's better structured, with the other film coming off like a cut Ali G. bit.
The Bottom Line
I fully admit, I'm not quite sure what to make of one Mr. TJ Miller. All over the place in terms of subject matter, awkward, manic and calculated, all at the same time, but most importantly, able to draw some real laughs with his scattershot comedy. The DVD looks and sounds excellent, and throws in a decent amount of extras for a stand-up release, which makes it one I would certainly recommend, especially for those with short attention spans, as he's never doing the same bit for very long.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.