T.J. Miller on Comedy Central's Alien Puppet Show 'Gorburger': "This Is My 'Deadpool'"

The comic details the show's long journey from Funny or Die web series to HBO pilot to finally landing a full series order at Comedy Central — watch the trailer, exclusive to THR.
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; Courtesy of Comedy Central

T.J. Miller wants everyone to know that the slide whistle is a "very important component" of his stand-up comedy act right now.

While speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about his new Comedy Central series, The Gorburger Show, in which he stars and executive produces, the comedian kept starting and ending his answers with that distinctive sound.

"It's a big part of my act right now," he says with a laugh. "I'll keep doing it throughout the interview, but if you could help me out, I'm just trying to spread the word that I am the slide whistle comic. I'm the new, hip, real thing. It's going to take off."

Just like his slide whistle, Miller also hopes that The Gorburger Show will find new fans as the series continues its long journey to broadcast. After two seasons as a Funny or Die digital series, a pilot was greenlighted by HBO before the premium cabler passed and it moved to Comedy Central with a series order.

Miller voices the titular character, Gorburger, a giant blue extraterrestrial who, after invading a Japanese television variety show and enslaving its staff, settles in as host in an attempt to understand what it means to be human. The Gorburger Show will feature celebrity interviews, musical artists, strange games and other random happenings with guests such as Rob Corddry, Larry King, Tig Notaro, Drew Pinsky, Reggie Watts and more.

Below, Miller talks with THR about The Gorburger Show's transition from digital to HBO to Comedy Central, why this is his passion project, who he owes his success to and more. Plus watch the trailer, exclusive to THR, below.

There's no real organic way to segue from talking about slide whistles to your new Comedy Central series, The Gorburger Show, so here we are.

There you go. This is sadly — listen, I hate intersecting with the stereotypes of actors, because I'm a comedian and not an actor, but this is unfortunately a time when I need to say "passion project." This has been a passion project for about five years. This is my Deadpool! Plus Crashing. Plus Louie. This is that show for me. That should hopefully inform the American public that I'm very strange, because this is what I care about.

Before moving to Comedy Central, The Gorburger Show began as a Funny or Die digital short series. Why did you want to take it from the digital space to a full-fledged TV show?

[Sighs.] Ugh, because of Broad City. Just kidding. What if that was actually my answer? And then I explained it and you were like, "Wow, that's the dumbest f—king answer I've ever heard in my life."

I've heard worse.

[Laughs.] Solely because we want more people. The people that have seen it and dig it, it's like a podcast-level "thank-you" that we get when we see them in public. So I would love for more people to see Gorburger. We thought broadcast, we thought Comedy Central, right? They're the ones that are doing — that are doing everything, basically. You name it, they're doing it. [Laughs.] I love Key and Peele. I think that's the Tim and Eric of our time. I think Amy Schumer was a great decision, and they really supported her and supported her staying in New York. I love a lot of their programming, and I think they get behind — I mean, even The Daily Show right now is really f—ing good for not having the person that it became associated with.

Comedy Central feels like the right brand, and they're behind it. Gorburger is, like, a sticker in a bar bathroom type of marketing, and he's almost his own punk rock band. We're definitely trying to get people to get behind it from that perspective rather than have a ton of billboards, and Comedy Central got that.

The show was initially greenlighted for HBO but ended up moving over to Comedy Central. Why the move?

We were very fortunate to have HBO release the pilot. I mean, look, you're a real-deal trade magazine. How many networks have released a pilot to go to series on another network? Right? But HBO is so f—ing cool; they've got such good programming. I'm lucky to be on three of their programming: Crashing with Pete Holmes, Silicon Valley and, most of all, most exciting is I have an hour comedy special with them.

That's the difference between HBO and every other network, is they truly are partners. They're collaborators. I think Netflix may be billed as that, but to tell you the truth, right now, they're producing so much content that they can't be particularly involved in any collaboration, whereas HBO understands scarcity and doesn't produce things just to have content. And that's been a big part of this: They produced the pilot of Gorburger, decided it wasn't for them, and then released it to Comedy Central. And then Comedy Central, of course again lauding their programming, said, "I think this is really going to fit with us."

How has the show changed in that move from digital short series to long-form TV series?

On HBO, it can be 30 minutes or 32 minutes or 27 minutes or whatever. In the jump from digital to Comedy Central, we had an episode we liked at 11 minutes, and it has to be 22 and 1/2 minutes exactly. That makes you cut things you don't want to, cut things you should. But it's good. Ever since my high school English and film teacher Mr. Madison made us read The Joy Luck Club, I realized that it is the challenge in doing something within a format that really inspires creativity. I'm down with that. And also it's a kind of a hip-hop mentality, where it's like, f—k it; we'll make it work no matter what. We'll make it work no matter the conditions or format or whatever we're in.

This might be the first time in an interview where someone took it all the way back to a high school reading assignment.

And Mr. Madison. M-A-D-I-S-O-N. Get that name in print! Be the industry rag that cares about high school teachers.

If Mr. Madison was with you now, would you thank him for helping bring The Gorburger Show to life after all these years?

Sister, I flew him and his family to the set of Ready Player One in England, which is directed by Steven Spielberg, so that he could meet Steven Spielberg, because he teaches Steven Spielberg in class. Yeah, I don't f—k around, dude! My English and drama teachers — they were the only two that ever had my back. I told my drama teacher, rapper-style, "When rappers make it, they buy people such as yourself an Escalade, but I know you don't want a new car, so what do you want?" And she said, "I'd love a white picket fence around my house." So I bought her a white picket fence that went around her fence. It was cheaper than an Escalade but still over $10,000.

Wow, that's not too shabby.

I really don't f—k around. These are the only people I can trust and have my back. If I can't take care of them after they've helped me succeed the way I have, then I don't know why I'm in the Mucinex game. [Slide-whistles.]

Since Gorburger is essentially a riff on late-night shows, what topics will you be taking on this season? Anything timely?

This is a great aspect of Gorburger: He's completely apolitical in the sense of atheism. He's not liberal or conservative. He just doesn't understand human beings. That's why he's got this show. I'm really excited about how he can be non-liberal. Basically we can ask people like Moby, for instance, to come on, and he'll have his very specific opinion.

But Gorburger is just, [speaking in Gorburger voice] excited that he has an opinion! Ah, what an active sort of thinking! [Speaks in normal voice.] Someone else like Eagles of Death Metal will have a very cynical point of view about America, about the individual or whatever they're going to say. So he is the only apolitical talk show. For the next couple of years, hopefully, he'll be the only apolitical voice in the nation. There are no other aliens doing talk shows.

How does the whole puppet thing work? Are you inside the Gorburger puppet, or are you just voicing the character?

I voice his character, and I control his mouth and expressions, and it's all radio control. I'm not actually in the puppet. I do a lot to get a laugh, but I'm not doing that. And people say that after a few minutes, they forget they're talking to a puppet. They think they're talking to a real-live entity, and that's when we get these podcast-level interviews to come out.

[Publicist signals there's only time for one more question.]

You son of a bitch, this is The Hollywood Reporter. The name of the magazine is not One of the Hollywood Reporters. It is The Hollywood Reporter. That's what the "T" is for. Ask as many questions as you want.

Well, to be honest, I only have one left anyway.

[Slide-whistles.] Ha! Then never mind.

You have your hand in a ton of projects right now, enough to give even an overachiever anxiety.

Yeah, what is my problem? Am I directly trying to oversaturate the American market? Do I have some strange need to have America get sick of me? But yes, I work very, very, very hard for people to laugh. Let's put it that way.

How do you find the time to do it all? What's your secret?

Waking up at 10 a.m. this morning, the first time I got to sleep in finally, and having 15 things be wrong. I think, like anyone who takes on more than they should because of a mission statement, like a Christian screaming into a microphone for too many hours on the street corner at Hollywood and Highland, I think I can't always handle it. The pressure cooker is high, and it's hard to let off steam when you don't have time to do so. But that being said, I really want physical, actual proof to America that I am the hardest-working person in show business — or at least, trying to be. And what is that? Is that by owning a slide whistle? [Slide-whistles.] I don't know.

But there's a lot to confuse America about, and there's a lot to remind them about, and what I'm trying to remind them is, you have your jesters just like your Nazis with your politicians or political choices. You still have your jesters, and not all of them are liberal. And the other ones aren't Dennis f—ing Miller, because I'm clearly not a goddamn conservative. And I don't believe in conservative or liberal. So that's why I'm involved in so many things. I don't have the time to do it. But the reason I'm involved is not to try and be more famous. That's all awful. It is solely to remind America that you have people working very hard for you that are working on making you laugh. I do a lot of different mediums for a lot of different age groups. I'll even do it behind a puppet.

Check out the exclusive trailer for The Gorburger Show below.

The Gorburger Show premieres Sunday, April 9 at midnight on Comedy Central.

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