T.J. Miller on Silicon Valley, His Crunchies Controversy, and Using the B-Word

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Our interview with T.J. Miller, who stars as boorish pothead entrepreneur Erlich on Silicon Valley, almost didn't happen, considering he nearly dropped his phone off a balcony while dialing us. It would be fitting that a tech disaster could come back to bite the 33-year-old actor and comedian in the ass — after all, he's pissed off a few people in that world with the HBO show and a controversial appearance at TechCrunch's Crunchies awards show, in which he jokingly called Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's girlfriend a bitch. Luckily, Miller was able to hold onto his phone so we could discuss that kerfuffle, the second season of Silicon Valley, the show's stoner fans, and his timeless roles in Transformers 4, Yogi Bear, and a series of Mucinex commercials.

Congratulations on the second season.
Thank you so much. I'm not very self-critical, but I was pondering whether this season would live up to the first. It's a great continuation of the story. The characters have grown into their archetypes a little more. I'm always excited if people come up and say, "Hey, the show's awesome." I don't do this stuff to further my own self-interest. I do comedy to give people an ephemeral escape from the tragedy that permeates everyday life. We were at a Walgreens on Sunday — the Hollywood Walgreens, which has great sushi and an extensive wine cellar. Such a weird world down here — some guy walked up to me and said, "Hey, man, we love the show. We're about to watch it and we're buying snacks right now." And he was just so high. That is too perfect — at a Walgreens, to have a guy that is high out of his mind buying snacks for the show like, "Yeah, your character just gets me, man."

When you're out, do people approach you?
is a lot of people's favorite comedy, so they're also more likely to come over and say, "Hey, I just want to tell you I love that show." Whereas more than that, with Transformers 4, a lot of people say, "Hey, weren't you in Transformers 4?" It's so sad that it's like, "Transformers 4 is one of the greatest pieces of film I've ever come across in my life. I just want you to know that you've made some cinematic breakthroughs that really warmed my heart." It's two different demographics.

Do you get that a lot for Yogi Bear, too?
Yeah, I do get that a lot. Anyone who knows the film and has spent time watching it and understanding it, yeah, they'll come up and tell me what they think of it because that's sort of my best role. When you peak that early in your career, it's all downhill from there. But there's a comfort in that, a feeling of safety that you know it'll never get better.

And you can say, "I'm just going to work in TV with this HBO stuff."
Yeah, ugh. That's all I've got fucking left, Dan, if you've noticed, for Christ's sake.

In the first episode, there's a segment where you're going through funding meetings and saying all these crude things. How fun was it to shoot that?
Oh, it was great. Thomas [Middleditch, who stars as Richard Hendricks] and I have known each other for a decade. We've been improvising with one another for that long. I wish we could have put in everything that was improvised because I, of course, would sit and just lay into these people. Stuff like, "One of you is the most unattractive person I've ever seen."

Were there any particular lines you liked that didn't make the cut?
Thomas had this really funny run where he was like, "If you don't fund us, I'll fucking kill you, you fucking sluts." And I'm like, "We're going to take off, Richard. Let's head out." And as we're going out, he says, "Because you're all a bunch of dirty, fat sluts."

Erlich has almond butter and special hair-care products. Are you a man of refined tastes?
Yeah, I'd like to say. He's an intellectual drug user. I don't want to say he's Stoner Philosopher, but there's this Dionysian approach to life. I mean, I read Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell and shit. I don't read them in public because I'm afraid people will be like, "Really? Really?" But yeah, we do have that in common. He's also not particularly smart in specific areas, and I think I'm very much like that as well. He can be dumb socially. I don't think it was very smart for him to put his balls on the table.

That reminds me. There was a bit of criticism about some of the things you said when you appeared at the Crunchies.
Yeah, I thought that was really weird. It was sort of surprising to me that they hired the guy from Silicon Valley who smokes weed, is abrasive, makes fun of Silicon Valley. Erlich is an offensive individual. It was like, "Oh my God, I can't believe what he said! Jesus Christ, he's yelling at the CEO of Uber!" And then at the show, behind the scenes, people kept saying, "Do you know who you're making fun of? That's Travis Kalanick's girlfriend." I'm like, "Who's Travis Kalanick?" They're like, "What?! That's the CEO of Uber!" Like, don't you realize that's why I should be laying into his girlfriend, because that's why she's so entitled and we're not supposed to treat people like deities and they're invaluable? That's the whole point of the show! The whole thing I do on the show is exactly this, and you guys are saying, "Don't! He's one of the kings. We don't offend the king." But you hired a court jester. It was very strange.

Back to the show. Are you in a rough position where you have to top that epic dick joke from last season's finale?
Yeah. It is a tough part. We've talked about it a lot, but I think we've got a great finale coming. It won't be disappointing. But that is the greatest dick joke that's ever been. It was a pretty layered dick joke.

It was a real onion of a dick joke.
It was a fucking layered dick cake. It was unbelievable. It really was. Can I just say one more thing, because I don't think anybody has printed this, that my wife and I were talking about? They came at me at the Crunchies for using "the B-word," and that was so insane to us, that "the B-word" even existed. We just call it "bitch." My wife called me a bitch yesterday because I was being a little bitch about something. It's just vernacular, and we laugh about that a lot. She calls me "bitch" more around the house because of [the situation]. Which I'm fine with, because I'm not an easily offended Silicon Valley wannabe CEO or something. And I'm not going to go up there and use the C-word because that's an implied mean thing. I don't use that word because I'm not a mean person, but the B-word … They didn't get that I was playing a character. I was being one of them when I said that. I'm like, "What? Is this bitch from Palo Alto?" pretending to be someone there.

Finally, you portrayed Mr. Mucus in some Mucinex ads. How do you prep for a job like that?
I didn't get my flu shot, so I really went through it. That was so fun. Listen to my voice — I sound like I'm permanently congested. See, I love stuff like this. This is the real work. Yogi Bear 3-D, that's the real, great work, so it's an honor to be Mr. Mucinex. It's really method acting. There's purpose. I'm trying to show that cold symptoms can get lonely, too. They need you, and you don't need them. That's a difficult relationship. That's what I'm here for. I'm trying to raise awareness.