He once told a drug-dealing kid that he brought piss to a sh– fight. He flew into a petty rage because someone was stealing his narrow spoons, which were the only ones that could effectively navigate his Fage yogurt cups. He made a high-level Silicon Valley exec painfully aware of his advanced age in a torrent of colorful ways. And he more frequently has said the words “pilapa” and “Jian Yang!!!”
He is Erlich Bachman, and a few weeks from now, the notorious incubator, semi-gifted bloviator, Aviato pioneer, Pied Piper investor, wanna-be guru, and clothes-free emperor will bid farewell to Silicon Valley. As announced last month, T.J. Miller is exiting HBO’s beloved, Emmy-nominated tech comedy, with the season finale on June 25 serving as his final episode. “The producers of Silicon Valley and T.J. Miller have mutually agreed that T.J. will not return for season 5,” read the network’s statement on May 25. “In Erlich Bachman, T.J. has brought to life an unforgettable character, and while his presence on the show will be missed, we appreciate his contribution and look forward to future collaborations.”
It is a weighty loss for the just-renewed show — on a scale of 1 to 100, let’s call it a fleventy-five — and one that has already fans pouring out bong water in his Bachmemory. Miller’s Erlich proved to be an early breakout character on Silicon Valley, lording over the proceedings — or at least, attempting to — with a buffoonish, douchey regality while spewing cutting one-liners like, “One of you is one of the least attractive people I’ve ever met and I’m not going to say which one,” and, “He’s in the garage, like a sad bag of potting soil.” He excels at self-promotion, delusion, marijuana consumption, and grammar (“It’s hards-on”) and suffers a severe allergy to self-awareness. In his quest to matter, he has seen his fortunes raised and razed, and they may be (temporarily?) on the upswing again: In last week’s episode, Erlich accidentally charmed his way into the good graces of V.R. guru Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment), which seemed to help him maneuver his way into the new firm started by Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) and Monica (Amanda Crew). Whatever transpires or transmogrifies, the boys from Pied Piper who have been reluctantly receiving his shelter and counsel — that’s Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Jared (Zach Woods) — are about to be left to their own devices, handheld and otherwise.
Miller’s move, while surprising, may not come as a complete shock. The industry profile of the always-animated, always-activated, never-predictable comedian has been on the rise — recent films include Deadpool and Office Christmas Party — as has his workload. He executive produces and stars in Comedy Cental’s The Gorburger Show as a giant blue alien, and he’s performing stand-up across the country; his first HBO comedy special T.J. Miller: Meticulously Ridiculous airs June 17. Miller, 35, is dabbling in various genres in the film world: He recently shot roles for the big-screen thriller Underwater and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the sci-fi novel Ready Player One. In addition, he’s co-writing an action comedy for Dreamworks titled Ex-Criminals (in which he’d also star) and he voices the lead character in this summer’s The Emoji Movie as well as in 2019’s How to Train Your Dragon 3. Miller will also reunite with Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2. And if he runs himself ragged and catches a cold, he’s also the cure. (See: his Mucinex commercials.)
Miller, who will perform Friday at Comedy Central’s Clusterfest festival in San Francisco, emerged from the pile of projects to explain the reasoning behind his fast-approaching goodbye, why he thinks his departure is actually good for the show, and — this one might sting a bit — why you’ll never see Erlich again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If this is just a bit, this would definitely be a good time to tell us.
T.J. MILLER: If this is a bit, I would never tell you.
How “mutual” was the decision?
As mutual as public announcements go. I’m so grateful to HBO because they offered several ways that we could make this work. They were open to all sorts of compromise to allow Erlich to continue to be on the show, but ultimately this just felt like an organic ending. And the relationship with HBO — I mean, they did my special. It’s a dream come true, or at least a living, waking nightmare that was actualized. And on top of that, they gave my best friend, Pete Holmes, Crashing — a show that’s autobiographical, and I get to play myself. I’m not a very good actor; that’s a really easy job. I love HBO, but I thought this would be that thing that would change the show in a positive way. I mean, those guys are the funniest guys working.
Why are you leaving now?
I would love to do The Emoji Movie and things like that and have the time to develop animated features. I would like to keep offering up Gorburger and letting people see a very different side of talk show guests. And that was a big part of why I said, “I’ve learned everything I can from this show. I would love to continue to be involved with it, if only because fans really do enjoy the show, and they seem to enjoy the character. But ultimately I just have to make more things and different things.”
I work so much. I do every single platform. I do every single medium, down to podcasting with Cash Levy (“Cashing in with T. J. Miller”), all the way up to being in an underwater thriller with Kristen Stewart and wanting to be the funny part of that. I want to be a stand-up comic. So [I left] for my own sanity, and for the sake of slowing down, and being more present and able to devote more time to this myriad of projects that I have going on. The other thing of it is that I didn’t get into comedy to be a television actor, and the second that I felt that there was a possibility of going on autopilot — of even phoning it in with this particular project — that’s when I say, “Okay, I gotta walk away. I have to do something where this won’t happen. I can’t allow myself to show up and give a B-plus performance on a show that is an A-plus when it comes to television.” That is a huge, huge part of it.
I think for something to come to an organic end, even if it’s before the public wants it to happen, is so much better. Leave them wanting more. There was one adage that’s never wrong. In comedy, you walk off-stage when the laughs are at their peak, and people go, “Wait, what? The show’s over? It’s just over like that?” You leave them wanting more because you don’t ever want them to wish that there had been less….
Also, in a weird way, it’s interesting to me to leave a show at its height. It’s interesting to me to see how the show will grow and change with the exit of this character.
Did you feel that you had creatively plateaued playing this character — that you had said everything you wanted to say as Erlich?
There is no plateau when working with [Silicon co-creator] Mike Judge. Mike Judge is a prescient genius… I took a cue from my wife. Her favorite quote from David Bowie is — and I’m not an artist, so put “artist” in quotations marks — an artist should always be just far enough in the water that his feet are barely touching the ocean floor, and that’s where you do your best work. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I chose the most unsafe, destabilizing decision that one could make.
When did the thought of leaving first enter your mind?
I think in the middle of the season, I started to think, “If there is a way…” And when I did Underwater, this Kristen Stewart-Vincent Cassel movie, it was a nice reminder because I was a stranger in a strange land — a comedian in an actor’s world and director’s world. Why did I do this underwater thriller? Because it was a Deadpool move — an unexpected move because I get to do something different, to learn from these people — I reminded myself that I didn’t get into this game to become a successful television actor. I didn’t want to be on a sitcom where I made a boatload of money and then could do films but didn’t do a ton, but have a bunch of money and bought a cool house in L.A. and totally rehabbed it so it’s no longer ranch-style. Both of us are already bored with that example. I need to be a stand-up comedian. We’ve got some pretty heavy sh– going on right now, and the best thing I can do is stand-up comedy. I hope Meticulously Ridiculous is both well-received and something that people feel like they can return to for laughs, like Norm Macdonald’s special was for me, and Patton Oswalt’s special was for me. I’m a good stand-up comedian. But I’d like to be a great stand-up comedian, and that takes an immense amount of focus and work ethic. I have both, but I didn’t have the time.
Is any part of you nervous about this decision?
I was anxious for Kate [Miller, his wife]. Kate said, “Are you sure you want to do this? Because people love this character. And you love this cast. And you love working with Mike Judge. Be very certain that this is what you want to do. Because HBO is being very accommodating.” But for myself, no, not nervous. I am so fortunate to have Deadpool 2, How to Train Your Dragon 3, and hopefully Big Hero 7, Ex-Criminals, the movie that I had set up at Dreamworks which put me in Office Christmas Party, and Ready Player One. I want to shepherd and help develop Gorburger. It’s a perfect property, it’s such a f—ing weird show, and I can say a lot more with that than I can with being the funny guy on somebody else’s incredible, great satire, but somebody else’s project. I’m excited. I have some really interesting, exciting opportunities. And more importantly, I love the idea of [using] that time to figure out how I can diversify and offer the public more comedy while also at the same time hanging out with wife, who is my favorite person alive.
My only concern was that the fans would be upset or frustrated that this character wouldn’t be present. And then the other real concern was that people would think — and some people have said this online — “Oh, okay. Well, now he’s in Deadpool, so he thinks he’s too big for this television show.” I’m not too big for anything. I’m the f—ing Mucinex man. [Laughs.] I will do it all to bring laughter to people.
Kate said, “There will be some people who feel like that there’s an arrogance to this, that there’s an element of hubris to this. I want you to think about that.” She also said, “Think about how much your family loves the show. So know that this is going to be a real bummer for everybody that loves you on the show.” And then, of course, I tell my father before I make the definitive decision. In my family, we always have to ask for a counsel of the elders. He goes, “You know what? Erlich was starting to wear thin on me.” In classic father-son fashion, he was like, “Yeah, I was starting to get annoyed by you anyway.” [Laughs]. And that was an interesting barometer for me to say, “The last thing that I want is for people to be like, ‘God, his character is so great, but he’s so one-note.’ [The writers] had given me a lot. They really allowed Erlich to become dynamic. He became a sadder, darker, more ostracized or alienated character, and that gave me a lot to do. But the moment that this character becomes grating to people, that’s going to be such a loss… In the weirdest way, it was protecting this thing that we had made — the dynamic of Richard and Erlich, and Erlich and Jian Yang — so that people would always miss it and think fondly of it, not feel like, “Well, he really jumped the shark in season 6.”
NEXT PAGE: Miller on why his exit will be good for the show — and his castmates’ reactions