There are times when nothing’s more difficult than finding that perfect gift. Is it something the recipient would choose for themselves, or something that they might not even know they wanted? Fortunately for comedian and Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller, he recently got a little help from Barneys’ own in-house ‘Gift Whisperer’ Simon Doonan,who helped him select just the right thing for his wife Kate after finding himself Locked In Barneys. A word to the wise: click on the video above before reading on.
As one might imagine, Kate and T.J. have a great time with whatever they undertake, and when the duo paired up to be our November Influencers, the experience was no exception. T.J. brought to set his off-the-wall, mile-a-minute humor, while Kate brought the same quirky whimsy that she brings to all the creative endeavors that fall under the title of Rose Petal Pistol, a triptych that encompasses her poetry, visual arts, and performances. In the same way that these three elements fuse in Rose Petal Pistol, they also come together in Kate’s most recent project: a personal, and by-appointment-only art happening titled “Once Broken.”
We chatted with this dynamic duo about each of their current projects, the day-to-day of their anything-but-expected married life, and—sticking with the theme of the video—the items that will be topping their own gift wish lists this season—in addition, of course, to the Loyd/Ford dress T.J. picked out for her.
The Window: First, congratulations—you recently celebrated your first anniversary. What’s been the biggest surprise of married life so far?
T.J.: Kate surprises me every day. She’s a revelation, you know? Our biggest challenge is probably the fact that she watches Labyrinth at least once a month, and laughs the hardest at the fart noises in the Bog of Eternal Stench scene. I marry an artist and brilliant comedic performer and she laughs the hardest at the fart scene.
Kate: It’s the best part! The biggest surprise of married life is how little changes, other than a name. We still love just being weird and silly together and making each other laugh. We’ve had to adjust to the constant travel and the general frenetic nature of our separate schedules, but we’re making it work and we’re proud of each other for being able to follow our passions wherever they take us.
Your relationship has also survived touring the country together with your comedy show. Can you tell us what that experience was like?
Kate: We both love that interaction with the audience, and how much it teaches you in real time, which is a kind of learning and growing as a performer you can only really experience through live performance. It’s so much fun getting to share laughter with both your best friend and a room full of people night after night. It doesn’t hurt that I got to wear a beautiful sequined and crystal embellished jumpsuit on stage every night, and I have to admit, I miss having a daily excuse to wear it!
T.J.: Allow me to detail the experience through imagery: picture me in one of Kate’s vintage Japanese kimonos, gliding through America on a tour bus with nothing but cornfields and strip malls behind us. If only Kate were good looking, then we really would have had quite a time. I’m kidding! Have a sense of humor, America!
Well Kate, speaking of the country-wide performances and the acting chops we saw in the video, your background is actually in dance, isn’t it? How does that influence the work you do today?
Kate: Dance and movement are such central components of everything I do, whether it’s film, poetry, or art. In film, I have a real appreciation for the choreography of it all, and how the actors relate to the environment and to each other. That notion of how we interact with each other and our environment is driving a lot of my current art installation, which just opened November 10th in NYC. The exhibition is called “Once Broken,” and it’s an immersive experience based on my new art poetry book by the same name. It‘s filled with site-specific installations and experiences that evolve around visitors’ interactions with the space and me as the artist, and vice versa. It’s about this dance we all do and the motions we go through every day from a new perspective. After all, poetry is choreography through words.
TOPPING KATE’S WISH LIST:
Tell us a bit more about your poetry. It’s combined with your art in your book and worked into the exhibit, right?
Kate: Yes, the book addresses themes of emotional abuse and human imperfection, and then the art in the exhibition is an interpretation of the poetry from that point of origin, yet manifests off the page into three-dimensional space. The exhibition is completely immersive—I wanted the show to be very honest in that way. The poems are personal but meant for the world, so it was important for me that the emotional journey be infused into the work. Because it is a very intimate experience, guests make an appointment to view it, but even that can only be set up by phone. We really wanted every aspect to have a personal, human touch. Those who are interested can find the contact number on my website.
Dance, visual arts, and poetry—where do you think that multifaceted creativity comes from? Does it run in your family?
Kate: My mother is a poet, and my father has always been great at drawing, painting, and sketching. My grandparents adored jazz and had an incredible record collection. I think they had a lot to do with my penchant for vintage things like ‘20s jazz, ‘30s comedy, and old handwritten letters, and this all greatly informs my aesthetic as a writer, artist, and performer. For example, my art poetry book is bespoke, hand-embellished, and hand-bound. I wanted the book to be a relic of a period in time, something that has weathered and aged, showing the intrinsic life value that has been infused into it.
T.J., you’re also a multifaceted performer, with roots ranging from improv and clowning to singing and dancing. Any personal favorite performance genre?
T.J.: At the base of it all, I’m a comedian. I started doing stand-up in high school, thanks to my favorite teacher, Melody Duggan. Stand-up was part of the drama curriculum, and she was the one that said I might be a comedian but had me do musicals and serious plays because she believed that for comedy, you had to learn it all. I’ve adopted that maxim as well. I studied circus arts; I learned how to be a Shakespearean clown at the British American Drama Academy in London; I toured with Chicago’s Second City. The different genres don’t feel so segmented to me. The mediums merely work together to make people laugh. That’s the goal, right? Genuine laughter is the closest thing we have to a cathartic experience. It’s emotional escapism.
Well you certainly bring the laughter in Silicon Valley. You’ve said that people approach you and say that your character Erlich is just like them. How do you respond, since your character is kind of a satire?
T.J.: That’s the problem with satire. If you are satirizing someone who deserves it, then they likely won’t be self-aware enough to learn from it. Erlich is incredibly non-self-aware, which I think is exactly the point. So when someone approaches me and says, “Hey man, your character IS me,” I kind of roll with it. Ideally, I would advise them against it, but I prefer not to shatter the illusion or sense of self-importance.
Beyond Silicon Valley, let’s talk about your second-most-iconic part: the voice of the Mucinex phlegm. How’d you prepare for that role? Deep character study?
T.J.: Deep, deep character study. I don’t want to say I lose myself, but I certainly don’t know where T.J. ends and phlegm begins. My absolute surrender to the role is similar to my immersion into Ranger Jones in the action thriller, Yogi Bear 3D. It’s true method acting. Also, if you haven’t seen Yogi Bear 3D, I suggest you halt reading further as your life has no meaning.
TOPPING T.J.’S WISH LIST:
What’s coming up next that we can look forward to seeing you in?
T.J.: My next movie, Office Christmas Party, comes out December 9th—it’s a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and Animal House. I’m not sure you’ll be able to guess the plot from the enigmatic title, but the cast is unbelievable, and it’s a lot of fun. I also filmed a new HBO comedy special over the summer that’s coming out in 2017. We are filming Season 4 of Silicon Valley, so prepare for more of that inanity. And I am now doing a show with Comedy Central called Gorburger, dropping in 2017, which you just need to watch to understand.
Speaking of filming, it was such fun shooting with you guys. Are your everyday lives just as much of a blast?
Kate: We both believe in being silly, finding joy wherever we can, and living life to the absolute fullest—the Barneys shoot was no exception! We’re always creating wacky colorful moments with each other somehow. It’s a treasure to find a soul mate who appreciates the absurdity, expresses gratitude, and loves you even though you always do something clumsy the second the cameras stop rolling.
T.J.: Kate can make even an airport layover enjoyable. And if you’ve ever been to Detroit, you’ll understand the true meaning of that statement. We both value laughter and the inherent strength of comedy in our day-to-day. Kate’s also smoking hot and, as the more responsible half of our coupledom, she once let me buy a battle-axe and bring it on a moving vehicle. I love her.
It wouldn’t be Barneys if we didn’t ask you both a few fashion and style questions. How would you guys describe your personal style when you’re not on camera?
T.J.: I’d say my style is close to that of a maître d who was fired at the beginning of the night but had to finish his shift to get paid. A little disgruntled but a lot of heart.
Kate: In three words, my style is edgy, whimsical, and ever-evolving.
Are there any fashion rules you live by?
Kate: Fashion shouldn’t tell a story—it should tell your story. Don’t be afraid to mix vintage and fad, colorful and demure, polished and rock. Don’t be afraid to be a shape shifter. We’re multifaceted as human beings, and our clothing should reflect that. Also, never underestimate the power of a great pair of sunglasses.
T.J.: I only have one motto when it comes to style: Put some effort in. A man’s body is like a car. A girl’s not going to want to go for a ride if the car looks like it went back-roading through the Grand Canyon. Make sure your shirt is clean, wear something you feel comfortable and awesome in, and tie yourself a bowtie when the occasion calls for it. Feel free to rock a gold chain if you can pull it off, but know your own limits. Also, DON’T be the guy with the man bun everyone hates. Everyone hates that guy and doesn’t want to talk to him.