T.J. Miller is loose and natural in pretty much everything he does, whether it’s a small part in a big movie like Rock of Ages or last year’s goofy faux-rap excursion The Extended Play EP. Lately the Denver-born, Chicago-bred standup has been hosting Comedy Central’s Mash Up, a half-hour experiment that goes beyond countless Tosh.0 rip-offs to take legitimate chances with form and content.
But since he’s so prolific and straddles so many genres, it’s hard to find a project that encapsulates him. Each of the past few years has seen Miller building on his Hollywood bit parts and cross-country touring, and last November he enjoyed his first hour-long Comedy Central special with No Real Reason. His latest audio-only release, Mash Up Audiofile, is a companion piece to both that and his current Comedy Central gig, and while it shows off many of Miller’s best traits, it also feels like another sampler of his occasional brilliance padded with pleasant but inessential gimmicks.
Opener “First to Welcome” establishes Miller’s maniacal, short-attention-span approach, riffing on awkward air-travel encounters while taking detours to comment on elements of the main joke. Shark attacks, “pee hands” and brass knuckles quickly follow. He nails a certain form of casual passive-aggression at the beginning of “Too Much Fun,” which recycles a No Real Reason bit by lamenting people who mock other people’s laughs. “You know what that’s basically them saying? ‘Hey, you know that sound that you make when you’re happy and joyful, and the tragedy that permeates our everyday life is momentarily abated for an escapist oasis? Yeah, you sound stupid.’” It’s delivered with the breathless conviction of George Carlin—minus the crusty misanthropy.
Miller is most certainly a gleeful freak, and his facility with improv means he rarely tells the same joke the same way twice. You may recognize some of these bits from TV’s Mash Up and his special, but they feel more off-the-cuff. And since this album only exists in the audio medium, the “mash up” element comes into play in the final tracks, when material from TV—including jokes by Miller, Hannibal Buress, Pete Holmes and others—is remixed and grafted onto electro beats by producer Steinski, followed by three similar tracks from Extended Play producer Jesse Case.
It’s funkier than, say, Bill Hicks post-dating his sets with atmospheric guitar musings, but it also seems more intent on justifying the title than making for a meaningful listening experience. It’s also a bit like watching someone rip up a magazine you’ve just read and blowing the pieces through a fan, since you experienced many of the same jokes minutes prior.
If you’ve got a strong grip, it’s certainly worth the ride, but Miller’s hyperactivity and the imbalanced presentation give it a neither-here-nor-there quality. That said, the restless experimentation Miller has shown the last couple years is a tantalizing hint of stand up’s multimedia and cross-genre potential. The fact that most of it’s really funny isn’t just a bonus, it’s the point.