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TJ Miller on his latest project: ‘This is a truly apolitical talk show’

“In the interviews I do, I own and operate a slide whistle,” explains TJ Miller, graciously asking for permission before letting loose with the looping – and loud – whistle several times during the course of the interview with the Guardian. It’s his thing now, apparently. “I’m pretty sure slide whistles are going to take off,” he adds, sounding a bit like Doctor Who trying to convince Amy Pond that fezzes are cool.

Perhaps theoutlandish characters that Miller is known for playing on shows like Silicon Valley and in films like Deadpool aren’t that much of a stretch for the actor. It also might not be a stretch for Miller to play a giant blue alien puppet whose only dream is to be a talk show host, which is what he plays in The Gorburger Show, which premieres on Comedy Central on 9 April.

In the series, Miller voices the titular character, Gorburger, a monstrous puppet who stages a one-man alien invasion of the Japanese variety show Zoom Zoom Honshu. He enslaves or kills the staff and ensconces himself as host. “Puppetry is a lost art, just like slide whistle,” notes Miller. The Gorburger Show follows the formula of a late night talk show with celebrity interviews, musical guests, and quirky games, like if Jimmy Fallon was replaced with a blue puppet who wanted to learn what it means to be human. “This is the same show as Jimmy Kimmel. Gorburger loves Carson Daly. He’s really enamored with Carson Daly as a talk show host,” says Miller. “He’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog without the cynicism or the negativity.” Guests like Rob Corddry, Larry King, Drew Pinsky, and Tig Notaro have already signed up to submit themselves to Gorburger’s unique line of questioning and games of questionable taste (one featured in the trailer asks the eternal question, “Art or Fart?”).

According to Miller, his involvement with Gorburger started with a drunken encounter with Sean Boyle of Funny or Die who told him, “Hey, we got this show that’s a blue alien puppet and you’re the only person we’ll do it with. You’ll see.” Miller did see and was soon bound up with the project. “I’ve been hating to use this phrase, but it’s a passion project. It’s the thing I care the most about, not just right now but for the three years we’ve been working on it,” he explains.

After two seasons as a Funny or Die digital series, Miller is now well acquainted with playing the alien invader. When he was ready to graduate from the web to a television series, Miller filmed a pilot. It was initially given a green light by HBO, but ultimately, the premium cable channel passed on the chance to add Gorburger to their line-up. Surprisingly, the show survived the axing, though. “HBO is so fucking rad that they just straight up said it’s not for our network, but you can do it somewhere else,” explains Miller. “That shit is unheard of in Hollywood. So, HBO is the ballerest network on the face of the planet.” The show found a new home at Comedy Central where it was picked up for a full series.

In between slide whistles, Miller notes several times during the conversation that Gorburger is apolitical. It’s an important point for him. “Do you remember what the faces on people looked like right after the election? Do you remember how terrible they looked when they walked outside? Do you remember what it was like to be part of that America?” he asks. “I think it’s very important that there is a talk show where people can talk about their opinions about America, to talk about government, to talk about world empires. Comedy Central is incredible because they recognize that – and they already have it. So adding an apolitical talk show was a smart idea.”

In addition to the guests who will grace Gorburger’s couch, the series also features a lot of musical acts. “This is a truly apolitical talk show that has wholly – and you can use ‘wholly’ or ‘holy’ – collaborations with musicians, so it’s music that you can’t hear anywhere else,” Miller says. When the show was on Funny or Die bands like Tegan and Sara, Mars Volta, and Andrew WK stopped by Gorburger’s set, while the announced musical guests for the Comedy Central iteration include Kenny G and Reggie Watts so far. “Every time Gorburger has a musical guest, it’s two people doing a collaboration – like Reggie Watts and Thundercat or HEALTH and Danny Brown and it is a collaboration,” says Miller. “It’s not some punk-ass retro band, it’s the new shit.”

If it sounds like nothing else on television, that’s exactly what Miller has in mind. “It’s one of the things where there’s nothing else like it. That doesn’t mean it’s a cult thing or an Adult Swim show, though,” Miller says. “Basically, expect a show that just doesn’t exist and never has.”

The Gorburger Show premieres on Comedy Central on 9 April

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