Comedy Great Larry Miller is a One Man Comedy Class
Comedian is seemingly too simple of a label for the multi-talented Larry Miller. But when you examine the veteran scene-stealer's creative offerings, Comedian is perhaps the most appropriately broad title for him outside of Restless Artist. Whether it's his well-followed podcast endeavors, his classic stand-up routines, his memorable roles in dozens of films and television shows, the books he's authored or his theatrical turns, the funny is never too far from where Miller is plying his craft.
In fact, Miller is very much a student of comedy, and after a few minutes of speaking to him, it's clear that his job, isn't only a passion for him, but it's a calling. Comedy Central listed him among the top 100 stand-up comedians of all-time, even. Beginning Tomorrow night in Richardson, Miller will take the stage of the still-pristine Eisemann Center as the man in his one-man production, Cocktails With Larry Miller: Little League, Adultery and Other Bad Ideas.
While Miller has been very natural in his roles as principals, dads and college deans, it's tough to argue that his wise-cracking, socially drinking persona in this production isn't his best one yet. In fact, Miller relishes the opportunity to man a stage solo. He recently performed his stand-up routine on Letterman before continuing the tour with his one-man show, which is all done as he continues to star, as himself in not only his weekly podcast, but that of Adam Corolla's as well. Larry Miller is really great, and hilarious, at being Larry Miller.
With the run of shows in Richardson looming, Miller recently took a few minutes to speak with us over the phone from his podcast studio in Los Angeles. It didn't take long before we were talking about scaring his wife, the need for authenticity in any form of comedy and how wearing a fleece blanket over one's lap can be a terribly effective device for creating laughs.
For a man that enjoys so many forms of comedy, it seems like you've successfully combined stand-up and theatre into this one-man show.
It was exactly a goal of mine to merge those two worlds. I love stand-up and I'll never leave it, but stand-up is as different from a one-man show as a trumpet is from a flute. It looks like it might be the same, but it's not. A one-man show combines everything I love: acting, writing, different textures of stories, well thought-out light cues, and even music. When you go to do stand-up on Letterman, for example, you go out, plant your feet and say, "Hello, folks," and you just go. I hope to be doing both stand-up and my one-man show for the rest of my life, which I hope is another 700 years.
Does a stand-up comedian need to be a good actor to be successful?
Well, within each form there are so many different styles and entries. In acting, just to pick out two broad styles, there's inside-out and there's outside-in. I mean, Meryl Streep just disappears into a role and becomes an entirely different human being. And Gene Hackman is just as great of an actor, but he's always Gene Hackman. It's two different approaches, really. In stand-up, there are those who are just themselves and it's not really acting. I want to bend things a bit here and say that's why I love podcasting so much. This Week With Larry Miller is so much fun and it's doing really well. The reason I brought that up is because if podcasting is done really well, it can provide an authentic voice. It can be very basic and honest and primal, just like so much of stand-up comedy is. So, all roads lead to, and out of, stand-up for most comedians. Look at Rodney Daingerfield, for example. He, and even Henny Youngman, to go back even further, would walk onto the stage, smile and begin. And when they would look around the audience, everyone immediately knew who they were, just by listening to their stand-up voices. Daingerfield had these clean entry lines that showed his authentic voice and showed his story-telling heart better than anyone. That's acting in its own way, too. Every performer is different. For me, I like word-pictures and images and dependent clauses and structure. So this show gives a guy like me a chance to get better at all of this. Really, I feel like I'm just getting to know how to do this stuff and it's an amazing feeling to say, "You know what? That was good."
So, even after all of these years, you still feel like you're trying to figure it out?
Oh, I hope that when I'm 103 years old, someone will come up to me and say, "I really liked that thing you did when you were 98." I'll be acting forever, writing forever and I'm thrilled about it.
You draw much of your material for the one-man show from marriage. Is it important for the audience to relate to the stories in order for them to be funny?
In a sense, sure, it can be important, however, when I was eight years old, I would listen to Bill Cosby on record talk about his marriage and I would howl with laughter. I was eight. How would I know anything about his marriage or about any marriage at all? I wouldn't.
Good point. I laughed at his family and marriage material when I was much younger, also.
Right. So, in a sense, it is still, and always will be, about the skill and artfulness of an actor, an artist or a creator. In my case, it's about the skill of the story-teller. Yes, it's gratifying when someone comes up to me after a show and says, "Wow, you must've been in the car with my wife and I," but it's very bit as gratifying when a 23 year-old with a stud in her tongue comes up to me and says something nice. I talk about marriage a lot because it makes me laugh. The key is for the material to sound real and to come from a real voice. Is it good to be relatable? Sure. But a good performer could talk about parking lots on Mars and still get a good reaction.
So does your wife accept that everything's fair game and that it can become material for your comedy?
Yes, yes and yes. By the way, she's a comedy writer and producer [Disney Channel's Shake it Up] and her resume is as long as your arm, but that doesn't really mean anything in a marriage. She sees my tweets and from time-to-time she'll ask if I can ease up a bit. I love her to death, and she's great and I think we were made for each other, and periodically, she thinks I'm nice. The standard marriage relationship is one where the man will jump in front of a bus for the wife, but she's driving the bus. Actually, I'm going to write that down, that was good, wasn't it?
Yes, that was really good, actually.
See, now that's comedy! My wife knows what's going on. It's all true and that's a big deal, to be completely true. A couple of nights ago, we were in the car, and a tiny slug somehow ended up near her on the car seat and she jumped in shock. Later, I tweeted, "My wife had a slug near her in the car and freaked out, which is weird, because I only put snakes on her side... maybe the kids."
You recently had a funny role in Curb Your Enthusiasm and you've had memorable spots in Waiting for Guffman and especially Best in Show. How enjoyable is it to improv with such great actors and comedians?
You know something, pal? It is just so much fun. In the Christopher Guest movies, they really put a great group of knuckleheads together. Those films were more or less all improv, even though we knew where we wanted the various scenes to go, and they were so great. But also, it's just as much fun to deal with exact words and exact phrases. I was just in a Neil Simon play on Broadway [The Dinner Party], and it's so important to get every word right, every phrase, and every image. Same with Mamet plays and movies. Everything's scripted. It's poetic and it's wonderful. Look at Shakespeare; are you going to change something there? How nuts would you have to be to do something like that? It's wonderful to go word-for-word and comma-for-comma. That and improv both are great fun. I'm in a Gary Marshall movie coming up real soon, and there was nothing written for me there. He just called me and said, "We'll just make a part." It's all great. I guess I don't really have a preference.
Early in your film career, you seemed to be playing the role of a college Dean quite often. In fact, you were one in the movie you filmed in Denton, Necessary Roughness. A college Dean would be a weird thing to be typecast as, it seems like.
True, but you know, John Wayne didn't play just one kind of sheriff, you know? Well, O.K., that was a bit grandiose, and I am certainly not comparing myself to him, believe me. It will cross all character actors' minds, at one point or another, that they aren't being considered for the part of the next James Bond. That's a fine place to be. If someone is producing or casting a movie about a college and they consider me for the Dean, then that's great. I just try to make that role funny, which is usually by being a very annoying character.
This might be crazy, but I remember the fleece blanket you wore over your lap in the football field stands in Necessary Roughness. That was the funniest thing for a man to have in that situation.
First of all; thank you, I actually thought of that. That's just what I like to do, and it adds to the character and hopefully someone gets it and notices it. In that movie, I also made a point to over-pronounce certain characters names, like Hector Elizondo's character; "Hello, Coach Genaro." It just made that character a bigger dink. I can't tell you how many people noticed that, actually. It's very gratifying because, that is comedy. It's just a combination of good craftsmanship and just loving the stuff.
Larry Miller performs "Cocktails with Larry Miller: Little League, Adultery and Other Bad Ideas" at the Eisemann Center in Richardson from November 16 - 20.