Entertaining AF: How Van Jones Disrupted (And Saved!) Sundance Now’s ‘Take 5’ Panel

Ludacris loves 'Big Little Lies and T.J. Miller is pretty much how you imagined

Actor T.J. Miller. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Welcome to Entertaining AF, a new celebrity column from Hollywood reporter Emily Bicks. 

T.J. Miller on Navigating The Happy Valley

During the first few minutes of meeting actor TJ Miller, I wasn’t sure if he was a dick or a comedic genius. While speaking with him during Comedy Central’s Press Day at the network’s brand new offices in Hollywood, Ca., his level of sarcasm was so thick, so naturally, off the cuff, it was hard to fell.

Miller answered first my question about how the idea for his series, The Gorburger Show, first came about by saying “Well, if you had done your research you would’ve known that it’s been on the internet for quite a while.”

Cool story, bro. Of course, I knew Gorburger was originally a digital show on Funny or Die. His egotistical response both turned me off and failed to answer my question. The tension was awkward, so I switched subjects. Asking how he balanced all the different projects he’s currently working on he said, “Golly, when will I be able to just bring in the narrative of Silicon Valley,” which was such a passive aggressive response, he must be messing with me, right?

So when Miller randomly swerved from the topic at hand and said, “I really am a commercial artist, I like big movies, I like working and doing comedy shows on Comedy Central. That stuff is very interesting to me. The real street credit culture and artistic stuff, I leave that to my wife, Kate. In the meantime, I just scream and find voice using puppets,” the guessing game was over.

With a personality as a big as his Hodor-sized private security guard sitting behind us, the 36-year-old actor sat down for this interview playing the role of a narcissistic method actor. Why? I don’t know. But it was hilariously entertaining.

Somewhat answering my initial question he said, “I’ve been working on Gorburger longer than Ryan Reynolds has been working on Deadpool. What do you think about that, eh? Put that in your pipe and print it! If your pipe is a 3-D printer.”

While Miller is mum on his future plans since the announcement that he will not be returning to HBO’s Silicon Valley for Season 5, there is one thing that he definitely will not be doing, and that’s The TJ Miller Show. He said Gorburger, a series about a giant blue alien that has taken over a Japanese talk show, enslaved its staff, and conducts interviews with celebrity guests, is the closest thing you’ll get to a Miller led series.

“It’s my kind of Louis. My Masters of None. My Amy Schumer (which he pronounces as Sku-mare) Show. I don’t want to do a show about my life. That’s not interesting to me. I’ve always wanted to be a talk show host,” [but] I wouldn’t want to see myself every night. [Last Week Tonight with] John Oliver has a very specific viewpoint and comedic voice, Gorburger has a different voice, a different sensibility and is interested in the human condition. He has trouble distinguishing between a hog and a chicken. But also wonders if human beings have the ability to release the death anxiety. Whether or not morality is relative or absolute. Ya, know. Just the giggly, lovey stuff.”

Distracting me throughout this half-hour interview was Miller’s hands. While speaking with large hand motions is nothing of note, him rocking an impeccable French manicure with white tips took me by surprise.

I complimented his fancy nails and in an exaggerated French accent, Miller said, “Thank you. It’s French. I had it done in the French Riviera for when I parasailed into Cannes for The Emoji Movie.”

Returning to his normal voice he added, “I was so jetlagged, I kept falling asleep while it was happening, and the manicurist didn’t really know how to navigate that. She kept trying to talk to me, but didn’t speak any English, so would ask the same questions. So you arrived last night? Yeah. You arrive when. Last night? Uhm. Yeah.”

”It’s so weird,” Miller says of his nails. “I can see when people notice it, and then I start gesturing with my hands even more. But I mean, is there any other way for the executive producer of Gorburger to arrive at Cannes Film Festival? Oh, yeah. That SAG union scale puppeteering money.”

It’s clear Miller loves his job. “If I didn’t have this work ethic that was driven by this altruistic mission to pepper people’s lives with comedy, because life is ultimately this tragic endeavour that’s permeated by sadness, hardship and challenge, that combined with helping people understand that in a post-religious, post meaning society that time is the closest thing we have to deity, that really drives me to work as hard as I do.”

Noticing my now confused look, the man who hosts the podcast, Cashing in with T.J. Miller, recently wrapped up the film, Underworld, with Kristen Stewart, and will be in Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of the novel, Ready Player One, Miller admits finding balance is hard. “But when it means alot to you to make people laugh, and know you can only reach some people with Gorburger, completely different people Transformers 4, and The Emoji Movie, and completely different people with Silicon Valley… I’m trying to make as many people as laugh as possible.”

Remembering something fellow comedian Patton Oswalt once said, Miller explains, “All of this is in many ways to get people to see my stand up and decide whether or not if they like it. That’s the only medium in which I can speak to the American public and the world at large. Especially, right now. But these are all mediums of comedy. Producing TV, starring on a television show, being in movies, getting a French manicure, it’s all the same job.”


Ludacris Loves Lies of All Sizes

Visiting TV sets are not always that entertaining. It’s usually a lot of sitting around and waiting. Or hurrying up and waiting. And then just when you think the director is finally about to call, “Action!” hair and makeup needs retouching, the lighting adjusted, or cameras need a charge.

However, it was non-stop action while visiting the set of MTV’s newest reality series, a reboot of NBC’s Fear Factor. Because there are no retakes or do-overs while filming a live competition series, once everything is in position, things are happening. I watched contestants perform feats for which I’m honestly not sure the chance of winning $50,000 would make me attempt. I’d want to try scaling a sky-high platform while hanging by a wire in the middle of Burbank, I just think I’d faint, or crap my pants before the challenge even started.

Making this show even more fun to watch, Ludacris is Fear Factor’s new host. His low-key commentary is the perfect companion to the highly stressful competition, and I got to speak with the rapper, actor, and now TV host, in between takes. We talked about his new role with MTV, how Sisqo’s The Thong Song inspired his latest summer track, Vitamin D, and his favorite HBO series.. (Hint: It’s not Game of Thrones.)

 I used to turn on MTV to watch your music videos. Now, you’re back on the network as a host. How does that feel?

Ludacris: It feels great. I love being multifaceted and not just being limited to do one thing. I’ve been rapping since I was 9 years old. It’s crazy, because when I was doing radio, I did a stint [as a host] to meet the producers and artists [that could help me] become commercially successful as Ludacris. The radio hosting gig was a talent I didn’t even realize I had. So right now, I’m just maximizing off of my potential. And there’s a bigger play involved, not just with hosting, but trying to bring more original content as a producer to MTV.

Did you watch the original Fear Factor?

I loved it. And all due respect and praise to the original because it’s always going to have that DNA, but we’re trying to broaden the audience and cater to younger people. Put our touch to it with [new] specific fears.

What TV shows do you watch?

I don’t get a ton of time to watch to TV, but Narcos. And what’s that show on HBO with Reese Witherspoon?

Big Little Lies?

Yes! I got hooked on that shit, man. Hooked! Couldn’t get enough of it. Big Little fuckin Lies. I can’t wait for it to come back. There weren’t enough episodes. I need that in my life.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it most likely won’t be coming back. Big Little Lies was a limited series based on a book and there’s no sequel novel.

What?! That’s terrible.

On a happier note, congratulations on the new single, Vitamin D! Remixing The Thong Song was a great choice.

The Interns did the beat and I instantly loved it. The beat came to me first, before I put the lyrics on there. It’s summer 2017, and I feel all the ladies need a little Vitamin D.

Did Sisqo give his approval?

On social media, he gave it two thumbs up and I’m extremely happy about that.

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How Van Jones Saved Sundance Now’s Take 5 Panel Discussion

Sundance Now recently premiered Season 2 of their short film series, Take 5 at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, screening three of the six new documentary shorts, all of which explore the various definitions of American patriotism. Afterwards, a panel discussion led by actor, writer, director Michael Showalter took place with CNN political contributor Van Jones, Aisha Tyler from The Talk and Sundance’s Documentary Film Director, Tabitha Jackson.

“I see what we can be and I won’t rest until we see that,” Tyler preached. “The biggest threat to democracy isn’t conservatism, it’s ambivalence.”

Yawn. Listening to likeminded people say the same things, just in different words was far less entertaining than the powerful short films we just viewed.

But then an audience member spoke out. I must note that questions from the audience were not called upon.

“I think you’re very condescending,” the middle-aged man said to Tyler. “A conservative is different than someone who doesn’t take the job seriously,” speaking in reference to her earlier comments on Trump. “You think if someone doesn’t agree with your values, that there’s something wrong with them and that they need to be educated.”

“I didn’t say that,” Tyler responded. “What I said that was I think that there are better conservatives out there than the man that’s in office, and that we need to discuss this with people who congregate on both sides of the middle of the political spectrum. the right and the left.”

More heated statements were thrown back and forth statements before Tyler again took back control of the mic.

“I was born to a father with an eighth-grade education,” she began, “who lost his father in World War II, and had to start working when he was 10 years old. I came from a working class family. I was homeless in high school. Everything I have, I built with my bare hands. If you don’t agree with my politics, great. But know that I believe deeply in the fundamental principles of who we are as a nation. That anyone with anyone, from any background, and any perspective, with unrelenting commitment and hard work can become whatever they want to be. You can challenge my perspective, but do not challenge me as a patriot, because I fucking love this place.”

While Tyler’s monologue received a loud applause, another particular audience member was less than impressed. The man now standing up to speak was James Gaines, a soldier featured in one of the documentary shorts. He looked tired, annoyed and ready to walk out the door.

“Everyone loves a redemption story,” Gaines said. “Just like people love the drama. I spent five years in Afghanistan and I come back to listen to this shit?  And I’m not smiling. That exchange struck me to the core. What was the point? Every time I turn on the TV, that’s what I hear.”

A brief, awkward silence followed for Gaines spoke aloud what I believe many in the audience were thinking, myself included. Finally, Van Jones took the mic.

“Well, I’m happy to be here tonight,” Jones began, before diving right into the heart of the impromptu debate. “There was a bipartisan elite betrayal of the country over the past 30 years and now people don’t know what to do. The liberal elite want to tell everyone Trump is terrible. The conservative elite want to talk about Muslims, Mexicans, Black Lives Matter, and it’s all bullshit. I can’t figure it how to talk on TV anymore. If I say anything remotely like I just said, I get blown up.”

Jones mentioned his former job as co-host on the once popular CNN series, Crossfire. “[Newt Gingrich and I] fought for a segment called Cease Fire in which we talk about the topics we agree on. Three weeks later, [producers] called us in and said we’d like to show you you’re ratings. Fighting, fighting, fighting. Way up here. But when we agreed, [bomb explosion sound]. Turns out, it’s us who wants this food fight. It’s us who’s rewarding this.”

Jones used social media to really drive his point home. “I signed up for Instagram, because my kids said no one’s on Twitter anymore, and I went and followed 100 people. My feed was awesome. And then I realized all of Instagram is not liberal. So I had to search out right wing, white supremacists republicans, whatever. I hate my feed. I get no dopamine hit from it, but I’m so much more capable. I had to break their algorithm. We need to look at our viewing habits. How many times do you click on the fight on the YouTube thing instead of something positive. This is a deeper problem.”

PREACH.