On Monday night T.J. Miller, formerly known as the voice of the Mucinex guy in those Mucinex commercials, performed comedy in Los Angeles. Specifically he performed in Hot Tub, a beloved and long-running alt show hosted by Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler at The Virgil. He also performed at the Hollywood Improv, per Instagram photos that show him in the same outfit as in Hot Tub, where he was booked again last night.
Sources in the scene tell me Miller was a drop-in at Hot Tub—that is, he was not booked ahead of time. His appearance was enough of a surprise that apparently one audience member vocally protested it, and was escorted out of the theater when that protest persisted past Miller’s set. (Remember, folks: public protests only work when they cause a very limited disturbance.) The audience member later said on Instagram that she suffered multiple bruises from the three bouncers who kicked her out and also had her earrings ripped from her ears.
Yesterday that protest was taken up en masse by comedians and comedy-adjacent folk on Twitter, and this morning Braunohler and Schall publicly apologized for the affair.
If the last year or so of life has taught us anything, it might be that public draggings are a highly effective form of protest. Granted, it probably helps when those people already have shame—I’ve seen text messages from an audience member who spoke to Schaal immediately after the show, and who said she was receptive to concerns about Miller—but the point is that loudly calling bullshit works. It’s more than just a way of letting off steam and much more than just “outrage culture.” Especially in fields like comedy, where producers depend on their own good standing to book shows and get booked on shows, outrage is one of the few tools an audience has to change the status quo.
I saw one Twitter user who attended the show lament that Miller’s protestor interrupted other sets. “I totally understand being pissed and I took up my concerns as well,” she wrote. “But to disrupt sets of the other amazing comics isn’t helping the issue. By all means, protest Miller’s set, but the other originally billed comics shouldn’t suffer bc of his bs.” On the contrary, disrupting other comics is helping the issue; the originally billed comics should suffer consequences for appearing on a lineup with Miller. Why? So they don’t do it again. Why shouldn’t they do it again? So producers are disincentivized from booking Miller. It’s important to remember that “suffer,” in this context, means “get heckled.” Here’s what it means in a few other contexts (CW: sexual violence):
From The Daily Beast:
“We started to fool around, and very early in that, he put his hands around my throat and closed them, and I couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. “I was genuinely terrified and completely surprised. I understand now that this is for some people a kink, and I continue to believe it is [something] that should be entered into by consenting parties. But, as someone who had only begun having sexual encounters, like, about three months earlier, I had no awareness this was a kink, and I had certainly not entered into any agreement that I would be choked.
“I was fully paralyzed,” Sarah continued.
Sarah claimed that she was “choking audibly”—to the point that her roommates could hear what was happening and rushed over to knock on her bedroom door. Sarah said she then got up and walked to her door in a robe, and one of her roommates asked if everything was OK.
“I don’t know,” she responded, before shutting the door, “I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
“He pulled me back to bed and more things happened,” Sarah said. “He anally penetrated me without my consent, which I actually believe at that point I cried out, like, ‘No,’ and he didn’t continue to do that—but he also had a [beer] bottle with him the entire time. He used the bottle at one point to penetrate me without my consent.”
According to the complaint, the officer detected slurring in Miller’s voice and asked if he had consumed alcohol that day. Miller replied that he had consumed “one glass of red wine.” Asked if he suffered from mental illness, Miller replied “no, absolutely not. This is the first time I’ve ever made a call like this before. I am worried for everyone on that train. Someone has to check that lady out.”
Investigators later determined that Miller had actually been traveling on a different train than he initially reported. An attendant from the First Class car where Miller had been sitting said Miller appeared intoxicated when he boarded in Washington, and consumed multiple drinks on the train and was removed in New York because of intoxication. The attendant also told investigators Miller had been involved in hostile exchanges with a woman who was sitting in a different row from him in the First Class car.
The complaint further alleges that Miller, motivated by a grudge against the subject female, called 911 to relay false information about a suspected bomb on the train, and continued to convey false information to investigators while the public safety response was ongoing.
In addition to these incidents and Office Christmas Party, Miller’s resumé also includes allegations that he punched an Uber driver and a sexist, racist performance at a TechCrunch awards show. To book him on your comedy show is to declare, unwittingly or not, that you don’t give a shit about the safety of anyone else in the room. To appear on the same show as him, unwittingly or not, is complicity. I don’t think that’s so unfair—the comedy industry runs on social capital, that is, comedians create and control the currency. No one else is going to levy consequences for his alleged abuses; it’s on you. Turning down a gig seems like a very small price to pay.
Miller is currently on tour, with shows booked through October at venues like The Funny Bone in Cincinnati and Albany, Helium Comedy Club in Spokane and Portland, Penguins Comedy Club in Cedar Rapids, and the Chicago Improv. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to tell these clubs what you think.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.