For the love of the spectacle
Talking with the head writer of ‘The Gorburger Show’
Gorburger, voiced by T.J. Miller
Sometime back in 2012 (and documented on funnyordie.com) a large, furry, blue alien named Gorburger invaded and commandeered a Japanese variety show, murdering and eating half its staff and enslaving the rest to run his new talk show. Gorburger desperately wishes to know what it means to be human, is a great lover of pop culture, and though he has bloodlust, promises to never eat a guest. After two seasons at Funny or Die and a 2015 pilot bought and then released by HBO, “The Gorburger Show” premiered this April on Comedy Central. M. Miller Davis, a Tulsa native and cousin of comedian T.J. Miller (the voice of Gorburger), is head writer for the show.
Liz Blood: How long have you been a writer for “The Gorburger Show”?
Miller Davis: I started as a writer’s assistant on the second season (2013). The Director Brothers and T.J. [Miller] and Sean Boyle have always let me be really involved in pitching and the creative process. [After HBO] decided to pass on the pilot, then getting the series to Comedy Central, I took on the lead duties of other writers, then became the head writer.
Blood: What does a day in the life of “TGS” head writer look like?
Davis: We work on it for a number of weeks in preparation and then they start shooting the show. When they’re actually shooting, we do three or four days of field pieces. I stay back with the other writers and work on beating out the stories of the episodes.
We come up with an idea and think about where it could fit. Does the story feel right for the guest? How much do we think the guest will get the bit versus how much hand-holding will they need? There’s certainly an absurdism to [the show], but we’re playing with a world that embraces and loves pop culture and also saying this is really silly … so, let’s all have a good time.
We sit in a big room for most of the day. I like to go off and work in my little office by myself and then come back with a script. The writing room is super fun but it can also be a little distracting. A lot of people really like it—the group feeding off of ideas.
Blood: In this first season on Comedy Central, you’ve had as guests Reggie Watts, Larry King, Kenny G, Tig Notaro, Danny Brown, and others. Who does Gorburger hope to get next?
Davis: Gorburger’s greatest hope would be to get Usher on the show. He views Usher as the pinnacle of human existence, mostly for his dancing ability. But there are a lot of people we want on the show and a lot of people who wanted to be on the show but scheduling didn’t work out. I think the most fun guests are ones who are really down to embrace the idea and play the talk show guest role—the ones who treat Gorburger like a host, like a Conan or Jimmy Fallon. Then we can play with the weirdness of the show and the juxtaposition of the trivial questions.
One of the coolest sides of “The Gorburger Show” is to see the musicians come on. Every song is an original expression of a previously done song, usually syncing up two bands of different sensibilities. The Reggie Watts/Thundercat song (season one, episode one) was totally improvised. Getting to watch cool musicians and see how they do something together, to see them come in and screw around, is fun.
Blood: I love the field pieces Gorburger does. He’s been to an animal rehabilitation center, a marionette theater, among other places. If he came to Tulsa, where would he visit?
Davis: He would probably have a great time with Hanson. Their music seems so earnest and like they’d get down with playing around with him. I also think he’d find the bison on the prairie fascinating—and maybe a little sexy. There’s not a lot of stuff close to him, but they’re closer than human beings. And the fanfare of Cry Baby Hill at Tulsa Tough—Gorburger loves spectacle.
Blood: Gorburger was just on Conan. How was that?
Davis: And Larry King, today. You know, the normal alien puppet circuit. King was totally down and played around. He didn’t miss a beat interacting with this big puppet.
Blood: How does the puppet work?
Davis: The guy inside of it, Brian Hillard, is a professional puppeteer. He can only stay in it for about 15–20 minutes—it just gets too hot and cramped. There are so many pieces of machinery and servos that control the eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and lips. It actually takes three puppeteers to control the facial features. And then Brian is inside doing the mannerisms.
Editor's note: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that T.J. Miller created Gorburger. The Director Brothers are Gorburger's creator.
For more from Liz, read her article on Abby Kurin, head of the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts, and Culture.