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Arts and Entertainment

'Jesse Miller Talk Show' Brings Character to Hollywood Improv

Andre Hyland as Jesse Miller. Photo via Keith Musil.
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Whether or not you recognize it, most of the ‘traditional’ comedy that is put in front of us relies heavily on characters. Saturday Night Live is the most famous example, with their character tentacles reaching everything from Will Ferrell’s time as President Bush on Broadway to the absurd groundskeeper from Caddy Shack. Yet, it’s not generally considered in the pantheon of live stage performances, where sketch, direct-delivery stand up and improv reign supreme. Outside of Groundlings or the occasional Upright Citizens Brigade one-person show, most live comedy shows in Los Angeles eschew the cloak of true character in favor of the thin veneer of an accent or slight affectation.

Well, if Andre Hyland had his way, he’d change all that. Or not. It’s hard to tell what exactly the surprisingly quiet man is thinking when he’s not using the stage like a trampoline. What IS known is that Hyland’s popular character show, The Jesse Miller Talk Show, is a striking example of just how good character work in Los Angeles can be. And, unlike the Groundlings’ sketch character shows or the well-rehearsed one-person character bit, Hyland does much of the Jesse Miller Talk Show without the security of a script.

The show, which currently has an extended monthly engagement at the Hollywood Improv’s next door Lab room on Melrose, brings together Hyland-as-Miller alongside a selection of some of LA’s finest indie stand up talent and the occasional quirky variety act. Guests perform their sets in front of a willing audience before hitting Miller’s desk for a traditional interview segment that is anything but. Of course, there’s also Miller’s guitar-riffing sidekick Daryl and his questionably sexy girlfriend, but more on that later.

For now, let’s focus on the Midwestern whirlwind that is Jesse Miller: intrepid business man, self-proclaimed media mogul and dubious talent manager. His fast-talking hyper-pop culture speak is reminiscent of an unmedicated child, except the references are all far too obscure and dated. At times he throws around vulgarities like he’s the opening act at the Gathering of the Juggalos, but is just as quick to give props to Daryl and his girl, all three of whom share her grandmother’s sectional sofa as a sleeping arrangement. He’s from Cincinnati and wears his hometown pride on his head and his heart, with the biting irony that only a character this strong could wrangle. His faded, oversized patchwork polo, vinyl running pants and constant gas station sunglasses help to round out a man that, frankly, will never be soft at the edges.

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Then there’s Daryl, the dragon-shirted literal mouth breather with an affinity for tasty guitar licks and the speech patterns of a sloth. Maybe it’s the time he allows himself before speaking, but Daryl is usually the perfect foil to any floundering joke or excited ramblings from Miller. Tanya is Miller’s trashy girlfriend, a belly-shirted poster girl for bad decisions who sloughs off Miller’s jokes with equal parts dim-wittedness and ego. Together, they form a stage trifecta that can certainly be intimidating for the night’s guests, but rarely do they let the talent truly fail.

In fact, the Jesse Miller Talk Show succeeds precisely because you are spending all of your time watching Miller drink obscure energy drinks or Daryl blink slowly through a thousand yard stare. Despite the often-dazzling array of guests - including Bob Odenkirk, Nick Thune and TJ Miller - the title doesn’t lie: this is Jesse Miller’s show. Nowhere is that more apparent than the interview segment, where Hyland manages to improvise seamless conversations with the guests while weaving in obscure bits of trivia and a hell of a lot of jokes. The questions themselves are pitch-perfect, these meandering beasts that manage to link the person in the chair with, say, the Robocop films, and then ask ‘why’.

It’s a pleasure to watch Hyland manage this show, as his Miller character continues to gain traction in various Hollywood circles. He’s already begun filming character segments on and has been working on pitches for the show all over town. With an everyman attitude and addicting energy, it’s hard to imagine Andre Hyland not finding a wider audience soon. Where that will take things, who knows. But for now, if you’re looking for that unbridled character comedy that so often seems lacking in contemporary live comedy, just ask for Jesse Miller. The dude’s a mogul.

The Jesse Miller Talk Show runs monthly at 10:30pm at the Hollywood Improv Lab. Tonight's guests include Ron Babcock and Matt Dwyer, and tickets are $5.