Jon Glaser: The Man Behind the Masks

There’s no reason for you to not know who Jon Glaser is, but a lot of the time he wears a mask. Beyond that, you should be ashamed of yourself, because he’s been a part of some of both the most eccentric and culturally relevant comedies in America since the mid-’90s. He’s written for shows such as Late Night with Conan O’BrienSNL, Human Giant, and Wonder Showzen, and he’s appeared in such iconic TV shows as 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Upright Citizens Brigade, and the movies School for Scoundrels, Baby Mama, and Be Kind Rewind. He is also the author of the fake rock ‘n roll history book My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top

Glaser grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, in a city called Southfield, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a “practical” degree in Communications. He thought if the comedy thing didn’t work out, maybe he’d be a sportscaster. Thankfully that didn’t happen, although we’d probably all rather hear Glaser declaiming how to spell the sound a football makes when it hits the goalpost than some of the doofuses who actually do.

He also enjoys acting like an asshole, probably because it’s such a departure for him. A friendly, genuine guy, he thinks the people who are actually like the characters he plays are completely ridiculous and are totally fair game for satirizing. Every time comedy producer Caroline Creaghead asks him to fill in for Eugene Mirman to host the weekly comedy show “Pretty Good Friends,” he jokingly refers to himself as the “Neighborhood Hero coming to save the day again” to start getting into character. Now he’s starring as another reprobate in his own creation, Delocated, a fake reality show on Adult Swim that follows a man, “Jon,” who is in the Witness Protection Program, but who has also agreed to have a reality show about him and his family relocating to New York City filmed, recklessly putting himself and his family in acute danger. They wear ski masks and have voice modulating chips surgically implanted on their vocal chords so they won’t be recognized on TV. The show is heading into its third season, and we sat down with Jon during a break from filming.

NELSON: You wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien for five years, and that was were the original version of “Jon” from Delocated premiered. Why did that character in particular stick with you, and how did that develop into the show Delocated?

GLASER: I had done a version of the character that appeared on Conan before I got hired there, and I just always enjoyed the character. The original character had a joke attached to it that he was just an impressionist who was in the Witness Protection Program but still wanted to perform, so he donned the ski mask and altered his voice so no one could know who he was, but all his impressions ended up sounding the same, just in that altered voice. It was dumb, but it was always fun to do and the thing I liked about it was that he was super arrogant and smug and confident, even though his humor was shitty and hacky, and just that archetype of a character, the smug asshole, was really fun to do and I always wanted to do something with it after I left Conan, so that’s where the idea came from for this show.

NELSON: You seem to have been consistently successful in your career. Were there any projects of yours that never made it that you still feel should have?

GLASER: I’m sort of known in the comedy community as “Smooth Sailing,” just ’cause everything always goes great. I’ve always had success at every turn. Everything has gone well for me. I’ve never had a project fail. Everywhere I go, it’s “What’s up, Smooth Sailing?! How are the seas today, buddy?” I’m like, “Calm as can be!” [laughs] I guess for the most part, it’s been pretty typical, I would imagine, as far as working in a restaurant and stuff, but I’ve been fairly lucky. You know, I’ve had shitty jobs. I’ve been lucky. Most of the jobs were pretty fun. A couple were not so great, but even on the shitty shows, the jobs can be really fun if the people are cool, and on some of the not-as-great shows I’ve worked on, they’ve been really fun jobs because you’re meeting really great people and it’s just fun because you’re all in it together and fucking around all day and making the best of it. So, you know what? Maybe it has been smooth sailing. [laughs] I guess I was right after all, huh? [laughs] That’s one of those things you read in print and you don’t realize I’m being ironic and go, “That guy’s a fucking asshole! He really does think he’s ‘Smooth Sailing!'”

NELSON: That’s why I have to write in: “laughs.”

GLASER: “‘Hahaha,’ he said ironically, and then made a point to tell me to make sure it was clear to the readers that he was joking, including emails after the interview.

NELSON: “He winked at me as he counted his stacks of hundred dollar bills.”

GLASER: Yeah, “and sent panicked emails.

NELSON: I think this is where you should take it. Just get cockier and cockier as the interview goes on. [laughs]

GLASER: [laughs] “Smooth Sailing” and “Hall of Fame” are my top two nicknames. “Cool Guy.” “Jolly Jon.” “Fun Jon.” There’s a lot of derivatives of Jon. “Cool Jon.” Some people took “Smooth Sailing” and “Fun Jon” and made “Smooth Jon.” That’s a good one. It’s just starting to catch on with the general public. Just every now and then, “Hey! Smooth Jon!” Or “You’re Smooth Jon, right?!” People aren’t quite sure. I’m like, “Yeah.” “Okay, cool, that’s what I thought!”

NELSON: Delocated, at its core, is a satire on reality shows. Does that come from a distaste of that genre or a frustration with popular American culture? Or is it just a trend that’s ripe for making fun of?

GLASER: I think it’s just a byproduct of the idea. I didn’t necessarily set out to think of a show to make fun of reality shows. This character certainly just naturally lends itself very well to a reality show, as far as just fame whores. You know, here’s an asshole that thinks so much of himself that he’s putting his life in danger and his family in danger because he wants to be on TV, so I guess it’s a pretty good commentary on it, but I don’t want to be the one to say that. If other people want to say that, great! [laughs] I don’t hate all of them. Some of them are enjoyable, but I really just think it’s disgusting when people—to actually say that you want to be famous, it’s just gross. There’s nothing wrong with fame, but to seek out the spotlight just to be on TV for the sake of being on TV, and to put your children on there, I think, is especially disgusting. I don’t know. It’s all gross to me. This show is a big “fuck you” to America, really. [laughs] We wanted to call the show Think About It. [laughs]

NELSON: How did the idea of killing Paul Rudd in the very first episode come up?

GLASER: I made a demo to pitch to the network before the pilot even got picked up, just to give them an idea instead of just reading a script. I didn’t want to hope that they would get it, so I made this demo and the Paul Rudd scene was in the demo, so we put it in the pilot, but it just seemed funny to have a celebrity mistakenly get killed and then just to have that emotional listing of his credits. Originally, I thought we’d have one every episode, but that just seemed like too much, so it’s been one per season and there will be another celebrity killed this season. I won’t say who, so you’ll have to tune in and watch. It’s been a good couple: Paul Rudd and Scott Wolf. That was a pretty nice choice for season two.

NELSON: Now I’m excited to see who gets murdered this year. And Janeane Garofolo has joined the cast and that’s a tremendous addition to the line-up. Did you approach her to be part of it, or was she already a fan of the show?

GLASER: It was both. We approached her, but we knew she liked the show, and she’s just a really good fit for the show. She’s funny, and she’s smart, and she likes doing this kind of thing, and she was enthusiastic when we asked her to do it, so it’s great how it worked out. She plays the head of the network, so ostensibly she’s always been there. We’ve just never seen her.

NELSON: It’s great that Adult Swim has the viewership at the national level to successfully air some of these types of avant-garde comedy shows that other networks would probably never even consider running.

GLASER: [Adult Swim] is easily the best place it could have ended up, just by nature of what you’re saying. Obviously, they give a home to weirdo ideas, and they cultivate them and just let people do what they do, and it’s kind of great.

NELSON: What else can we look forward to in season three?

GLASER: There’s more murders. Some hot sex. Some ugly sex. Some sad sex. Some hot murders. Some sexy murders. That’s what I was trying to get at on Fallon about murder. What one person might see as violent, someone else may see as beautiful. Maybe even art. [laughs] This really is going to be an interview where people think, “This guy is a fucking asshole!”

NELSON: That sort of ties into how there’s a murder in almost every episode of Delocated, which the executives don’t mind because it boosts ratings, and it doesn’t seem to be too far off the mark from what’s actually happening behind the scenes of some of these reality shows. Have those reality show gimmicks and tactics seeped into the show even more since you started?

GLASER: Are you suggesting that our murders are real? This interview is over.