Halfway through his senior year of college, communications major, Gene Wilder fan and hopeful comedic actor Jon Glaser took a break to trek up to Chicago. He called the city’s Second City Theatre, a legendary breeding ground for comedy stars, to see if they had any auditions for their prestigious troupe. They did. So with a few acting classes under his belt, he tried out. He didn’t get it, but that didn’t matter.
“One of the producers in the room pulled me aside after auditioning and was very encouraging. It was actually a pivotal moment in my life,” says Glaser. The producer, Joyce Sloane, was “a major figure in Chicago comedy and theatre” until she passed away last year. “[It] literally changed my life, meeting her and having her be encouraging about moving to Chicago. It took me another couple of auditions after I moved there. I probably auditioned one more time, didn’t get it and then on my third audition I think I got it.”
Many years after this encounter, Glaser still sounds humble and grateful that Sloan took him aside. But ideas like humility, gratitude and introspection get thrown out of the picture when Glaser puts on the black ski mask and fires up the digital voice distorter to become Jon, the defiantly obnoxious main character of his Adult Swim series Delocated, which recently started its third season. Delocated is a faux reality TV series following the adventures of Jon, a man who doesn’t let details like being in the witness protection program, a Russian crime family looking for payback and always having to be filmed wearing a mask and having his voice distorted stand in the way of his dreams of being famous for nothing much in particular.
Jon is oblivious to his own insuitability for fame or how his lust for attention places his family at risk. He’s all bullheaded arrogance and unfiltered id, prone to pronouncements about taking ladies to the “bone zone” and participating in wholly unwarranted underwear-oriented fashion shoots. Jon stands proudly alongside Kenny Powers and Don Draper in the modern alpha-jerkwad pantheon. But Glaser’s innate warmth shines through literal and figurative masks; in a weird way you can’t help but hope that the shmuck gets the underserved fame he so desperately wants.
Glaser got his start writing for The Dana Carvey Show, which was cancelled after eight episodes in 1996, but boasted a ridiculous amount of future comedy heavyweights in its ranks, including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K. and even, oddly enough, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. “It was my first show, so even though we knew it was probably not getting picked up—you could just feel every week that the network was not supporting it—for me at least it was nothing but fun. Robert Smigel and Louie C.K. and all the people that were in the higher up positions, I think it was extremely stressful, but for me I was like ‘this is great. Every week is like freedom. If the show is not going to get picked up let’s just put in whatever and have a good time.’” He moved back and forth between the East and West Coasts and various writers’ rooms, even spending time writing for Jenny McCarthy’s MTV sketch show, which also had an oddly credible writing staff that included Will Forte and H. Jon Benjamin. “We just had fun every day. Not the greatest comedy show, but I also didn’t think it was terrible across the board.”
Glaser ended up writing and appearing in bits for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was a perfect marriage of silliness. One of the bits he included in his submission packet to Conan was a character he had been working on live, an impressionist in the witness protection program. “Very much like the lead character in Delocated, very very very smug, very confident in who he is, and the joke was that his characters all sounded like that voice, that modulated voice,” he says. “And the thing with that character was that he was really shitty. Terrible jokes, terrible impressions, just really hacky, but his confidence is what kept him going. And after I quit Conan, I just always wanted to do something with that type of character, because it’s so fun to do. So I came up with Jon.”
He had early talks with Comedy Central, but eventually shot a demo for Adult Swim, “the only place that might indulge a lot of these weird ideas.” The demo was so the network could “get a sense of that smugness, that confidence,” and included a memorably odd scene that was lifted in full for the actual pilot in which beloved leading man Paul Rudd takes a bullet meant for Jon. “It just seemed funny to me to randomly bump into a celebrity and have that guy get killed,” he says. “Originally we were going to have someone get killed every episode, but that just seemed like too much, so we’re doing it every season, including this one, but I won’t say who it is.”
He says he is only occasionally recognized by fans, and that his agents sometimes wonder why he never wants to take his mask off. Though this season Glaser is playing a second, nearly unrecognizable character, a member of the Russian crime family. “I wanted the audience to know that I committed to this stupid idea with an actual haircut and not a wig. I basically buzzed all my hair, except for the top half. It’s like from the middle of my scalp forward there’s hair,” he says. “My hair is very curly and fro-y, we took a flat iron and we straightened it, and we put a lot of product in it and we combed it forward, so it’s it’s like wet sticky bangs. It’s a very European, Serbian looking haircut.” Glaser goes out of his way to hide himself in his show, which won’t do very much for his Q ratings, but dovetails nicely with the main subtext of Delocated, an all out deconstruction and mockery of the unjustified confidence and preening fame hunger of reality TV.
“I used to watch Project Runway with my wife, and I kind of enjoyed that a lot, because there’s at least some skill involved, but I don’t watch like Jersey Shore. I find that despicable. I don’t find it like ‘Oh, that’s so annoying it’s fun.’ I can’t watch that. I just don’t have time, really” he says, noting that Delocated is a satire of not any particular reality show but the pervasive, underlying attitude that props up the genre. “All these people are confident in who they are, no matter how untalented and desperate they are. I mean, if they’re not confident they’re not going to be on these shows by their own choosing or by the networks.”
After years in other people’s rooms, Delocated is the first time Glaser has been in charge of his own project. He insists that his show is more than a collection of pent-up ideas that were too weird for his other gigs. As strange as Delocated gets (which is very: the season premiere features Jon coping with his ex-wife’s death by seducing himself while wearing her dress), there’s an emphasis on character-based storytelling that keeps it just outside of the realm of the purely absurd, borderline audience-baiting realm of Tim and Eric or the Wonder Showzen crew. “I just think it’s the nature of the show, because it is quote-unquote playing things real, it is live action, and it is based in some sort of grounding of every day life,” he says. “Even if it gets bizarre, like last season when we did a face off, that’s obviously completely fake. But if there’s anything that crazy or unrealistic, we’re at least treating it very seriously and very real.”
Jon’s ex-wife was killed at the end of season two, and this season has seen even more changes to the status quo, including a gang of Chinese thugs that Glaser hires to protect him from the mob (predictably, it just makes the situation worse) and some other new characters. “It opens the show up to go in different directions and have new dynamics and is less of the same thing.” Most notably, Janeane Garofolo joins the cast this season as the network executive in charge of Jon’s show. “Thankfully her schedule allowed her to do it, and she was really psyched to do it, which was great. So that was serendipitous.”
Before he began his interview, Glaser apologized at length for being just a few minutes late. In real life, he’s a nice guy, which makes his show a fun outlet for him. To a point, anyway. “It’s fun to act like a total fucking dick, just where you’re saying obnoxious things. Maybe being an asshole is fun in real life,” he says. “It seems fun, but it’s actually is not. It’s really awful. Every so often we’ll be shooting the show and I’ll say ‘yuck. I feel like such a jerk.’ He is disgusting, despicable character.”