Q&A With Jon Glaser

You may recognize Jon Glaser, but probably only if he’s wearing a black ski mask. The NYC-based comedian writes, stars in and does pretty much everything else for Adult Swim’s Delocated, a reality-show spoof about a man in witness protection after testifying against the Russian mafia. This is where the ski mask comes in: To protect his identity from his television audience (and, obviously, the Russian mafia), Glaser’s character, aptly named Jon, wears a black ski mask and has his voice surgically distorted. Glaser started his career at Chicago’s esteemed Second City, and he’s since appeared in TV shows and films alongside some of his fellow comedians, with credits such as 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Baby Mama and as voice talent in Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He spent five years writing and performing at Late Night With Conan O’Brien and recently published his first book, My Dead Dad Was In ZZ Top. Season three of Delocated is currently underway, and it’s well worth getting into. Wanna get to know the man behind the mask? Glaser will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: So, obviously, MAGNET is a music magazine. How does music integrate into your creative process? How important is music to you, as a hilarious human person? Or just as a human in general?
Glaser: I’d say music plays some part of my process, even if it’s indirectly. I’m not necessarily listening to music for inspiration for ideas or anything like that. Depending on the project, that is. Obviously, the book I wrote was entirely based on or inspired in large party by music. But I listen to my iPod pretty much every day on the subway when I’m on my way to work, or wherever. It’s pretty bad, I feel like an addict with my headphones, I can’t not be listening to music on my commute. Or really whenever I can. I usually throw on some music in my headphones late at night after my kids are in bed and I’m doing dishes. Guided By Voices has been my main dishes-cleaning band as of late. I never learned to play an instrument, sadly. I bought a guitar and bass when I was writing at Conan, and would fuck around with them in my office, and still will occasionally pull one out and try to play along with a song or whatever. But I never took too many lessons or learned how to play them that well. I’m terribly lazy when it comes to that, but I’m still hoping to get motivated and learn to play them a little more.

Second City really seems to be turning out some comedic winners—and always has. How does your experience there inform your comedy as an alumn?
Many of the very talented, funny people I got to see on a daily basis, some of whom I was fortunate enough to become friends with, have all been inspiring. People like Kevin Dorff, Adam McKay, Scott Adsit, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, just to name a few, are some of the smartest, funniest, greatest improvisers/performers you will ever see. I certainly learned a lot from watching them. It’s like anything, I’d imagine. If you’re performing/working with people who are great, or better than you, it’s going to raise your level of performance, you’re going to strive to be as good.

How is comedic writing different from comedic acting for you?
For me, they go hand in hand. Improv played a big role in that for me. When I’m writing, I’m basically trying to act out scenes in my head. Improvising, to me, is writing on your feet. I had never considered myself a “writer,” but I think I was a writer more than I realized, which is in large part probably due to all of the improv training I had. I still think of myself as an actor first, a better actor than I am a writer. But I consider myself both of those things, and getting that first big writing job was the greatest thing that happened to me, from a career standpoint.

If you could assemble a comedy dream team (the space-time continuum not being a factor here in Hypothetical World), who would be on it?
I don’t know how many people would make up this team for you, or what sport you were thinking of for the analogy, but I’ll go with hockey and pick my starting five first line plus a goalie. Gene Wilder, Rick Moranis, Andy Kaufman, Catherine O’Hara, Cloris Leachman and Bill Murray. Let’s throw John Candy in there behind the bench as the coach.

What’s the best part about writing and starring in your own show?
A lot of the obvious things. Being in charge. Writing for myself and having my sensibility served. My own private cooler stocked with coconut water. There’s a lot of people whose ideas/thoughts/opinions go into making Delocated as good as it is; it’s very humbling having so many people working so hard on my idea. I don’t like to run things with an “I’m the boss” attitude, but in the end, it is my show, and after the network, I have final say about all the dialogue and everything else that goes into the show. I also oversee the edit. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a luxury to be able to be able to make a show that reflects me and my sensibility. That’s the name of the next show I’m pitching, Me And My Sensibility. Holy fucking shit, I just saw some Pepsi ad where Elton John played a king and got dumped in a dungeon where Flavor Flav was hanging out. Say the fuck what???

Where did the idea for Delocated come from?
Many years ago, I had an idea for an impressionist who is in the witness protection program, but still wants to perform, so he wears a ski mask and alters his voice. The stupid joke was that all his impressions sound the same, with that low, garbled, modulated voice you hear on the news when people are trying to hide their identity. His impressions and material were also really shitty and hacky, but he was super smug and confident. I did this character in a live show I did when I was living in LA, and put it in my submission packet for Conan. I did the character on Conan when I got hired, and when I left, I always wanted to do something with the character. I removed the impressionist aspect/premise so it wasn’t the same thing I did on Conan, but at his core, the guy is basically a similarly hyper-confident, smug, un-funny asshole. Seemed great for a fame whore who wanted his own reality show.

And what’s with all the murders?
Well, when someone is wanted dead by the mob and puts himself in the public eye, there’s going to be murder.

How has it been having Janeane Garofalo on this season of Delocated?
Great. She was already a fan of the show, she wanted to be in it. Thankfully, we had a new role that she was perfect for, and she was able to do it with her schedule. She’s very funny in the show and was a perfect fit.

In Delocated, your character wears a ski-mask all the time. How has that device factored into writing Jon’s character?
There have obviously been some ideas for the mask, but there can only be so many of those. Same with the premise. Obviously, many ideas are going to serve and be inspired by the premise, but that would get old fast if everything was a joke about the mask, and the witness protection program. We make sure that we’re thinking of ideas that are funny and interesting regardless of the premise, and then see if we can make them work with the premise. For example, this season so far has had “Jon” buy a potato-skins bar, find out he’s cooking in his sleep and go camping. They’re ideas that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the fact that “Jon” is in the program, but are either ideas we find funny, or come from the character, and we make them work.

—Anna Louise Neiger

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