Jon Glaser, Unmasked, On Season Two of 'Delocated'
Comedian Jon Glaser has spent most of this summer -- one of the hottest in New York's history -- running around the streets of the city in a thick wool ski mask. No, he's not robbing banks or sneaking onto fire escapes.
Glaser is playing "Jon," the star of Delocated, Adult Swim's mockumentary series about a man who is placed in the witness protection program and promptly moves his family to New York City in search of fame on his own reality TV show. Still on the run from Russian mobsters who want to kill him, "Jon" must wear a ski mask and voice disguiser at all times to protect himself and his family.
("I always joke with our make-up person," Glaser says. "I don’t do any make-up, because I have a mask on. But I actually I like being primped and I find it very relaxing, so I kind of miss getting to do that. I’ll look for any opportunity -- 'Uh, I think I need a little wipe down' – because to me it feels good, and I like it.")
But things aren't going so well for "Jon" at the beginning of the show's second season, which premieres Aug. 22 on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. The death toll rises quickly when Yvgeny Mirminsky (Eugene Mirman), the hapless Russian hit-man/stand-up comedian assigned to kill "Jon," is demoted and replaced by his brother Sergei in the season premiere. "There are a lot of spectacular murders," Glaser says, without giving away any other season two plot details.
Early in the new season, Sergei (Steve Cirbus) declares: "It is not a silly comedy anymore. It is silly drama."
That line seems to speak to the added pathos and sense of impending doom surrounding "Jon," his friends, and his Russian rivals in the new episodes of Delocated. And with a season of 12 30-minute episodes – compared to seven 15-minute episodes in season one – Glaser and the rest of the cast and crew have been able to explore more intricate plots, characters, and emotional developments.
Earlier this month, I visited Glaser and the crew during their final week of shooting for season two. (The first six episodes were shot and edited last fall, and the network later ordered six more that were shot over the course of this summer.) They were filming on location all day at the Brooklyn Fencing Academy, covering all of the scenes involving Mirman as Mirminsky visiting his father in jail. I spoke with Glaser, who was not appearing on camera that day, during their lunch break.
"It was not intentional," Glaser says of Sergei's statement, "and it was not us telling people about the show. But we kind of laugh about that a lot, because that's what the show seems to have become. Play things pretty serious and there’s a lot of emotionally resonant scenes and its kind of ridiculous. I’m curious to see how people are going to respond to it. I think it’s great that it's taken on that tone, bit it's still ridiculous.
"It is a weird premise to begin with," he says of Delocated as a whole. "We try to play things super straight, very real, very earnest, and I think that, for me, is where a lot of the humor comes from."
Glaser says that he was not directly inspired to create the show by watching reality TV programming like The Real World or Big Brother, but he does allow that Delocated can be viewed as a commentary on celebrity culture in general.
"People that want to be famous and deliberately seek out fame is something I find to be a big bummer," he says. "And here’s a guy literally putting himself in danger for the sake of fame. Putting his life and putting his family in danger, yeah. I mean, I certainly don’t have a problem with celebrity or fame; it’s a byproduct of what people do. But people that deliberately seek it out, I just don’t understand."
"It wasn’t a conscious decision to think of a character where no one knows who I am," Glaser says. "It was really just something that I thought was funny. There was no thought about 'No one’s going to see my face' or 'I’m gonna have to shoot this thing in hundred-degree weather.' I don’t care about any of that. It was just a funny idea that I wanted to do something with."
(Jon makes a face and takes a partly chewed piece of chicken out of his mouth. He looks sheepish and says, "Excuse me. You can write that I took the chicken out of my mouth. That’s what I’ve been telling people when I do interviews. Because its just so cliché, like, 'he said as he poked at his organic chicken salad.' Feel free to write, 'he said as he took that disgusting piece of chicken out of his mouth'.")
"It's just a nice byproduct of the character," Glaser adds of his masked alter ego. "It’s nice not to be recognizable, right? [Being recognized in public] makes me uncomfortable somehow, but I still like to perform. It wasn’t intentional: 'Let me think of a character so no one can recognize who I am.' It was really just an idea that I liked, that just happened to be a guy in a ski mask."
(He interrupts himself again to ask, "Can you do me a favor and hand me that hot sauce right there?" I hand him the bottle. "That can be part of the interview, too: 'Jon Glaser mulled over the question as I reached for the Thai chili sauce'.")
"Jon" is a cocky fame-seeker who would rather be famous than happy, and is willing to lose his family and friends to achieve that goal – but don't expect him to learn anything from his experiences. Glaser simplifies even further when he says, "It's just fun to play smug assholes. That's my favorite thing about it." Yet even under the ski mask, Glaser is able to mine a lot of laughs, with heavy sarcasm and deadpan seriousness, from what he calls a "dumb" character.
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Glaser was a cast member at Chicago's Second City in the mid-'90s and was also a writer for The Dana Carvey Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien (he's a five-time Emmy nominee as part of the writing staff of Late Night), among numerous other TV, film, and musical comedy projects.
Glaser originally created the character of "Jon" as an impressionist who is under the witness protection program. Of course, all of his impressions sounded exactly the same filtered through a distorted voice box, and looked exactly the same under a cumbersome ski mask. He later used the character as part of his writing packet to get a job on Late Night.
Even though his résumé might suggest that Glaser prefers the writer's room to the soundstage, he says he thinks of himself as primarily a performer rather than a writer.
"When you’re doing improv at Second City," he says, "by nature you are writing on your feet; you are creating material as opposed to just being an actor. I just hadn't thought of it in those terms until it was posed as, ‘Do you want a job as a writer?’ And I thought, 'Oh yeah, of course I do,' thinking this could still be a way to do performing.
"I've never taken any scriptwriting class. Not for good or bad, I just didn’t do that. I just made myself sit down and write some scripts and what I thought was funny, and getting hired I’m sure on what they had seen me do and also some of what was in the scripts. But I still think of myself as a performer first and a writer second."
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In addition to Eugene Mirman, the new season of Delocated features appearances by stand-up comics Jerry Minor as the "Mighty Joe Jon, the black blonde" and Todd Barry as himself. What is it about Adult Swim that attracts so many alt comedy performers?
"No matter where you’re working, you’re always gonna want to work with your friends," Glaser says. "There’s plenty of people that are on the show that I had never met before that I found through auditions. It’s a little of both. A place like Adult Swim, just the fact that it exists is a great thing in that it's serving this interesting and funny and creative sensibility, and they indulge interesting ideas. People that are just going to naturally work together on those types of ideas have a place to do it on a bigger stage, so it's pretty awesome."
The season premiere of Delocated airs Aug. 22 on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.
(Photo credit: TM & © 2010 Adult Swim)
-- Daniel Lehman