Talking Delocated, ZZ Top and Conan with Jon Glaser
If I were as clever as Jon Glaser, I’d take my premise of him being the unsung hero of absurd comedy and come up with parody song about it set to Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero.” But I’m not, so I’ll just say it: Jon Glaser is the unsung hero of absurd comedy.
Take an inventory of the most brilliantly silly and absurd comedy shows and programs over the past 15 years, and there’s a decent chance Glaser was involved in some capacity behind the scenes.
Second City pedigree? Yep, he was a member of the legendary Pinata Full of Bees Revue with Adam McKay, Scott Adsit and Rachel Dratch. Writer for the Dana Carvey Show, whose staff was a murderer’s row of comedy heavyweights, including Louis C.K., Robert Smigel, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell? Sure. Late Night With Conan O’Brien writer/performer responsible for characters including A-hole Ronald, Slipnut Jon and Ehud Henkleman? Check.
The list goes on.
With his live-action Adult Swim comedy Delocated, which he created and stars in, Glaser continues the streak of gut-busting absurdity. How else would you explain a premise of a Russian mob target in the witness protection program starring in his own reality show?
He’s more in the forefront now, but still maintains some anonymity as he’s forced to don a black ski mask for the duration of each and every episode.
Glaser’s latest foray into the absurd is his new book, My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top: 100% Real,* Never Before Seen Documents from the World of Rock and Roll.
The book purports to unearth the long-buried, and often embarrassing secrets of some of the biggest names in Rock and Roll. For instance, if you read carefully, you’ll discover that Eric Stolz was the original drummer in the White Stripes.
The book’s title comes from a conceptual bit Glaser used to perform live where he’d read letters he discovered after his father died indicating his dad was the original keyboardist in ZZ Top but left after a falling-out.
I recently caught up with Glaser to talk about his book, Delocated and his days at Late Night.
How did the book come about? Did it evolve out of your bit featured on the Invite Them Up compilation?
Pretty much. I had done that a long time ago. It’s something I had done every now and then. It was a bit I liked and obviously it lends itself well to visuals, and I always thought it would look good in print. I hadn’t really thought about the idea for a while and few years ago I just sort of revisited it and thought it would make a good book. I pitched it around that idea and several others I had that also were written pieces and thankfully someone went for the idea.
How did the book pitches go for you? Were any publishers willing to green light your book just based on you being the creator and star of your own show? I mean Snookie got a damn book. Was it not that easy?
Book pitches basically consisted of my literary agent sending my manuscript/pitch to a dozen or so publishers. Thankfully, one of them liked the idea. I don’t think creating and starring on a basic cable show that airs at midnight helped sell the book. But maybe it did.
Of all the bands you could have placed your dad in, why ZZ Top?
I’m getting that question a lot, of course, with the book. I really can’t remember if it was a specific thing. I’m sure it came from something. A lot of times ideas come up for whatever reason. For this one I can’t remember if there was a specific connection. I can’t think of the exact inspiration behind the idea.
What were some of the other bits that you incorporated into the book?
The Beatles, the Ringo Tribute band was an idea that I had also done. It was something that I had written. Obviously, I thought that would be a good piece for the book. I had a couple Prince ideas as well. The other idea that I had didn’t make into the book cause I liked the one that’s in the book better. But it was another Prince idea where a guy that was a chef was keeping a diary of being the personal chef for the New Power Generation and sort of detailing his experience in that. It had a similar dynamic to my dad’s letters in that it starts off great and then the guy quits. There were a few other written pieces, some made the book, some did not. But they were all involved in the pitch.
Have you heard from any members or representatives of bands in the book?
I have not heard from any real band. The book just also came out two weeks ago. I’ll be curious to see if it ends up in anybody’s hands and if they have anything to say for good or bad. (laughs)
Let me know if you hear back from anybody from Deep Purple. I think “Boat on the Water” was my favorite.
I sang that at this book release party we did, and it was extremely stupid and enjoyable.
So, is Season 3 of Delocated still up in the air at this point? What’s the latest on that?
We’re working on scripts and ideas, and we’re hopeful that it’s going to get picked up, but as of now it’s not 100 percent official. We’re pretty busy writing.
How much of yourself is in the “Jon” character? Not in the sense of him being an inconsiderate boob or however else you’d want to describe him, but just in terms of being a goofball and loving talking about sandwiches and just being irreverent? Is that part of who you are?
I hope none of that character is me. We certainly share a love of sandwiches, but I hope that’s it. Any time he’s nice and sweet, maybe that’s part of me.
For the casting, how much of it is finding roles for your friends vs. actually going out and finding people who might be the best person for the role?
I think it just depends on the part. Whenever possible, its always nice to work with your friends, but the most important thing is that you get the right person. It’s also been nice to cast people we don’t know and just meet new really interesting people and really interesting actors. People like Stever Cirbus (Sergei) and Zoe Lister-Jones (Kim). I didn’t know them before and that’s also been great.
You’re credited as the sole writer, do you get some help with that?
It’s really me and (executive producers) John Lee and Vernon Chatman. We do all of the bulk of the writing together. It’s an extremely collaborative effort between the three of us. It says my name because I’m the one who sits down and literally and physically types the scripts, but really the three of us have spent a lot of time together on the stories and the outlines before I sit down to write the scripts.
How was the transition for you going from the 15-minute episodes in Season 1 to the 30-minute in Season 2? Do you have a preference? The plots are getting pretty intricate. Are you having a lot of fun writing them? Is the dark material at all challenging?
I like doing the 30-minute shows better. I would have been happy to keep doing 15 minutes, and they’re fun to write either way, but obviously we get to explore more ideas more thoroughly with 30-minute episodes. The biggest challenge about the dark material is, of course, that this is a comedy show. Thankfully, we’re always cutting to a phenomenal jerk getting bad news. For example, last season, we saw him angrily eat a sandwich, and sadly bite into a pear, to deal with his grief. So that helps keep things light. And outta sight. But death and murder is a part of the premise, and we treat everything very seriously, so it’s very much a part of the show. We certainly don’t try to avoid it. Having someone like Steve Cirbus makes it pretty fun to write the dark scenes. He’s amazing. It was also fun to have Eugene Mirman kill a couple people last season.
In my mind, Mighty Joe Jon The Black Blond was the breakout TV character of 2010. What was the genesis of his character? Is he based on anyone you know?
The genesis of MJJTBB was trying to create a network executive type character that didn’t feel too cliched. Sounds like we succeeded if he was the BTVC of 2010. We had a different idea at first for the character, which wasn’t really working. When Jerry auditioned, we basically rewrote the character. The name “Mighty Joe Jon the Black Blond” came from a name that John Lee used for a guy in an old Sega boxing game.
When it comes to your writing, I noticed some similarities. Like the use of the word ‘ding dong,’ for instance. Your dog on Delocated is named Ding Dong Football, there’s Skeets Ding Dong in your “ZZ Top” letters, and there’s another joke about Ding Dong Ringo in the book. Is it part of your process to recognize material that’s worked for you and find a new place for it? I found that kind of interesting.
Well, all of my comedy just begins with the word ding dong. (laughs) And then it moves out form there. It’s like where can I now take the word ding dong, what direction can I go with it? How can I put a twist on the word ding dong? Really everything begins there.
It’s a pretty funny word.
Look, it’s a fun word man, it’s a fun word.
Do you get what I mean though? You have a concept that might have worked in the past, are you tweaking it and finding a new avenue for it in different mediums? Is this something you’re conscious of when you’re writing or does it just come out organically?
Are you referring to just the language that’s being used?
It just depends really if it feels right for the character, right for the idea. If the word ding dong is appearing a lot then I guess I must like it. (laughs) It really just depends on the idea or the character or what you’re working on. If it fits I’ll use it. It’s a hard question to answer. It depends on what you’re writing and what feels right.
The character of “Jon,” that was based on something you did on Late Night, correct?
Yeah, it was a little bit different. It was not the same character. It was certainly a variation of that character in the sense that it’s a guy in the witness protection program who is very smug. At its core, that was what I liked about the character the best for Delocated. On Late Night, it was a guy that had more of a joke attached to it. He was an impressionist, and the joke was that all the impressions sounded the same in that voice. His humor was terrible, but he was very smug and confident about his routine. That is what carried over to the Delocated material.
When you pitched Delocated, were you thinking about that Late Night character and wanting to find an avenue for this guy?
That’s how I wanted to pitch the show. I just liked that character and wanted to do something.
How long were a writer/performer on Late Night?
I was there for five years.
Was it a tough decision to leave?
Yeah, it was very hard to leave. I sort of knew I was ready to leave, but even if it was the right decision, it didn’t make it any easier. It was tough.
Of all the characters you created at Late Night, do you have a favorite?
I was a maraca player who sat in with the band. I wore this hilariously ridiculous/great orange and black flamenco outfit, had a great pompadour wig, and pencil thin moustache. I was there with the band at the beginning of the show, and we cut to me every commercial break. This was when I was fairly new to the show, so maybe people didn’t recognize me as much, it seemed like it might be real. Maybe not. Anyway, half way through the show, Conan asks Max who the special guest is sitting in with the band. Max doesn’t know, he thought it was Conan’s idea. Conan doesn’t know who the guy is. Neither does Andy. When Conan asks me who asked me to be on the show, I just stood there staring at him with a dumb smile on my face, and then made a break for the doors. It’s obviously much better seen then described, but that was probably my favorite thing I did on the show.
Any other projects you’re working on?
Nothing concrete right now, mostly just buried, busy and consumed with Delocated.
Phil Davidson is worried he uses the word “that” too much when he writes.