Jon Glaser and Gear: A Tale of True Love

Jon Glaser’s new truTV show Jon Glaser Loves Gear is solid proof that when it comes to comedy, the funniest things are often as bizarrely specific as the adjustable clasp on a hat, extra pockets on a backpack, or a new favorite raincoat. Joined by Miriam Tolan as his “real” wife, Eva Solveig as the actress who plays her, fellow gear expert Steve Cirbus, and John Hodgman as the voice of his Siri-like gear app Gear-i, Glaser stars in the show as a heightened version of himself as he attempts to produce a docu-series about his greatest love and passion both in real life and on the show: gear, which he defines slightly more precisely as “the stuff for the activities that you like, whatever that activity may be.” Ahead of the show’s premiere, I recently talked with Glaser about how his gear obsession evolved into a TV show and what item of gear he’s currently most excited about.

So first things first: Why gear?

Well, why not gear? It’s just something where the idea really comes from a true place. It’s not just this random thing that I thought of while trying to think of a show idea. It’s really a genuine thing that I like. I did a live performance bit where I wore a jacket onstage — and I’ve done this with several different jackets at this point — but the first time I did it was with a raincoat, and I went onstage and I had the hood on and the jacket was zipped up. The whole setup of the bit was that I supposedly had writer’s block and I was trying to think of a new bit to perform, and when times are tough you go back to that tried and true writer’s advice of “Just write about what your passions are; write about what you love.” And I loved my raincoat, so I decided to go onstage and talk about it.

So it was just several minutes of me just talking about the raincoat — talking about all the features, what I love about it. There’s no jokes, but for whatever reason it seems to go well when I’ve done it at shows. It kind of rides this wave of people laughing and unsure and then not laughing and then laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Then the rest of the time onstage I’d open it up to a Q&A about the jacket, so that turns into this spontaneous thing where people ask whatever ridiculous questions they want, but it’s got to be about the jacket. It’s just really fun to do and I always liked doing it, and I thought it might be a funny bit to do in a larger show. So the original idea, as far as why gear, originally was a smaller idea, and then the more I thought about it, it just expanded into a bigger idea eventually, and thankfully truTV really responded to it and here we are.

Your love for gear is pretty well documented. I found a New York Times article you wrote about playing hockey that mentions all your gear, and that was a while back.

That’s a long time ago. That was from…maybe 2007? I’m glad you found that story. I got to write several for the Times magazine and I was really excited about that, and then that comedy section went away. I like that particular story a lot — it’s certainly all about the gear. It’s just me, an adult child who can barely skate, but I love putting all the stuff on. Half the fun of hockey is, of course, putting on all the gear.

When I was a kid, one of my friends’ brothers played hockey, and my friend and I could both fit inside the hockey bag. It was like a tent. They’re big bags!

Oh yeah. I mean, I ended up buying the backpack version of that. It was gigantic. It was huge. And it was great for commuting on the subway. If you have a car you can just get the big bag and throw it in your trunk, but yeah, those bags are gigantic. They hold a lot of stuff.

You touch on this in the show a little, but I want to ask you directly: What qualifies as gear?

I feel like it’s got a wide definition in the show, and like you said, in an episode it touches on how for some people X, Y, and Z is gear but another person might not think so. So it really depends on your perspective. And it’s hard to even describe what the show is to people. A lot of the crew kept joking all summer, like “People keep ask me what I’m working on, and I have no idea how to explain it!” It is kind of hard to explain, but to me, it’s a reality show about a guy who loves gear and then the stories go off on tangents.

But as far as what is gear, I was describing the show to somebody and they said “Well what about sunscreen?” And I said maybe not sunscreen, but maybe the type of sunscreen containers or the stuff it comes in, like “Ooh, I like this small little pouch” or whatever. But why can’t that be gear? For me it’s more the stuff for the activities that you like, whatever that activity may be, and it doesn’t have to be athletic or sports. There’s an episode called “Dogs” and that’s about all the gear you can buy for your dog or for yourself while you’re walking your dog. It can be kitchen stuff — obviously there’s tons of stuff, from the utensils to the cool little hand-size oven mitts you can buy. I told a friend of mine about the show, and she immediately went “Oh my God, I’m so into these Japanese pens right now. They’re just really cool shapes, I love the cartridge and the way it goes into the pen, and it’s got this case you can buy to put the pens in!” That, to me, is what the show’s about.

Do you have any anxieties about having too much stuff? Or just owning so many items that your life gets too cluttered?

If I was an old time Catskills comedian, my response would be “My wife sure thinks so!” [laughs] It’s true though. My wife and I always talk about it, because especially in New York when you have a tiny apartment, you just don’t have room for all these things. As much as I love New York, one of the things I hate about New York is we have a tiny apartment that costs a shitload of money, but now we don’t have room for our stuff so we have to buy a storage place, which is inconvenient to get to and we put more of our stuff there. I know George Carlin had that whole bit about stuff — you gotta get stuff for your stuff and a place for your stuff. But it’s true. I do really try to pare down, and it’s still too much. It’s a problem, for sure, because you have all this great stuff that you love and you don’t want to get rid of it, but where does it all go? And you have to finally get rid of things. It’s a challenge.

Is your wife a little more understanding of your love for gear than your wife in the show?

[laughs] Yeah. I mean, you know, I’m sure people are gonna watch this and go “Wow, what an asshole. His poor wife. I hope that’s not true in real life.” It’s certainly being played for comedy and is a heightened, exaggerated version of me and my wife. I do think she’s more understanding, even though it’s hard — I do love this stuff and I have a lot of it, and it becomes “Can we please get rid of this? Do we need this?” And sometimes I just feel bad. Even in the show, it’s one of those things where we were talking a lot about making sure that my wife in the show doesn’t come across as just constantly complaining and “bitchy” and words like that, and to me, I guess I just never saw it that way. To me, it was more this poor woman has to deal with this adult baby, and of course she’s gonna be exhausted. She’s not complaining — just look who she’s dealing with. And I’m not comparing me to Larry David or the show with Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I kind of feel like it has that parallel where he’s just annoying — and I’m definitely annoying in the show — and the poor wife has to deal with this person. But yeah, there’s a blurred line in real life, because I do have a lot of stuff. It does get annoying. I’ll admit it.

Well, she’s not exactly enthusiastic. But then again, she has to live with your character and his obsession 24/7.

That’s always how I viewed it when we were writing or shooting or even in the edit. It’s tricky, because even with Curb Your Enthusiasm you want to see those moments of “Why are they married? Why do they love each other?” They can’t always just be arguing or bickering, even though that’s a big part of relationships and marriage. For me, you get a little hint of it here and there, and it’s funnier when it becomes me being annoying. And Miriam [Tolan] is just so funny. I mean, her face is blurred so it was one of those things where I felt bad. I’ve known Miriam for years and she’s one of the funniest people I know, and we offered her the role and I said “Do you wanna do this? We’re not gonna see your face,” which is a weird way to offer someone a part. But even with her face blurred, you’re not getting her eyes, you’re not getting a sense of the action, but you’re still getting her voice, and her body language just makes me laugh so hard in the show.

There are some scenes where you’re with other actors and other scenes where you go check out gear with real storeowners. How’d you land on that format for the show?

While we were making the pilot, and even while I was pitching the show, it transformed and evolved, and it really ended up being more about the stories even though it comes from a place of gear. But it was always gonna be a reality-based show. Even at first I wasn’t sure if I was gonna pitch it to comedy networks. I thought this could just be a cool alternative program on National Geographic or Discovery, where it’s really more based in the gear and much more of a reality show where we’re doing stuff with the gear. Then it started to change and become more scripted, and I really like where it ended up. It’s better and it’s funnier that way, but we still want to maintain the reality element of the show. Pretty much all the people in the reality segments are real people, and they were aware of the story and what was happening. We’re not trying to prank anybody. We tried to be pretty up front about what was going on and if they weren’t comfortable with anything we were doing to let us know so they didn’t feel misrepresented. It was important to me that nobody felt like they were being pranked. That’s not the intention at all.

Oh yeah, I don’t think it’s mean-spirited at all. If anything, it just amplifies how real your passion for gear is.

And that’s the thing. It really and truly is real. My enthusiasm for gear and all the stuff is genuine, which is I think what makes the show work. It’s not just a manufactured idea where I thought “Here’s a funny idea for a show: What if I loved gear and I made a reality show?” It’s coming from a genuine place, so it is rooted in the truth. Otherwise it could run the risk of just feeling false.

I like how you said earlier “it comes from a place of gear.”

It truly is a life obsession. And I could literally talk — and I do, unfortunately — about this stuff all the time. “Look at these gloves I got!” Blah blah blah. “Check out this backpack!” Blah blah blah blah. Oh my God. I’m so annoying.

Any particular gear you recently got that you recommend?

The thing that keeps popping to mind is the backpack that I got by this company called Topo. I really really like it. I like the size of it. It’s not a waterproof bag, but it has a water-resistance and the seams on it are waterproof and all that. But the thing that I love the most about it is that it’s got a big messenger-style top where there’s a big drawstring opening and you can shove a bunch of stuff in it, it’s got a couple little pockets — you can put your laptop in a pocket and there’s a little zipper for other stuff — but then it’s got two pockets on the front: one is just a pocket on the exterior that you can put more stuff in, but then one of the other zippers opens up into the bag. And it was one of those things where when I discovered that, I just freaked out.

I originally was going to give it to my son because we got it on the show. It’s got cool colors and a really good design and I thought he’d like it, and he was kind of half into it and it was a little too big, so I started using it. But when I started showing it to my son, just trying to get him excited about it like “Look at this cool bag, it’s got all these features! Look at this zipper and this zipper and this pocket! And look, it’s got this other pocket on the side!” — when I unzipped that one, that’s when I realized it went into the bag, so every time you have to get inside the bag you don’t have to open the top clasp and reach down and all of that; you can just do this one thing and get in there. It’s so cool, and I had a moment of going “Oh my God, this bag just changed! I can’t give it to my son, I have to keep it!” And I didn’t say it in the moment, but I thought it, and he tried it at school for a week and then he said he didn’t want it, and I was so happy.

Jon Glaser Loves Gear premieres on truTV tonight at 10:00pm.

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