Adult Swim’s Delocated is the rare comedy show that succeeds both as a sitcom and as a premise-heavy sketch. It debuted in 2008 with a pilot, then launched as a series in 2009 with seven 15-minute episodes centered on a grand joke: A guy and his family are stars of a New York-based reality show, but they’re also in the witness-protection program, requiring them to wear ski masks and modulate their voices. The show quickly went off the rails, until “Jon,” played by show creator Jon Glaser, was the only one left lurking around with a balaclava. The show’s second season extended the format to half an hour per episode, and expanded Delocated’s world to include a cast of characters loyal to the dickish Jon, plus an entire Russian mob family out to kill him. It’s silly and self-referential (Eugene Mirman plays Yvgeny Mirminsky, a hitman/struggling stand-up comic), and fits perfectly between Parks And Recreation and Childrens Hospital on the TV-comedy spectrum. With seasons one and two available on DVD, and season three around the corner in early February, The A.V. Club sat down with Glaser to discuss his real-life anonymity, how “dumb” is a compliment, and when it’ll be time to hang up the ski mask once and for all.
The A.V. Club: You’ve written a lot for other people on sketch-comedy shows, and now you wear a ski mask in the show you write for yourself. How important to you is recognition for your work?
Jon Glaser: I don’t mind not having that recognition. If it happens, fine, but it doesn’t bother me that it’s not there. It wasn’t intentional to create a show where no one knows who I am.
AVC: Is it easier to write knowing that you’re going to be the main character?
JG: Yes and no. It’s a little easier, because you know exactly how you want to say it; you can make changes more easily.
AVC: You just wrapped shooting season three. What sorts of things have changed about the show since season one, besides the difference in episode length?
JG: The biggest challenge has been, “How do we extend the premise?” From season one to season two, it couldn’t just be this bumbling guy and his family—and you can’t kill him. We couldn’t have another whole season of, “Well, they didn’t kill him again! They tried!” So we addressed that by having the directive be to kill everyone around him to drive him crazy. Season three couldn’t be more of that, so there’s a new gang that’s sort of his protection.
AVC: Your character is a dick, but most characters on the show shrug him off and cut him a ton of slack. What was the thinking behind creating that world?
JG: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. To me, it’s similar to Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He’s just playing a super-annoying guy, and when I watch that show, I’d be like, “Why is his wife with him?” You have to just go with it. With Jon, certainly his wife left him in the pilot, and his son is always annoyed with his dad, but it’s just always part of it. You have to assume there are redeeming things that aren’t being shown on-camera, as if this was a real network deciding not to show the nice moments… So you have to go with it; the characters have to go with it; the network has to put up with it on the show; his bodyguard has to put up with it, because it’s his job.
AVC: Especially with Jon’s girlfriend, there are plenty of moments where you think she’s finally going to call it off.
JG: You have to sort of assume that she’s gotta be a little bit nuts herself if she’s with him. That’s how I always view it.
AVC: In the world of Delocated, no one bats an eyelash when they meet this guy wearing a mask who has modulated his voice. Why aren’t they the least bit fazed?
JG: You can’t apply too much logic. We get into pretty funny debates about certain logic on the show. It never makes sense, but you have to have some sense of logic even in the show. But the whole premise of the show would never happen. You just have to assume people know about the show in that world, and know about that character.
AVC: When you originally conceived of the show, was Jon always the central character, or was the family unit more central?
JG: Jon was always the main character, but we needed the ensemble so it wasn’t all Jon. That’s why we lost the ski masks [for the mom and son] in season one. His ex-wife probably doesn’t give a shit, and just isn’t concerned. She looks at it more like, “They’re not coming after us.”
AVC: Jon existed before Delocated. You performed as a variation of that guy on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and some live shows. At what point did the character morph into a TV-show idea?
JG: The original idea for the character was a little different, and had a joke attached to it: He was an impressionist, and still wanted to put himself out there to perform, so all his shitty impressions sounded the same. The core is still the same architect of a character—super-smug dickhead, hyper-confident. What I always liked about the impressionist was that he was super-confident in his shitty material. So I’d always wanted to take that character, take away the joke, and do something with it. Adult Swim was looking for pitches, so it was good timing.
AVC: How did you get hooked up with the PFFR guys? Your show is the most grounded of everything they produce.
JG: Well, it’s different in that it’s my show and not their show. But basically, I know those guys just from comedy and doing stuff, and when the show got picked up, I had to hire a production company to help with all the legal stuff and production side. I think they had just started as a production company, so it was an easy decision to hire them. They ended up helping out with the writing; it’s really the three of us who do it all. So in addition to all the production stuff, there was built-in creative. There is some sense of confusion where people might think it’s a PFFR show, and it’s not. That’s certainly something I want to make clear.
AVC: What about playing Jon as a huge asshole appeals to you?
JG: It’s just fun. You get to say things you never, ever say. One of our editors said something to me last season: “Good thing you’re married, because if you were single, no one would want to date you.” I just felt like—what an insult. I’m not that guy. I’d hope that people would be able to understand that. It really cracked me up.
AVC: Why do you think people have a hard time making that distinction?
JG: I can see some of it on a different level. If you’re a stand-up, you’re more or less yourself. I can see how that line might be blurred. But for me, when that editor said that, I just thought, like, “I’m playing a guy with a ski mask. I’m obviously not that person.” As opposed to someone, like, a Todd Barry.
AVC: Todd Barry plays “himself” on the show, and Eugene Mirman plays a guy with a very similar name to his own. What was the appeal of blending fantasy and real life?
JG: I thought it was stupid and dumb—an organic byproduct of the show. The fact that my character’s name is “Jon,” we were just looking for a name, and it seemed funny to name him Jon.
AVC: You performed in “Piñata Full Of Bees” at Second City, a revue that was famous for breaking the fourth wall. And live, a lot of your jokes seem to have a similar vibe. Like, you had a band with Jon Benjamin called A Matter Of Trust, where the only song you played was “A Matter Of Trust.”
JG: That’s different, because that’s more stand-up. It’s going to a club and performing directly to an audience, as opposed to Second City, which is still theater, where you’re doing scenes. I view those as two wholly different things. If you’re doing stand-up, there is no fourth wall; you’re engaging an audience.
AVC: But the fourth wall in stand-up could be commenting on the joke itself—letting people into that.
JG: I guess I don’t see that, necessarily. It’s always been about when I do theater, the audience is just a viewer, not taking part in what’s onstage. Whereas if you’re doing stand-up, it’s inclusive. There isn’t such a thing as the fourth wall… you’re directly engaging your audience. Even if you’re not directly asking them where they’re from, you’re still engaging with them. You’re still not supposed to heckle, in the same way when you go to a Broadway show, you’re not supposed to make any noise.
AVC: You’ve often collaborated with Jon Benjamin, whom you met on The Jenny McCarthy Show. What was that experience like?
JG: It was a really good time, I have to say. It wasn’t the best comedy show; it wasn’t the worst comedy show. I feel like I’ve seen way worse. And the job itself was a great time. A lot of fun people worked on it. From working [with Jon Benjamin], we realized we had similar sensibilities in coming up with bits together. Simple as that.
AVC: How was the adjustment to The Dana Carvey Show, especially considering the show’s sometimes-antagonistic relationship with the network and viewers?
JG: For me, it was a great experience from the standpoint that it was my first big writing job, and I’d never even thought about doing that as a career. It was an opportunity that presented itself; even when I took the job, I thought I’d still be an actor. And even from the standpoint of the show obviously going downhill, I was just enjoying it so much. We still had fun even knowing it was more than likely not coming back.
AVC: You directed Delocated’s pilot, but haven’t directed since. What led to that decision?
JG: I wanted to direct the pilot because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be more in control of that aspect of it. But directing the show would be too much work. It’s much more enjoyable to have someone else. It’s a big load off my mind while we’re shooting.
AVC: How long do you think the show can last?
JG: I’ve probably stockpiled about five seasons’ worth of ideas. I feel like as long as the network is willing to do the show, and as long as we feel like we can extend the premise and make each season feel different, I’d love to keep doing it. It’s fun to do. At a certain point, with any show—especially this one, because it’s such a specific idea—there’s only so much we can do.
AVC: You’ve always had a lot of irons in the fire—a book, live shows, TV, etc. Are you always thinking about the next thing?
JG: It’s a little tricky, because I love doing the show, but it doesn’t leave time to do other things. At the same time, I don’t mind that, because it’s nice being busy enough where I don’t need other things. It’s a little bit of a catch-22. But there’s always going to be a little bit of a burnout as a natural part of the job.
AVC: There are so many moments in Delocated where you come up with alternate lyrics to songs, like in your book My Dead Dad Was In ZZ Top. Is that a form of comedy you’ve always enjoyed?
JG: It’s fun, man. It’s so aggressively stupid. So, so dumb. The word “dumb” comes up a lot when working on the show. People by now know it’s a compliment.
AVC: How many copies of the ski mask do you have?
JG: We have one main ski mask. We have a couple decent backup masks, but the one you see in the show is 99 percent one mask. It’s a little scary. I don’t remember where I got it. I think I bought it in L.A. There’s no tag on it. We wanted to call the company and get, like, 20 of them, but it’s a one-of-a-kind mask. We’ve tried to make duplicates, but it’s hard. It’s a really thick fabric. We just have to handle it with extreme care. When the mask falls apart, it’s probably time not to do the show anymore.