As Mark Twain once wisely observed, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog.” The result, he warned, is that the frog usually dies. He was probably right, but even so, there’s something about Delocated, the Adult Swim series created by and starring Jon Glaser, that makes me want to kill a fucking frog.
The show’s first season, which originally aired last summer and consisted of just six 15-minute episodes, is a veritable smorgasbord of frog-murdering moments. The premise, at least on paper, is semi-amusing at best: a family in the Witness Protection Program stars in a reality TV show. It sounds like a sketch idea for a late-night comedy show. (Glaser spent five years writing for Late Night with Conan O’Brien.) But somehow, it manages to be one of the funniest and most original shows on TV today. And it’s almost impossible to explain why. Take the pilot episode, in which Glaser, wearing a black balaclava and speaking with a voice modulator, tries to seduce a woman by saying, “Bottle of red, bottle of white, whatever gets me laid tonight. Billy Joel.” See what I mean? That line may’ve made you crack a smile, and that’s only if you’re being generous. But you’ve got to trust me on this. Coming out of Glaser’s mouth, with the sinister baritone of a harmonizer that makes everything a little extra creepy, it’ll give you an aneurysm from laughing.
The rest of the first season is just more of the same. It’s a blitzkrieg of comedy that’s destined to be lost in translation. I could tell you about the “Skalocaust” and the tortilla blanket and the Rage Cage and the “I Am Having a Good Time” dance and the Paul Rudd murder soliloquy. I could repeat Delocated-isms like “Let’s go give these whiteys a half-honorary black eye” and “That took balls the size of my balls” and “You’re just mad that he’s taking mom to the bone zone.” But what’s the point? I wouldn’t be able to do any of it justice. And in the end, it’ll likely make you even less interested in watching the new season, which premieres this Sunday, August 22, on Adult Swim.
So forget it. Check out Delocated if you want. Or don’t. And then in ten years, when it’s considered a cult classic, the Fawlty Towers or Mr. Show of the early 21st century, and everybody insists that they were a fan back when it was just a throw-away show on a long-gone cartoon network’s late-night schedule, you can pretend that you loved it all along and you’re not actually embarrassingly late to the party. Oh hey, here’s a message from all of us in the past: “Enjoy your dead frog!”
During the following interview, neither Jon Glaser or I were wearing voice modulators. But you may find it more enjoyable (and thematically consistent) to imagine that we did.
Eric Spitznagel: I’m trying to think of a clever way to start this interview with a question that includes the words “bone zone,” but I’m drawing a blank.
Jon Glaser: I always like it when articles start off with somebody contemplating a question as they poke at their food in a restaurant. It’s my favorite journalism cliché. “Philip Seymour Hoffman contemplates the question about Capote as he pokes at his tabouli salad.”
That works for me. What should I say you were eating as you contemplated my non-question?
(Long pause.) “Jon Glaser poked at his falafel pita sandwich, contemplating the rich complexities of the bone zone.”
Perfect. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the bone zone has rich complexities.
Absolutely it’s not.
How would you define the bone zone to somebody who has no idea what we’re talking about?
It’s like a work of art. I prefer to leave it open to interpretation. Let the individual decide what it means to them. But at least in terms of my character, it’s his obnoxious way of describing having sex.
Not making love?
Oh yeah, it’s gentle love. It sounds aggressive but it’s actually very sweet.
Is the “bone zone” starting to catch on? Do strangers run up to you on the street and scream, “Who wants to go to the bone zone?”
Thankfully, no, that never happens. Nobody shouts “bone zone” at me as I’m walking my dog or walking around the city with my son. For the most part, people don’t know who I am. I don’t really get recognized a ton from the show.
It could have something to do with the ski mask.
This is your first leading role on a TV show, and you’re wearing a ski mask and speaking with a voice modulator. Isn’t that the worst possible way to become famous?
I’m sure some people would say so. I remember when the show got picked up, my manager would ask me things like, “Isn’t there any way you can be on the show without the mask?” But I was adamant. I was like, “No! Absolutely not!”
What happens if Delocated gets an Emmy nomination? Do you show up for the ceremony in a more formal ski mask? Maybe something with sequins?
Not only will I wear a beautiful, shiny black sequined ski mask, but every single sequin will be shaped like a ski mask, and I will have a smaller, identical sequined mask to place on the Emmy’s head if I win, all of which will never happen. But I will still make the sequined mask and wear it around my apartment years after the show has been canceled.
I’m sure your family will love that.
I don’t think they’d mind at all. They seem to like the mask. My wife and I took our son, who was almost three at the time, into the city to see the first season billboards, which were these really ridiculous, funny shots of me in my underwear, shot like an underwear campaign. My son is so unfazed by seeing me in a mask that when we showed him the billboard, the first thing he said, upon seeing a giant photo of an almost naked man wearing only a ski mask and underwear, was “Daddy!”
You’re doing the Times Square underwear billboards again this year, right?
I just did a photo shoot last week, and there’s more skin this time.
Would you describe the photos as “sexy”?
Me personally? I wouldn’t say that, no. It’s hard for me to look at my disgusting body. It’s really, truly awful. But the president of the network loved the billboards we did for last season, and he’s the one who suggested doing another underwear one.
The tighty-whiteys aside, the ski mask is such a weird way to launch an acting career. Don’t you need to be at least a little recognizable? Or are you trying to be the J.D. Salinger of comedy?
Maybe deep down that’s why I do it. But honestly, I just think doing a show about a guy in a ski mask is a fun dumb idea. And I get to reap the benefits of people not knowing who I am.
That’s obviously not what’s driving “Jon,” your character on Delocated. He’s eager to be a celebrity, and the ski mask is just a concession.
It’s out of necessity, yeah.
Because if he doesn’t wear it, he’ll probably be gunned down by the Russian mob.
The last thing he should be doing is putting himself on TV. But he’s so full of himself and so smug and he wants to be famous so badly that he’ll endanger himself and his family if it means getting on TV.
It’s got shades of Jon and Kate Gosselin.
I never saw their show, but everything I read about them was just so depressing to me. If you have this desire to be famous – which I don’t really understand anyway – and you find a way to get yourself on TV, that’s a bummer in and of itself. But okay, whatever you want to do. But when they put their families on TV too, it just feels so ugly and sad. It’s almost as bad as extreme religion. If you want to be a crazy person, go for it. But don’t impose it on your kids.
Delocated is, at least in part, a satire of reality shows. Do you watch so much Jersey Shore and Real Housewives for research that you cry yourself to sleep at night?
I don’t really watch any of them. Not even for research. It’s just too much of a bummer. The desperation of these people trying to be famous, it’s just, ugh, I can’t relate to it at all.
You don’t enjoy watching Snooki and the Situation destroy what’s left of their dignity in pursuit of fleeting and ultimately hollow fame?
I don’t, no, not at all. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand seeking out fame. There’s a big difference to me between the people who are famous and just accept the fact that it comes with the territory of what they do, and the people who actively seek it out, who intentionally put themselves in the position of being on camera and being famous. Everything about that is just so disturbing and kind of nauseating.
Delocated is shot entirely in New York, and a lot of the action happens outside, in public parks and streets, where you’re lurking behind bushes and stalking children, all while wearing that ski mask. How are you not constantly explaining yourself to the police?
I have no idea. I know that if we’re doing a scene with guns, we’re required to have a police officer on set. I think that’s just a legal thing, if you have fake guns. But other than that, we don’t really have much security or police presence when we’re doing a shoot. I’m always amazed that we’re not constantly being raided. Or maybe the police do come by and I just don’t know about it. Maybe our producers are telling them what’s going on.
But even if the police do know, you’d think there’d be some confused pedestrians who’d notice you and think, Hmm, a guy in a ski mask. That can’t be good.
I know, right? It’s not like we’re a big movie set. It’s not obvious at all. There are no lights or anything to indicate that we’re shooting a TV show. But people just seem to accept it. Or they don’t notice what’s happening. They just walk right past us, oblivious.
So much for New York’s post-9/11 alertness.
I guess so. I guess it really is that easy to get away with anything. Sometimes it makes me worry. But then again, it’s not like you’re always looking for it. You don’t leave your apartment and go out expecting to see somebody in a ski mask, running nude down the middle of the street. But people’s reactions when they do notice it are always hilarious to me. They’re mostly confused. Or they just ignore us. It’s never like “Get him! Stop him!”
That streaking scene you mentioned happens in the second episode of this season. Are you as buck naked as you appear? They blurred out your genitals, so it’s hard to tell.
I’m not sure if I should answer or just let people believe what they want to believe.
I want to believe that you’re so committed to your craft, you insisted on doing it au naturel.
Maybe I was nude, and maaaaybe I wasn’t. Actually, I don’t know if we could have done it entirely in the nude without me getting arrested.
You’ve managed to avoid it thus far. If New Yorkers don’t notice a guy in a ski mask, what makes you think your balls flapping in the wind are going to get their attention?
Well, when we shot it, some lady did yell at me about my lack of clothes. She was like (in a thick New York accent), “Put some clothes on, you look ridiculous!” That was her biggest problem with a mostly nude man in a ski mask running by her. She wasn’t alarmed by anything else. There was no sense of danger for her. It was just, “Uck! Put some clothes on!”
Jon, your character on Delocated, is kind of a jerk.
He is, yeah. Everything about him is awful. He’s just a smug, obnoxious dick.
Doesn’t that go against every rule of sitcoms? Even Archie Bunker had a lovable side.
I think “Jon” can be lovable. But those are probably the things you never see on camera. I mean, obviously there’s got to be something likable about him, right? Or maybe he’s so unlikable that he becomes likable. You know what I mean? He’s so far in one direction that it comes full circle. (Long pause.) I have no idea what I’m talking about.
I didn’t want to be the one to say it.
I can’t dissect him. I just know it’s extremely fun to play a character who acts so terribly. He does things that I’d never, ever, ever be able to get away with in real life. It’s almost therapeutic.
Isn’t that the premise of the Rage Cage? You get to smash shit and get it out of your system so you’re not a prick in the outside world?
Yeah, that’s right. I heard that somebody opened a similar place in San Diego called the Smash Shack.
I read about that. Didn’t they go out of business?
Maybe, I don’t know. And then someone just sent me a link to a Rage Cage–type place in China, but it’s only for women.
Those are profits that should be yours. Have you ever considered opening your own Rage Cage?
I thought about it. When I came up with the idea many, many years ago, I was writing for Conan, but I didn’t even think about using it on the show. It just seemed like a great idea for a real store, although the liability was probably way too much.
How does somebody dream up the Rage Cage? Were you destroying your personal belongings in a fit of rage when it came to you?
I was just walking around the city in some pissed-off mood. I don’t even remember why I was so upset. I’m sure it was something completely not worth the anger, as I’m prone to getting very angry about things that don’t warrant that level of anger. I think I was in SoHo somewhere and just needed to smash something. I felt like a helpless woman in China.
If the Rage Cage never happens, I’m sure there are plenty of other great Delocated merchandize tie-in possibilities.
I would love to do a Delocated Absolut vodka. It’d just be a regular bottle with a ski-mask cozy. But I don’t think Adult Swim will do it, because they do so much marketing to kids. I also pitched them an idea of doing a Delocated app for the iPhone, where you can hit a button and have a phone conversation where it sounds like you’re using a voice modulator.
Fantastic. Now everyone can sound like a kidnapper with ransom demands.
Exactly, yeah. I don’t think we can do it so your voice changes when you’re speaking live, but they’re trying to come up with something so you can leave messages with that voice. It’d be pretty awesome.
Weren’t you talking about doing a Delocated tour at some point?
I’d love to. It’s definitely a possibility. It’s just matter of having the time to do it. We did a live show in town, and it was extremely enjoyable.
I assume everybody wore ski masks.
Most of them did. It was a Witness Protection Variety Show. We had a bunch of acts, and some of them were in the Witness Protection Program, and some of them weren’t. We had a couple of stand-ups that wore masks. There was a guy doing ventriloquism and his dummy had a little ski mask. We had these burlesque dancers that were really incredible, and they all wore ski masks. And then we had Yo La Tengo.
Please tell me Yo La Tengo wore ski masks.
They did. They performed with ski masks and voice modulators. It was really kind of awesome.
You may be starting a trend here. Do you think voice modulators could become the new auto-tuners?
I hope so. Nothing would make me happier.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com