An actor and comedian that has popped up in everything from Girls to Trainwreck to Parks And Recreation this year, Jon Glaser has a knack for being a bit off-kilter. If he’s producing or creating something, it’s probably a little weird, and the world is better off for it. His latest project, for instance, is called Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, and follows Glaser’s Neon Joe doing just what the title suggests—hunting down bloodthirsty werewolves. It’ll air as a five-part miniseries on Adult Swim starting tonight, and promises equal parts laughter and confusion.
Because Glaser’s aesthetic is so smart and singular, The A.V. Club thought it might be interesting to find out what he thinks is funny. Like Mike O’Brien before him, Glaser compiled a list of bits and sketches that he’s always enjoyed, and then we sat down with him to run through said list and talk everything from Monty Python to Looney Tunes. The results should appease comedy novices and nerds alike.
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick this particular clip?
Jon Glaser: First of all, I should say that this list isn’t necessarily in any particular order. Even coming up with stuff for me, at least, I always feel like I’m forgetting things. There were some things that just popped to mind because I’m always like, “I was just thinking about that one” or, “I was just talking about that one,” and then there are obviously ones that are just ingrained in my brain, but I always feel like I’m forgetting stuff or I try and think about it and I can’t think of anything then I mention one that I mentioned before and I get in my head about it.
Anyway, that one came up because it is one of my favorite bits. I just think it’s such a weird idea to do. It’s such a funny thing to focus on. I don’t know the thought process behind it, but it feels like they were listening to that song and just probably cracking up that Michael McDonald was doing this background singing and came up with this funny, funny idea. Just the fact that they would do that idea based on such a small thing makes me laugh really hard. “Let’s write a whole sketch around him just doing a couple of funny background lyrics.” I don’t know, it’s such a funny idea that he would drive then come in and do a quick lyric and that’s his whole recording session.
AVC: He also kind of fools around in the background.
JG: And then just the fact that he comes out and he’s singing and he’s like, “See you later, guys,” and he’s clearly got a problem with the contracts and he’s got the other line. I don’t know, it’s just so well executed and it’s such a funny, strange idea; it just really, really cracks me up.
AVC: John Cleese was just on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert talking about how the stuff he finds funniest are the things that make no sense, the jokes that just are. This would definitely qualify.
JG: I mean, [Monty Python is] such a classic movie that’s been talked about to death, but it is really great. I can’t remember the first time I saw it, but that bit makes me laugh pretty hard every time I see it. It’s is such a silly idea and such a great idea also.
There are a couple of Python bits that make me laugh in that same vein that make fun of that particular trope in movies or TV, that thing where you’re prolonging it and prolonging it and it never changes it and, all of a sudden, it’s close up. I know I don’t have to explain the joke, but did you ever see The Rutles? You know how Eric Idle does a bunch of those newscaster things where he does a walk-and-talk with a microphone? And then he’s walking and talking and, all of a sudden, he’s in a lake? I think there’s one where he’s climbing a tree, too. It’s that same thing; it’s really, really, again, a funny idea. Well executed and hilarious.
AVC: The idea that, “Well, we have to get someone from point A to point B, how can we make it better?” is intriguing to me.
JG: He ends up in a lake. It’s just a funny take.
I feel like my explanations are super lame and obvious. [Sarcastically.] “Yeah, thanks for explaining the joke that I already understand.”
AVC: Let’s go with another British comedian next and do Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. Did you always like British humor?
JG: I wasn’t necessarily into British comedy, and I was never a hardcore Monty Python fan growing up. I think The Pink Panther one might have come up on this list because there might have been some sort of similar article on, “What are your top bits?” and that one just always pops to mind.
It’s just such a great joke. It is a really, really excellent joke. And, again, executed really well, performed excellently by Peter Sellers. That’s just a rock solid, funny-as-hell joke. [Imitates Peter Sellers.] “That’s not my dog.” It’s so funny; it’s awesome.
AVC: Do you like that whole clip or is it just the kicker that gets you?
JG: I think it’s the whole clip; I think his whole performance is really great. All that stuff is just aggressively annoying, but extremely funny. The whole thing is great; his performance is really good.
AVC: You have Local Hero on here, which I’ve never seen and doesn’t appear to be readily available on Netflix or anything. Can you describe that and explain why it made your list?
JG: Yeah, I was trying to find clips of the particular bits I’m looking for and they’re not out there. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it. I can’t remember when it came out.
JG: Yeah, ’83.
There are so many great moments in that movie. Peter Riegert plays this oil man in this small, Scottish town where he has to convince the people to sell their town, but he ends up falling in love with the place. He reports back to his boss, and there are some things that probably don’t hold up and feel a little dated, but I love it. It’s such a great movie.
A couple of things that I really liked that popped into my mind: There are a few scenes where Peter Riegert is talking to this group of guys and one of the guys is working on his boat, and there are a couple of really funny bits particularly with that guy. He’s talking to some of the locals and they’re questioning him, like, “How many Ls are in the word dollar?” That’s really funny. It’s just this quick nothing moment, but the movie is filled with these moments and filled with story.
I’m pretty sure—and I could be remembering it wrong—but I think the guy is calling his boat The Silver Dollar. And there’s a quick clip of Peter talking to the guy, and later on in the movie when they’re kind of friends with everyone, he’s just painted a dollar sign on this piece of driftwood and he holds it up next to the word “dollar” and he’s just pitching a guy, “What if instead of the word ‘dollar,’ you just paint the dollar sign?” He’s not even saying that, but it’s just holding the sign up, and the guy is just looking at it and shakes his head no. And Peter Riegert keeps trying to pitch the idea and he keeps shaking his head no. It’s really subtle and it’s extremely funny.
There’s another scene with all those guys down by the boats and they’re chitchatting. There’s like four or five guys and they’re hanging out and there’s also a baby in a stroller. Peter Riegert is trying to be friendly and they’re all making small talk and being friendly, and he says, “Whose baby?” And they all look at each other, and they’re not sure. It was really funny.
Those bits are great, and there’s a recurring bit they do with one of the kids and he’s kind of a punk rocker and he rides a dirt bike all around and it’s just a running gag they have. It’s just a small, sleepy town that’s not busy at all. There’s maybe 100 people that live there, and it’s really quiet. Every time Peter Riegert walks out of his hotel—[Imitates the sound of a dirt bike.] It’s a dirt bike that just happens to be driving by every time. It’s really funny; really hilarious.
AVC: Sometimes repetition can make things incredibly funny. For instance, you have “Duck Season” on here, which is a classic drive-it-home bit.
JG: So funny. Super violent. My son is 9 and he’s been getting into Bugs Bunny and my daughter is 4 and she just ends up watching whatever he’s watching. And the Looney Tunes are so funny, but they’re really violent. It’s like, “Ugh, I don’t know if I can show my daughter these.” She’s so young and there’s guns and it’s crazy.
But the comedy part of it is really hilarious. All the subtleties of it: the writing of it is funny, the execution of it is funny. I love all the small little things like when Daffy Duck, later on the in the piece, is a little more hip to what Bugs Bunny is doing, the way the line is delivered where he’s calmly shaking his head no and he’s like, “Oh, no you don’t. Not again. Sorry.” My son really loves that, too. I laughed pretty hard that he enjoyed that as well.
The two moments that stand out for me are that moment with Daffy Duck and the other one where, finally, Elmer Fudd is set up and wants to shoot them both and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are running away together and they jump into a rabbit hole and they’re pressed up against a wall trying to be really quiet and they’re trying to see and hear Elmer Fudd run by and Bugs Bunny says to Daffy Duck, [Whispers.] “Take a look around and see if he’s still there,” and Daffy Duck goes, “Right-o” and he climbs up and pokes his head out of the rabbit hole and you can’t see him above frame and you hear a gun shot and his body jerks rigid like he’s been shot and he falls out of frame and Bugs Bunny says, “Is he still there?” and Daffy Duck lifts his beak back into frame and he’s all crazy looking because he’s been shot and he says, “Still lurking about.”
AVC: I was just thinking that I don’t know who wrote much of that Looney Tunes stuff. You know Mel Blanc did the voices, but someone wrote those jokes. I’d like to figure out who that was and what else that person did.
JG: Yeah, I don’t know if I even know who all the writers are. I know Chuck Jones is one of the classic directors, and Friz Freleng, maybe. I don’t know if it was one person that wrote the script. I don’t know too much about the writing process on those Looney Tunes, sadly. It’s something I probably should have looked up since I like them so much, but I don’t know either.
AVC: It would have been interesting to be in that room as they did the reading and figured it all out.
JG: That would be incredible. I imagine the directors would have been heavily involved in that as well and how that works as far as animation and the story and the direction. That was obviously a long time ago in terms of how they did the animation and approached things and wrote it and directed it. But, anyway, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
AVC: This is an awkward segue, but let’s talk about Stir Crazy. You talked about Bugs and Daffy being crammed into a hole together, now you have Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.
JG: That’s another one that pops in my head all the time. Of all the Richard Pryor stuff and all the Gene Wilder stuff that you could choose from—and there’s obviously plenty of stuff that is hilarious, classic comedy—that moment makes me laugh so hard. And When you’re watching Gene Wilder, it just seems like Richard Pryor—I don’t know if he’s ad libbing or just fucking around—but he sees Gene Wilder staring to laugh and it’s really funny. Oh my God, it’s so funny. [Imitates Richard Pryor.] “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.” Oh my God, it makes me laugh so hard.
He’s really funny in that movie, funny as hell. Both of those guys are. Gene Wilder is probably my absolute favorite comedy actor. Richard Pryor is so funny in all of their films, especially Stir Crazy. That moment kills me. [Imitates Richard Pryor.] “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.” Anyway, it’s a good performance; very funny.
AVC: It’s the confined space there. What’s going to happen, how are they going to get out of this?
JG: Well, that could have been played any number of ways, but to me it’s all about Richard Pryor’s performance in that one moment. Because it could have been like, yeah, stuck in a prison cell with a fat guy. It’s not that funny of a premise. It’s kind of easy. But his take on it, his performance of it—he just makes it really funny. To me, that feels like a moment where you audition a bunch of actors and they say, “Don’t touch me,” but some people like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are just funnier. Nine times out of 10, you’ll get actors doing goofy takes about getting pinned between a fat guy and the bed, and Richard Pryor made this weirdo, funny-as-hell choice that only works because it’s him and not so much because of the moment. Does that make sense? It’s like, “Yeah, that’s a funny moment, I guess. The guy is stuck between a bed and a fat guy.” But Richard Pryor is what makes it extremely hilarious for me.
AVC: I hadn’t seen this before I saw your list, and it’s incredible.
JG: That’s one that popped into my mind because it’s a recent thing and when the show was done, I took part in one of those “What’s your favorite Key & Peele moment?” things.
I think the show is so funny, and it’s got so many great sketches and great execution, and that, to me, is just an extremely funny idea of what could have been just an okay idea. Like the aerobics thing, you watch it and it’s like, “What’s this?” To me, making fun of old aerobics videos is not that funny. It’s been parodied, it’s been done before, and it’s not necessarily a funny thing, at least to me. Some people, I’m sure, would love the sketch if that’s all it was is just goofy costumes and funny dancing. But their take on it, the actual idea, you don’t see it coming at all. It really plays against what the idea is. It’s such a unique, dark, really funny idea that, again, is executed well. Those two guys are really funny performers, the direction is really great, the writing is really good, the editing of it is really good. It’s just funny and well done across the board. It’s just a great idea. Really, really funny and they just keep drawing it out. It’s a really funny idea.
AVC: The timing of it is great, too. There’s so much dancing before they even get into the deeper premise of the sketch.
JG: That’s the other thing. It takes a long time before they even get there.
That’s something else I really like about Key & Peele. They really seem to indulge ideas that they really like and don’t worry about, “Well, is that going to be too long?”
It’s great that they made it that long and they let it go as long as it does before they even introduce the premise. And that’s just another one of the strengths of their show. They really commit hard to ideas, and I think you have to do that with comedy stuff. It’s not always going to work, but if you don’t commit to it, it’ll never work. That sounds really pretentious, but it sounded good.
AVC: Some people wouldn’t even do that sketch because they’d be exhausted by the mere premise of having to do aerobics all day while you film.
JG: I agree. Some people probably won’t do ideas because they’re like, “I have to wear that costume all day. I don’t want to dance.” So, yeah, that’s part of it, but to even just commit to going as long as they did before they introduced the premise is really admirable, and it’s really funny.
AVC: How has the stuff you’ve liked historically related to your work? How has it contributed to your new show? Can you draw direct lines over?
JG: I don’t know if you can draw direct lines literally in terms of specific tone and all that, but certainly a lot of the comedy here, whether you see it growing up or see it when you’re older, you just realize there’s a style of comedy and a tone that works. And it allows you to pursue things that you like to do and realize that you can do these types of things and you don’t have to worry about things like, “I don’t know, can we do 30 to 40 seconds of guys dancing before we introduce the premise?” But then you watch that sketch and you’re like, “That’s how it should be. It should be that long.” And it is nice when things aren’t jokey and it’s not necessarily about jokes.
Like that thing with Peter Riegert and the boat, it’s just a really funny, charming thing about him holding up this dollar sign and this guy shaking his head no, and they do it a few times. It’s really slow, but it’s extremely funny and a lot of the success of that moment is because there’s been a lot of buildup of Peter Riegert being in this town sort of being won over by these people and becoming friends with them. That movie is filled with small, charming moments that aren’t pushing the comedy and not playing for laughs, and they’re extremely funny, and some of them are just funny jokes and some of them are not.
That just appeals to me. That’s the kind of comedy I like, the stuff that’s not necessarily pushing the comedy too much. It lets the comedy come from playing the drama of things. Even with Delocated and certainly with Neon Joe, the comedy and the stupidity comes from the drama. The drama is what allows the comedy to happen because we’re taking things so seriously and playing them so dramatically.
It’s not that goofier stuff doesn’t appeal to me, but for me, you watch stuff and realize what appeals to you comedically and your influences and you can be inspired by that stuff without having it be the same thing.
AVC: And it’s interesting what sparks a premise. Neon Joe came out of a joke, right?
JG: I made an arbitrary joke on Jimmy Fallon’s show that was never in any way, shape, or form an idea or a premise. It was a joke I made and Adult Swim called me on it and was like, “I don’t know. It sounds funny. Could that be a show?” Then I had to, quite literally, figure out an entire show, or an entire premise, from a joke. And it was a really fun challenge; I’m glad I got to take that challenge on. It was a fun process, but it was literally nothing.
AVC: Sometimes having to find those workarounds yields the most creative results.
JG: This could have easily been one of those things where it’s like, “Eh, there’s nothing there” or, “Eh, I’m not liking this” and I could have given them the script and they’d be like, “This is okay, but I guess there’s nothing there” and maybe I would have felt the same. But, thankfully, it was just creating this weird world that I wanted to keep expanding and it was a little more of, “What about this, let’s try this, let’s add this” and figuring it out as we went and we just embraced the stupidity of it, which is what we do a lot, and it ended up working.
One of my favorite parts about the whole show is where it came from and how it came to be and I’m just thankful there’s a place like Adult Swim. I’d obviously worked with them before, but having that working relationship and for them to know me and know how I work and the people I work with, they know who they’re dealing with and that we’re more than likely going to come up with something good. But, still, to have a place that exists that will see me make a joke on TV and say, “Can that be a TV show?” is great.
AVC: And then put money behind it not just to make it, but to promote it.
JG: You’re already ahead of the game when you’re encouraged to go weird and stupid and funny.