Comedy actor and television writer Jon Glaser says he doesn't love the term "alternative comedy," but when it comes to his work — especially on stage — "that's essentially what it is."
"I'm not going to comedy clubs," Glaser says, referring to the mini Texas tour he's on now that includes a stop on Tuesday at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum. "I'm going into venues like Sons of Hermann Hall, music venues that are small enough and intimate enough for the show I'm doing. I did some shows in Portland and Seattle in these really cool music venues and they were nontraditional comedy venues for a nontraditional comedy show."
It makes sense if you've seen any of the TV shows he's written for, like The Dana Carvey Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Inside Amy Schumer or created and starred in like Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter, Jon Glaser Loves Gear and Delocated. Glaser's conceptual approach to comedy on stage and the small screen has helped make altern...ahem, nontraditional comedy part of the new mainstream.
"I had not really done a lot of touring," Glaser says of the shows he's doing on his Jon Glaser is Coming to Town tour that will include a headlining show at Austin's Moontower Comedy Festival. "It's something I always thought about and maybe I should have tried to do a long time ago, but it was never so much on my mind to try to do it. When I was out in San Francisco to do some Gear promos in January, I was able to set up a couple of shows, and it was fun to do and I wanted to try and do some more."
Acting was Glaser's original career goal in comedy starting in the mid-90s with the legendary Chicago comedy theater Second City in the main stage sketch and improv show. He says he fell into writing when writer and producer Robert Smigel offered him a chance to be a writer on Dana Carvey's prime-time sketch comedy show The Dana Carvey Show for ABC that also gave the first prime-time glimpse at his work and some big future stars like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.
"It was certainly a huge job for a first job," Glaser says. "It was a writing job, which was not something I was really pursuing, and being a writer is not something I even thought about pursuing as a career or even as something to do. It had never crossed my mind to try and be a writer."
Glaser says Smigel discovered him after seeing his auditions for The Dana Carvey Show where Smigel worked as the executive producer and Saturday Night Live where Smigel was one of the sketch show's longest and most revered writers. Smigel said in an interview with GQ that Glaser was one of the people whose SNL audition "probably made me laugh the hardest."
The Dana Carvey Show lasted a mere six episodes, only five of which made it to air, but Glaser calls it "one of the greatest things for myself career-wise, just as thinking of myself as a writer and not just an actor."
"He liked my audition for SNL and liked my audition for Dana Carvey, but said, 'We're not going to hire you as an actor but would you be interested in writing?'" Glaser says. "That just seemed like a job I shouldn't pass up."
His new writing career led him to the staff of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien that gave him the opportunity to not just write but also perform in some of the late night show's character-driven segments like as a member of the wacky comedy trio called the Slipnutz (not to be confused with the rock band Slipknot) and a hacky impressionist comedian who still performs even though he's in a federal witness protection program.
The latter led to the creation of his hit Adult Swim series Delocated, a parody-docuseries about a father named "Jon" who goes into witness protection with his family after testifying against the Russian mafia and accepts an offer to star in his own reality series even though his face is always covered with a ski mask and his voice is modulated to protect his identity.
"Delocated didn’t come from need to parody reality TV even though it certainly became a huge part of it," Glaser says. "Here’s a guy that wants to be famous so badly that he’s willing to risk his family’s life. So it's certainly a commentary on what I consider a really disgusting thirst for fame, people that want to be famous and put their children on TV. That whole stuff is really bothersome to me. It really came from a place where I thought it was a funny idea and that just became about that as a secondary component."
Glaser says he gets asked a lot if his TV creations are meant to be parodies or commentaries of modern life, like his TruTV series Jon Glaser Loves Gear in which Glaser plays a pumped-up, fictionalized version of himself trying to produce a real review show about cool technological and mechanical gadgetry surrounded by actors he hired to be his TV family.
"People have asked about that," he says, referring specifically to his TruTV show. "Oh, it's like commenting on capitalism and again, it's just what I thought was a funny idea. It was originally much more reality-based and less scripted comedy. I thought it would be more of a legit reality show where we'd go to companies and check and test out gear because it comes from a real place and it just morphed into more of a scripted show as we developed it."
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Glaser says his stage shows provide him with another place to show off some of the bits and concepts he's performed going back to his early days in comedy. These shows give him a whole new opportunity to share them with the fans he's cultivated from his long and successful history in TV and comedy.
"A lot of what I'm doing are old bits," Glaser says. "Some are bits I haven't done in years but I've never toured or documented them with a comedy special or a YouTube video. So I have this old collection of material that I really like a lot that a whole audience of mine has never seen, which is one of the reasons I wanted to tour."
The comedy Glaser's written may be old, but he says he's excited to share something new for his fans.
"I'm certainly happy with everything I've gotten to do," Glaser says. "I feel very fortunate to work on a bunch of very good shows and have the good fortune to do my own thing as well. Mostly, I feel really good about what I'm about to do and what I've been lucky to do."