Jon Glaser’s writing credits feature some of the most beloved TV comedies in recent history– he’s lent his talents to Conan, Parks and Recreation, Girls, and Inside Amy Schumer. But Glaser also has an onscreen presence, sometimes unlikable, and always embracing a bit of the surreal. Last year, his mini-series on Comedy Central Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter lived up to its name (literally). And now, Jon Glaser Loves Gear is doing the same. On truTV, a heightened version (although not exactly a fictional version) of Jon Glaser hosts a show which allows him to live out his dream of indulging in all types of gear…a real-life love for the real Jon Glaser. A strange blend of reality TV and absurd comedy, Jon Glaser Loves Gear is one of the truly original shows of 2016, airing Wednesdays on tru. The season wraps later this month, but there’s plenty of time to catch up, and still a few episodes to go. We spoke about Glaser’s sincere love for gear (including the new piece of gear he got on the show), mixing reality and fiction in his comedy, and what the word gear actually means.
Watching the first episode, I immediately thought of that scene in Modern Romance, when Albert Brooks buys all the running equipment, and you know this stuff will be used one time. All that stuff will just end up in the back of his closet. Have you ever gone to that extreme and pre-purchased stuff before taking up the activity?
I’ve never gone to that extreme, although I know and love that scene you’re talking about. But I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a shopping spree and not utilized what I bought. The one time I can think of doing something like that was a long time ago, I belonged to a gym that had a small rock climbing wall. And I thought, that looks cool. The shoes look cool. I’ll try that. And I tried it, enjoyed it a couple of times, but then I just stopped. And now I own these rock climbing shoes which will never be used again. That was one time when I bought before trying the activity out. But I’ve never really gone crazy and bought a lot at one time. The extreme of that would be buying the harnesses and chalk bags, and then never doing it.
The term “gear” is said over and over on the show. And I personally don’t know the difference between the words gear and stuff? For example, I knit, but I don’t think I’d call my needles “gear”. What is the difference? Is it just the term used by enthusiasts?
I think it’s a pretty loosely defined term. We talked about that difference a lot during the writing and shooting process. We kept asking each other what gear means? Is gear stuff or is stuff gear? Maybe or they’re just one in the same. I told a friend of mine about the show early on and she immediately started talking to me about these Japanese pens and the cartridges she has to buy for them. And I would think of that as stuff, but it’s her gear. It’s not just athletic or outdoorsy, people use it to describe tech stuff too. On the show, we do a lot of sporting episodes, but we tried not to limit ourselves to that narrow a definition of what gear is.
But on the show, there is a certain bro-comedy aspect to the show. There’s a look you make when consuming the next piece of gear which is this mix of sarcasm and enthusiasm. It’s really funny.
That’s certainly part of the show. All the yelling and making faces is playing off that culture, but we’re riding the line. We’re not making fun, because the premise for the show came from my genuine love for gear. But there is an undeniable bro-ness in the comedy. When I’m in the edit, it seems that all I hear is screaming, and I can’t stop laughing because I really am annoying, which strikes me as funny and dumb. This is an exaggerated, heightened version of myself. I like to think I’m not that much of an asshole, we’re just pushing things for the comedy, even though things are rooted in sincerity.
Is there one activity that you find yourself getting really passionate about and you find yourself talking about a lot? Something you’re an enthusiast about?
There are a lot of activities I really love. Camping is the first episode because I really love doing that, although I don’t do it as often as an adult. I run and cycle a lot. I actually ride my bike to the edit most days. Most of what you’re seeing on the show are activities I have a sincere interest in, even if I don’t get to do them as often as I’d like.
Where did the idea to cast a fake wife on the show come from?
Pretty much from my real life. My wife would never want to be on camera, and I would never let my child be on camera. So I would never do a reality program that needed them to be a part of it. So the joke came from this idea that I would have to hire a woman to play my wife if I were doing a fictional show based on my real-life, so let’s do the same on this show. It’s where we blend the fictional and real world.
Was there any point that you considered doing a completely fictional show and not playing this heightened version of yourself?
I don’t think it would have worked, because all the comedy comes from a genuine place in my life. I really do love gear. I never thought of playing a character.
I loved the casting John Hodgman as a computer voice, because he has a great authoritative voice. But also being a guy whose sort of known for having very specific, personalized taste in things. How did you get him involved?
I just know him from the comedy world and both of us live in New York. It was really a pretty traditional casting decision. I knew his voice, I knew he’d be great for the role, and he was one of the first people we thought of, if not the first person. And I’m glad he was interested in doing it.
truTV’s really made an effort to get into comedy programming in the past few years with shows like Impractical Jokers. Was this show pitched to them, or did you shop it around?
I don’t really remember, but they expressed interest early on, so I took a meeting and found I really liked the people I met with there. The idea for this kind of show really resonated with them and they felt we could work together. So far, I like working with them and it feels like a good fit.
And the channel has its roots in reality TV, but has transitioned quickly into comedy, at least during prime time, so it seems like it would fit their market. Have you heard from people that watch that channel, but didn’t know your comedy?
I don’t spend that much time on social media, which is the primary way I’d hear directly from viewers. I know there’s been a mix of people that know my work and watch and people that just stumble onto the show. And among those people, I know there are people whose first reaction is “what the hell is this” or think the show’s stupid. But our focus is on creating the best show possible, without focusing on things like ratings.
I don’t know if it’s possible for people to confused it for an actual reality TV show.
Oh, it’s possible. From the little I’ve read on comments sections, there’s some confusion. And there are people who really want a show just about gear, and are like “stop with the comedy.” That’s pretty hilarious. And there are people who might get what I’m doing, or trying to do, but simply don’t like it or say it’s just not for them.
Were there any shows that served as an inspiration for the show?
Not really. I wasn’t interested in making a parody of reality TV or satirizing consumerism. I just had this idea that seemed funny to me. The original premise was more reality based, maybe 50/50, and provided more informational content. But it slowly became more scripted as we filmed and edited the pilot.
There have been plenty of examples of comedy-reality programs that sort of made people the butt of the joke. Were all the people appearing on the show as “real people” aware of what you would be doing and knew they were on a comedy show?
For this, we tried to make it completely clear that this was a reality segment in a scripted comedy program. We told people the premise and explained why we were there. I didn’t have any interest in pranking people or make people look bad. And we told them, if things start to feel wrong, let us know right away. Because we didn’t want them to feel misrepresented. And I hope people watching the show don’t feel like we’re exploiting anyone on screen. Things change in editing, but I’m not interested in making that type of show, and I think people see that in the final product.
And you have the benefit of often being the only person that looks ridiculous on the show?
I always try to make it seem like I’m the idiot. We would tell people, don’t try to be funny or make jokes. Treat it like this idiot just walked into your store and you have to deal with me. And in reality, they would try to be patient and helpful, but probably also be confused. And we just wanted that honest reaction to play out. Their reactions to my stupidities end up being some of the biggest laughs we get on the show.
What activity would you like to take on if you get picked up for more episodes?
If money were no object, which it is, it would be cool to do a trail running episode in a great location. We joked that in our first season we’d be super tight with the budget to have an amazing season finale and shoot a long run in Chile. We didn’t get to do that, but maybe if we get more episodes. I think filming a snowboarding episode would be really fun. Those are the two that come to mind right away.
As the show wraps up, did the show introduce you to any new pieces of gear that got you really excited?
There’s something in the season finale that I loved. I won’t say what it is, but it’s pink, you will know it when you see it. I’d never heard of it before we started doing research for the episode. But, we found one and I did get to keep it. I probably won’t get to use it very often, but it’s pretty cool to own it.