Adult Swim’s Delocated, a Reality-TV Oracle

Photo: Adult Swim

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Sam Richardson may be Detroit’s No. 1 booster. Besides co-creating Detroiters, Richardson is always there to big-up his fellow Motor Citizens. Obviously, there’s frequent collaborator Tim Robinson, but Richardson is also a big fan of Jon Glaser: “Coming up, he was a person who me and Tim were like, ‘Jon Glaser! He’s a hometown guy who did it at Second City! He’s on Conan!’ He was, like, a hero.”

Delocated, which ran on Adult Swim for three seasons from 2009 to 2012 with a finale special in 2013, could only be made by Glaser. He stars as “Jon,” a man in the witness-protection program who is also simultaneously the star of a reality show. He puts himself, his family, and his FBI bodyguards in danger for the mere hope of basic-cable fame. It’s a level of narcissism, cruelty, and gaslighting that wasn’t seen on actual reality TV until Scandoval. Richardson went deep on his love for the show the same day he was nominated for an Emmy, which also happened to be the last day of the SAG-AMPTP negotiation before the strike. He talked about the prescience of Delocated, season two of The Afterparty, and why he’s standing with his fellow strikers.

Congratulations on your Emmy nomination!
Thank you very much. Just found out this morning, as I really wasn’t expecting it.

Does it feel real yet?
Uh, yeah — because it’s been a long time coming! No, I’m kidding. It’s all so surreal to get to be on shows that are so great, to get to work with such great people, then to go to the Emmys. I was happy to be nominated for the Jeff Awards in Chicago, which were the theater awards for Second City. That was great. So it’s all kind of unreal but very much appreciated.

Now I have a question about the Jeff Awards: Is it shortened to “the Jeffs”? Or is it “the Jeffys” so it sounds more in the same cadence as other awards?
No, you say “the Jeffs.” It’s like “Jeff-nominated” or “I’m going to the Jeffs.”

Asked and answered — thank you. Why did you want to talk about Delocated?
It’s a show that I really loved. Thinking back about what shows were really important to me, and that I don’t think people talk about as much, Delocated is right up there. It’s truly, pound for pound, just one of the funniest shows. It came out of Adult Swim in 2009, and I was just enamored.

I always remember the big premise and the broader jokes like the voice modulation and the more violent set pieces, but on this rewatch I was shocked by all the smaller jokes. In the second episode with the ska-themed bar mitzvah —
The Ska Mitzvah.

The Ska Mitzvah! I was shocked by how many tiny jokes there are. It seems like it’s a very broad show, but there are actually so many little jokes hiding.
That’s what’s so great about the show: It’s so multitiered. The premise is big and broad and very funny — and dumb. You’ve got a guy who’s in witness protection but then goes on a reality show. Just funny — period.

What I love is a person who is supremely confident and also is the most unlikable person, but he behaves as if everybody loves him or should. It’s grounds for so much brilliant stuff. In that episode, the Ska Mitzvah one, there are so many dumb jokes in there, like the ska puns. His wife is giving the speech at the bar mitzvah, and she’s saying all these ska puns and all of them are killing. Then he gets up there, and he starts up with a really hard ska joke and nobody laughs. He turns on the audience immediately. It’s brilliant.

Really, though — his ska pun wasn’t any worse than hers, but the audience reacted to him as an unlikable person. Then he turns on them. And then he reads the ad — hilarious! He might have gotten a 5 percent discount or something, but also, on his way out, he says he paid for everything.

And it’s his boss’s copy shop that he’s reading the ad for, so he didn’t even get an employee discount. He had to do spon.
It wasn’t a gift from his employer. There are so many great details.

There’s an episode where he’s golfing and they go to a white golf course. He’s wearing that black mask and then one of the golfers says he should wear a lighter mask. It becomes a whole race thing where he’s being “discriminated against” for having this black mask. Then one of the Black caddies sees him stand up to the other guy and then he’s like, “You’re an honorary Black man.”

And it would seem like, Okay, this is problematic on the surface level, but then you realize that it’s a thing that would happen to him that nobody would believe. If he tells anybody, he seems like he’s lying. He goes on, saying, “Oh, I’m an honorary Black man. My son is a half–honorary Black man.” But nobody believes him. That’s something only that show can do and I think specifically Jon Glaser can only do.

His brand of mean is so specifically his.
It’s aggressive, but it’s also toothless in the best way. It’s bark, and the bite is there, but it’s so minimal. It’s similar to Larry David, where he’s upset about a specific rule set up by him. I’d say Larry David is more subtle about it. And in the world of Curb Your Enthusiasm, most people agree with his rules and are like, “You don’t do that — of course you don’t do that,” which is very Seinfeld-esque. In Delocated, it’s usually just him.

The show gets much darker in seasons two and three. Do you have a preference? Do you like the lightness of season one, or how extreme it gets later?
I love season one because it does set up the character. I don’t think you can do seasons two and three and those specific jokes without broadly getting to those characters with season one. Season one is necessary, but season two launches into all these hilarious, dark places. But you need to know who Jon is and see him want fame so then, by the second season, when everybody’s getting killed, you get it.

Yeah, because season one is a little bit more of a sitcom: Everything resets, like how Eugene Mirman’s character breaks into the safe house and they don’t move safe houses.
Yeah, right. Right.

And then season two onward, the punch line is “Oh, no — this time everyone will die.”
Everyone will die! [Laughs.] Bodyguards get shot, Mighty Joe Jon: The Black Blond — my God.

Even in the finale — for people reading this, spoilers directly ahead — he kills his fucking kid.
He kills his kid. That’s wild. I mean, ultimately that’s the thing I love about this show. He’s a supremely bad guy, he’s irredeemable, but he is still our protagonist and you still laugh. We’re shielded from bad characters because we’re usually supposed to emulate the characters we see. But you’re not supposed to emulate Jon — he’s a fool, and you’re supposed to laugh at him, not with him. It’s a bad guy with bad behavior, and he pays for it, but then he doesn’t learn his lesson.

Does it ever go too far for you? Is there ever a time when you’re like, That’s one too many dead bodyguards for me?
Honestly, no. Being on Adult Swim allows it to get away with so much. And if you’re onboard, it all justifies itself. Killing his kid, it’s wild and bizarre. But Delocated is the only place where you can do that.

This show was very prescient about how exploitative reality TV has become, like how they give a show to the guy who’s trying to murder Jon.
Immediately. During the first episode, the ratings aren’t good, so they give a show to the murderer because he pops more. It’s perfect. The whole premise of Jon’s show is irresponsible to begin with. It puts his family in danger, people are dying, but the show keeps on going. It’s a great commentary on reality TV.

Do you watch reality TV?
I want to say “no,” but I do. My girlfriend has introduced it into my life. But the most reality shows that I really watch are game reality shows, so I don’t feel bad about it. We love Survivor and RuPaul’s Drag Race — shows that aren’t about just following a person or whatever. We’re watching Claim to Fame; I love it. I love solving mysteries.

Speaking of solving mysteries …
Yes … ?

What is it like when you’re filming a mystery show? How much do you know ahead of time? Do you have to shut information out of your head to be in the moment while filming?
For The Afterparty season two, we had all the scripts before we started filming, so I knew from beginning to end who was going to be what. For me, it was helpful to know so that I wasn’t giving anything away. I could tune in my performance — what I’m highlighting and what I’m obfuscating. I mean, of course, the main reality you’re playing is that you don’t know. That’s the hardest part. But to perform how you don’t know, you need to know all the pieces that lead up to it. Does that make sense?

Yeah. Was it Rumsfeld who talked about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns?
Yes. [Laughs.] It’s exactly that. What a great man.

[Laughs.] What initially drew you to The Afterparty as a project?
I am a fan of murder mysteries, and this seemed like a great ensemble mystery. Reading it, the characters were all great. First off, the idea of everybody having their own genre made me very excited. I love Lord and Miller so much. Everything they do, I’ve been obsessed with: the Spider-Verse movies, LEGO movies.

Clone High.
I used to Watch Clone High so much. And the 21 Jump Streets.

Was there any worry about being able to pull off this premise a second time? Or do you feel like the mystery genre is eternally refillable?
I think the genre itself, and the mechanism of the show, makes it very modular. There’s endless possibilities. As long as you have a different character, you have a different perspective in a different genre. The anthology style of it makes it reset, though some of the characters come back. It makes it so that every new murder is its own ecosystem. Whatever flora and fauna live in that can be dependent on where it is and what is happening there. I think it can go forever. Until there’s no more genres.

Although it does at some point get to the Jessica Fletcher problem of why people around you keep dying.
Maybe that’s in the lost season of Murder, She Wrote: She goes to a detective convention and they’re like, “Wait a minute …

With this show, I think there’s a little bit of suspension of disbelief. It’s also a comedy, so you want the familiar characters to walk you through it.

We talked about Jon Glaser. We haven’t talked about PFFR, the Wonder Showzen guys, who are also a big part of this.
Wonder Showzen I love so, so much. It was a truly brilliant show. I was watching Wonder Showzen when I was living in Detroit. I was gobsmacked. That’s a show where I was like, Is this going too far? Having the kids sing the slaves song — whoa! “Slaves built the pyramids. Slaves built America. Thank you, slaves!” Is that too far? No! People use the term irreverent comedy — that’s what that means.

I mean, all of the “Beat Kidz” segments.
Those kids … I still want to know how they got these kids because they’re all dynamite.

They’re unflappable.
How do they set them up to do the man-on-the-street stuff? So unflappable.

Can’t be flapped.
Flapping? It’s not an option for these kids.

There’s one little Black girl who’s talking to the Wall Street guys. How does she do it, even if it’s somebody in her ear telling her? I’ve worked with kids before, and, I mean, kids are fun and cute — you can find some kids that are really great — but what these kids are doing on that show is better than any man-on-the-street stuff I’ve seen.

So we’re doing this interview the day we’re supposed to find out if there’s going to be a SAG-AFTRA strike. How are you feeling?
I’m ready to strike. I think it is wildly grotesque how the AMPTP are behaving as if paying fair residuals, and paying people what they’re worth, is such a bold ask. If the idea of splitting a percentile of a percent is unfathomable, then you know you’re in the wrong. They know they’re in the wrong. So shut it down.

I hope people realize that we’re not just talking about the millionaire movie stars who we’re trying to get a deal for; it’s the people who can’t pay rent anymore while working on a show. It used to be that you could guest on the show and that was like, I made it.

Of course, I hope that we come to an agreement within these 12 hours before it happens, but I am more than willing to strike for as long as we have to, bring whatever to its knees. Because it’s truly grotesque.

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Adult Swim’s Delocated, a Reality-TV Oracle