Putting the Funny in Witness Protection

Photo: Courtesy of Cartoon Network

While working on Adult Swim’s deadpan gut-buster Delocated, creator-star Jon Glaser has run through the city in his underwear, hidden in the bushes of Prospect Park, and crept suspiciously behind a group of schoolchildren, all while wearing a black ski mask. Amazingly, this has not led to arrest or injury. “I’m always worried people will think we’re robbing banks, and I’ll get tackled by some guy who wants to be a hero,” says Glaser, 42, a former writer and performer on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. “But nobody’s even paying attention.” Delocated follows “Jon,” a jerky suburbanite who puts his family in the witness-protection program after pissing off the Russian mob, only to wind up divorced and bitter. Since his new life is being documented for a reality series, Jon has to keep his face and voice disguised at all times (he sounds a little like a post-stroke Darth Vader).

Glaser, who was known at Conan for such creations as camp counselor Michael McDonald, developed the idea of an undercover character in the late nineties, using a harmonizer to alter his speech. “Originally, he was an impressionist who’d ended up in witness protection and still wanted to perform,” Glaser says. “The joke was that all his impressions sounded like that voice, and were all terrible. After I left Conan, I wanted to do something with the character, because it was so dumb.”

When the fifteen-minute episodes premiered last year (they’ll run half an hour this season), it seemed like yet another divisively oddball series for Adult Swim, home of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! But once you get past Jon’s retro-crook getup and creepy voice, Delocated is the network’s most accessible show in years. For all of Jon’s obnoxiousness—he’s quick to throw a tantrum and regularly boasts of taking women to the “bone zone”—he’s so put-upon by his family, his idiotic network-TV boss, and even his security detail, that you find yourself hoping he escapes the equally annoying hit men. (Delocated regularly kills off characters, including a couple of high-profile guest stars; Paul Rudd, playing himself, was knocked off in the pilot.) And because its interpersonal dramatics are played straight, the show gets away with a lot: In one episode, Jon’s voice turns him into a children’s-lullaby superstar; in another, his black wool ski mask earns him the title of honorary black man. Season two, which premieres August 22, finds things getting weirder and darker, if that’s possible.

Even with all the bizarro plot twists, nothing tops the ingenious device of acting through a ski mask. Glaser’s ability to express sarcasm and world-weariness through a series of half-lidded stares, puckered exhalations, and skeptical head-cocks is stunning. It’s a deeply lived-in physical performance, and so is the mask, which Glaser has been wearing since he started working on the role in 1997. “I don’t think I’ve washed it once. I don’t want to take the chance of destroying it,” he says. “It’s pretty disgusting. When this season’s through, I’ll do a bunch of delicate hand washes.”

Season two.
Premieres Sunday.
August 22. 10 p.m.
Adult Swim.

Putting the Funny in Witness Protection