It’s the kind of story that could drive anyone with a polished script languishing on their hard drive to an appointment with the nearest ledge: Comedian, actor, and writer Jon Glaser got a series greenlit based entirely on an off-the-cuff joke.
Granted, the joke was made on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and Glaser himself has been a staple of pretty much everything you’ve been laughing at for the past few years, from Parks & Recreation to Inside Amy Schumer to Trainwreck to his own Adult Swim series Delocated, but still. He showed up in a neon hoodie and Coors Light sweatpants—just to amuse himself, he explains—and when asked about the ensemble answered that he was moving on from Delocated to his newest series, Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter.
This, of course, was not a real show, until Glaser’s Adult Swim colleagues decided to call his bluff. "It's awesome that a place like Adult Swim exists," Glaser tells CoCreate. "I mean, I had history with them and just did a show, but still . . . to go on a talk show and make an arbitrary joke and then have them be like: ‘Hey, could that be a show?’ And I’m like, ‘Um, yeah sure!"
Cut to earlier this week, as the actual Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter premiers on Adult Swim, introducing the world to Glaser’s neon clad, possibly Cajun (more on that later), one-eyed lycanthropic nightmare. But how exactly does one start to build a show around a goof?
"There was quite literally nothing," says Glaser. "It stemmed from zero. There was no character. There was no show. It was all . . . ’Now what?’ It was a fun challenge." If nothing else, Glaser at least knew how the first episode would start, with a callback to a very specific Delocated joke. "For me, it did start with Paul Rudd. I right away thought I could at least put that in the script and see if Adult Swim liked it. So there were a few things I could latch onto."
Neon Joe, which is written by Glaser alongside Wonder Showzen and The Heart, She Holler creators John Lee and Vernon Chatman, was then pieced together from whatever ideas the trio found "stupid and weird and interesting." Once they settled on a New England B&B as the focal point for the series (a combination of Glaser’s reluctance to do a New York City-set show as well as budget and travel considerations) the rest grew from there.
"So we had the town, we had the setting, and that kind of naturally makes you think, ‘Probably a lot of weird people live in these towns . . .’ so there were just a lot of ideas that snowballed from there," says Glaser. "As far as Neon Joe it was just I wanted to look super different from how I normally look, the claw marks seemed kind of stupid and fun, the eyepatch looked nice and dumb and seemed cool . . . the voice, I want to do something that sounded weird and different. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to the choices beyond just make it weird and interesting."
Ah, yes. The voice. Neon Joe speaks in a hybrid drawl that is one part Cajun, one part Alabama redneck, and a lot of parts made up. "There was a funny story about the accent," he says. "We were shooting this big group scene in a gymnasium with a lot of the people from the town, and one of the extras, she was in her seventies, a really sweet old lady, said, ‘I just love your accent. It’s so spot on . . . whatever it is.’ For me, that sums it up. I don’t know what it is either, but it sounds funny. And that was similar thinking behind why I did Fallon and putting that outfit on was to do something stupid to amuse myself."
Although Glaser has years of experience on all sides of the comedy world (he started early on as a writer with the Dana Carvey Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien), the whole process of how Neon Joe went from conception to air has left him with a skewed sense of how it’s all supposed to work.
"That’s how you make a TV show," he says. "You get on a talk show to promote your other TV show, and you make a joke. And then you get to make a TV show. That’s how it works."
We decided to put this off-the-cuff creative process to the test. Check out the video above to see Glaser create brand new shows out of things we found around the Fast Company office. Head’s up, Adult Swim . . .