Jon Glaser Washes Dishes: An Interview

[Comedian, Actor, Writer, Dish-Washer]

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it four, if still boring, try it eight, then sixteen. Then thirty-two, eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”  —John Cage

Incomplete List of Jon Glasers’ Dishes:
Wooden spoon
Silver lid
Cutting board
Frying pan
Sheet pan

Since the middle of March, 2020, actor, writer and comedian, Jon Glaser has been washing his dishes nightly on Instagram Live. With this simple, nightly chore, Glaser has tapped into our collective craving for a ritual of normalcy. During a time when most of us have lost track of the days, forgotten friends’ names, and have otherwise been bombarded by tragedies heretofore unthinkable; Jon’s nightly domestic broadcast has become a comforting ritual.

The setup is simple: a phone is propped behind the sink faucet, facing Jon from the waist up, his right arm and head in the frame. A speaker plays a range of music from Gang of Four to Bob Seeger to Erik B. and Rakim. Jon himself doesnt perform; he sticks to the task and washes the dishes. The result is oddly calming: the music starts, the faucet flows, the scrubbing commences, and dishes get rinsed and towel dried. A small community has grown out of this nocturnal chore. These diehard regulars make frequent and hilarious running commentaries on the action, taking note of small variations each night; whether a new dish has been brought into the mix, a different towel has been introduced with a new pattern, or the volume of drips a large pan releases when Jon holds it aloft over the sink. It’s a little like Rocky Horror for the digital age. While Jon washes away, we all become participants in his homebound spectacle.

As an actor and comedian, Glaser portrays characters that are often stubborn, yet sweetly vulnerable men. His characters cast their wide net of bluster over situations that are so absolutely ridiculous, that you can’t help but feel a certain affection for them as he pulls you into their pathos. A veteran performer from Chicago’s famed Second City, Glaser performs with a surgical precision, extraordinary comedic timing, and actorly chops. A few of his most indelible television roles include his ski-mask-wearing witness protection character in Delocated, his gear-obsessed everyman going through a midlife crisis in Jon Glaser Loves Gear, and Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, where, as the title tells us: he wears neon, speaks with a Cajun accent, and hunts werewolves. Glaser is also the author of My Dad Was In ZZ Top (HarperCollins, 2011), a fictional story about discovering that his father was a founding member of ZZ Top. All of these projects reveal a sly, silly, and deeply intelligent creator of personas that make us simultaneously laugh and squirm. His characters are never threatening, even at their most asinine, there’s a real human sweetness that comes through each one. With this current nightly broadcast, watching Glaser wash dishes has taken one of the most ordinary and universal tasks and made it feel not only funny, but fascinating, and downright meaningful.

—Todd J. Colby

THE BELIEVER: Watching you wash your dishes has definitely made me conscious of myself as I wash dishes in my own sink. I’ve adopted many of your techniques, especially the towel over the shoulder, which for me is more of a stylistic choice than a technique. Also the amount of soap you use. I realized I wasn’t using nearly enough, in comparison to you at least. I’ve even propped my phone up behind the sink and watched you while I washed dishes along with you and imitated some of your moves. What advice would you give to the domestic dish-washers out there who might want to improve their dish-washing technique?

JON GLASER: I can’t believe I am being viewed as a dish-washing authority. That said, the towel over the shoulder is purely functional for me. I like having it more accessible rather than putting it down and picking it up every time I need it. Over the shoulder is a convenient spot. It’s also fun to whip it back into place. I try to use as little water and soap as possible, but guessing I probably use too much of both. I know you like the drips, which I do in an attempt not to have my dishtowels get soaked so quickly. We don’t have a dish rack, I just lay everything to dry on another dish towel, and then when I’m done washing, I dry everything and put it away. Or sometimes leave things out to air dry. I’ve seen a couple comments about getting a dishwasher. We have one. I’m mostly washing the big stuff that doesn’t fit, or can’t go in the dishwasher, or if the dishwasher is full. I like being thorough when I scrub and wipe, which I guess is maybe meditative? Whatever the case, I sure do feel like a boring asshole describing it all. 

BLVR: The dread I normally feel before I do my own dishes has been dissipated somewhat from watching you do yours night after night. When I watch you doing your dishes I want to do them myself. Like Huck Finn tricking people into helping him whitewash the fence by showing them how much fun it is, you make it look fun and interesting. Is it fun, interesting, or relaxing for you? 

JG: The idea came from seeing live DJ sets being promoted. I thought it would be funny to do the same thing, with the added bonus of getting to watch the DJ also wash dishes. The first time I did it, I decided to just go live, and see if anyone watched. No interacting with fans, no answering questions or requests, but leaving the comments up so people can communicate with each other if they wanted and make it a fun hang. I didn’t promote it, because that seemed self-serving and lame. 

It’s funny to me that anyone watches. I’m genuinely curious why. It’s funny to read some of your thoughts on it. I’m curious if it’s the same people, like yourself, who watch regularly. It’s not even a lot of people, which is also part of what makes it funny to me. I think the average is maybe fifteen to twenty-five people a night? It seems like people tune in, and then numbers plummet, which I attribute to the realization that all they’re going to see is someone wash dishes. I try not to pay attention to that, as far as how many people are watching, or the comments. I am curious, and I certainly glance every now and then, but for the most part, I just try to do the dishes like I normally do. I genuinely don’t mind doing them while listening to music. I find it relaxing. 

I also enjoy knowing that a handful of friends are watching, so it does help me feel connected to my friends. I have a friend who’s been out at Joshua Tree since everything went down. He was working a long-term acting job and gave up his apartment lease in Los Angeles. So he’s staying at a friends place out there until he can figure out when he can get back to LA and find a place. It’s nice to also text him during this, and know that he’s watching, and feel like we’re hanging out in some way. Same with any fans that might be watching who might be alone. The concept of being able to go on Instagram and watch an actor/comedian/musician/athlete/whoever, and share such an intimate moment with them, even something as mundane as washing dishes, from the standpoint of being right there inside their home, is certainly interesting right now. It’s probably going to get rapidly less and less interesting as more and more people go live on Instagram. Maybe not. And you could certainly argue that what I’m doing is completely uninteresting. Did I even answer the question?

BLVR: You did, yes. Over the past month during your dishwashing residency, small things have started to take on an amplified significance, like the pattern on the towel you use, the appliances behind you, a family member briefly appearing behind you, the t-shirt you’re wearing, the height of your mohawk as it grows out, the amusement you sometimes show when you lip sync the words to certain songs, and other small variations. They seem like monumental plot shifts as the dishes get washed. Have you become more aware of these subtle tonal shifts as a performer? 

JG: It really makes me laugh to think that someone might be out there thinking, “What’s he going to wear tonight? What music is he going to play?” I do try as much as I can to just treat it like I’m just washing the dishes, and not giving a “performance.” When I talk to my wife or my kids, it’s not for camera. I’m not lip-syncing for camera. I’m trying to do what I normally would be doing when I do the dishes. I don’t think of myself as a performer when I’m doing this, even though there’s thought behind it. 

One time it had a little more intention behind it, when I wore a kimono the night of the Parks and Rec special, where my character wore a kimono. People who didn’t watch the special probably just wondered what the fuck was up with the kimono. My wife’s friend texted her and asked if I was playing around with gender. I also thought it was funny when I stayed at a friend’s house in New Jersey for a few weeks, and noticed some comments about the cupboard being different, and some other different details that people noticed. 

BLVR: There is a mini-community that’s evolved out of this Instagram Feed. We collectively enter your kitchen, we see you doing an intimate, domestic chore that we all participate in from afar, we hear the familiar sound of the water, we see dishes handed to you sometimes by a family member’s hand, and we all feel for you when there is a glitch in the Instagram feed. Those moments when you laugh about something a family member has said off camera are really sweet, moving and oddly heartbreaking in the midst of this pandemic when so many of us are cut off from our own friends and families. How do these unexpectedly sweet moments feel for you, knowing people are watching and longing for the same familial connection? 

JG: Hahaha. “Mini-community” is right. But maybe you’ve hit on some reasons that I enjoy doing it, I don’t know. I think it has an entertainment value, just like the DJ sets. I think it’s funny, and that it has the potential to be a fun thing for people/friends to “hang out.” But I certainly get why anyone watching would think it’s lame. And that’s because it is. Why would anyone want to watch someone wash dishes while they listen to music? Is it simply that people want to connect somehow? Is it the novelty/joy/curiosity/insert-proper-term-here of seeing a recognizable person from TV wash their dishes? I guess this is a two-way interview now?

BLVR: Sorry, I can’t answer your questions. But is there a relationship between your marathon training and doing the dishes every night on Instagram? Both activities require endurance, fortitude, and a slight amount of sheer obsessiveness. Where do they overlap and where do they diverge? 

JG: Now you’re really reading too much into it. Or maybe you nailed it completely and I truly don’t know why I’m doing this, or anything else in my life for that matter.

BLVR: Have you always been the designated dishwasher in your family or has this been something you’ve volunteered to do during this period of quarantine? Is it something you ordinarily enjoy doing?

JG: My wife does all the cooking for the family, and I usually do most of the dishes, especially at night. So this is something I’ve been doing for awhile, and it’s something I usually do enjoy. I guess I’m super boring. If I wasn’t going out back when people went out, I found it a nice way to relax before bed, with some solo time, listening to music. Ten milligrams of weed gummies usually helps make it more enjoyable.

BLVR: Your method of washing dishes looks pretty sophisticated; you have a style and order for washing that appears very practiced and ritualistic. It’s clear you know what methods work best, like how to drip and pan with authority, suds up a cup, and wield a towel with the sureness of a pitcher using a rosin bag on the mound. Who taught you how to wash dishes? Do either of your parents excel at dishwashing? 

JG: Yes, I come from a long line of dishwashers. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather washed dishes on the Mayflower.*

BLVR: What kind of dish soap do you use? Why? 

JG: Some kind of environmentally friendly soap whenever possible. Because I care. Just like that brand If You Care. But it’s not that brand because the name is too annoying.

BLVR: What kind of sponge do you use? Why?

JG: Jesus, you’re making me look up my sponge? Fine. I know the details matter. Hold on, let me go look. Ok, I’m back. Scotch-Brite non-scratch scrub sponges. At least that’s what we have right now under the sink, and whatever sponge is in use right now is different. So I guess I don’t have one go-to brand.

BLVR: Your dishwashing reminds me of the endurance performances in some of the works of Vito Acconci, John Cage, Marina Abramavic, Andy Warhol, and so many others. The only comedian I can think of who approached this sort of obsessiveness is Andy Kaufman, who once read The Great Gatsby in its entirety to a crowd that gathered to watch him do comedy. Do you see this dish-washing project as part of this tradition in comedy and performance art?

JG: I wish I were that funny/smart/interesting and there was that much thought behind it. I certainly approached it from a comedy standpoint, as a response to the DJ sets, but didn’t/don’t think of it as performance art. It just seemed like something funny and fun to do during this bizarre time.

BLVR: What does your family think of your dish-washing project? 

JG: I think equal parts amused and annoyed. Mostly annoyed would be my guess. 

BLVR: When will this end? What is next?

JG: I don’t know, and I don’t know. 

*This is not true. 

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