On the bio posted on the NBC website for Undateable, the new sitcom on which he stars as Burski, a dufus who hangs out at the bar frequented by the show’s loveable losers, comic Rick Glassman says he moved from Northeast Ohio to L.A. in 2008 to become a “Jewish heartthrob.” So how’s that working out?
“Fine,” says a sarcastic Glassman over coffee last weekend when he was in town for an interview on the local NBC affiliate. “It’s working out fine. I realize I’m never going to be a heartthrob. I wanted to find a niche. It’s a little too broad. I need to find something more specific. Maybe a Cleveland Jewish heartthrob who has a marketing degree.”
For Glassman, who graduated from Kent State with that aforementioned marketing degree, the climb to sitcom star has been a slow one. Initially, he made a series of webisodes (thatguyandhisfriend.com) and worked the local comedy clubs with the hope that someone would catch his act.
Last year, he got a break and was one of 22 comedians around the country to be invited to perform at the New Faces showcase at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
“It’s a really cool festival,” he says. “They audition comedians around the country. You do a set and then if they like it, they call you back. It’s either two or three auditions. I did two. My set is online. I remember it, but when people ask me about it I have a hard time explaining it. I’m still trying to explain what I do. That’s not because what I do is so great. It’s because I have no idea what I’m doing. It went really well. I was really happy about it. On the same showcase as mine, there was Andrew Santino who’s on Mixology and he did Punk’d. And the other guy was Brooks Wheelan who just got on SNL. It’s good company.”
He’s also in good company on Undateable, a show that features other standup comics Brent Morin, Chris D'Elia, David Fynn and Ron Funches. Executive producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) saw Morin and Glassman performing at the Hollywood Improv and befriended them, inviting him to join his basketball league. Glassman, who played high school hoops at Orange High School, was game.
“I did everything I could do to get in a game with him,” he says. “Brent and started playing ball with him for a few months. I didn’t even know about [Undateable]. After a few months of playing ball, he emailed us directly. He wanted to contact our agents so we could audition for the show. At the time, I didn’t even have an agent. “
Glassman and Morin auditioned numerous times before landing roles.
“We would drive together all the time,” he says. “We were both cast. Then Ron was cast and then Bill liked the idea of stand up comics being showcased in front of a live studio audience, which we do every night. It’s in front of a live audience. Bill just works with the people he likes. As long as they don’t stop Bill from shooting his threes. His show creating experience is a little more successful than his three-pointers but he takes just as many shots.”
Glassman’s role is essentially to deliver a few choice one-liners like an uncle who tries too hard to be funny. It might seem easy, but timing is everything, and Glassman admits that making the jokes sound natural isn’t simple.
“It is difficult,” he says. “Some of the episodes, I’m carrying some stories. When you don’t have story and your only job is to throw a little color in, it’s very difficult. It’s not my style of standup. I’m not just a one-line kind of guy. It’s hard. I think it’s a good thing. It’s a skill set that is important to have. I found myself getting better at it as the show went on. Luckily, I’m with a group that wants us to improvise and put our own voice into it. If I get a joke, I can make it funnier if given the opportunity. When it’s not just about getting a laugh but serving a context, it’s a lot easier. When you’re throwing out lines, it’s trying to hit a home run. Ron [Funches] only knows how to hit grand slams and it’s tough being opposite him.”
Initially, his wardrobe was to include funny T-shirts but he nixed that concept.
“One of them said ‘fart now loading,’” he says. “I thought that would get old by act 2. They made my wardrobe so cool. It’s on par with what the character is representing. For a multi-cam show, most of the characters aren’t fleshed out by the end of the first season. If there are character traits that aren’t defined, you don’t need to hammer them home by making them dress that way. What I really like about my character is that he’s definitely nerdy but there’s something cool about him. You didn’t know he’s not cool. If you see him, you see he’s wearing a dope sweater; it looks fitted. Once he opens his mouth, you realize he just dresses cool.”
The show, which airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 p.m., is set in Ferndale, Michigan and in one episode, the guys make a few jokes about Detroit. Since Glassman is from Cleveland, it’s easy to relate.
“Yeah, my family are huge sports fans,” he says. “My dad and [former Detroit Piston] Bill Laimbeer are good friends. I went to as many Pistons as Cavs games. I love basketball, but I don’t have a strong point of view against other teams.”
In part because most of the action takes place in a bar, the show has a real Midwest sensibility and comes off a bit like The Drew Carey Show.
“I wasn’t around when Bill was pitching the show,” says Glassman, who still keeps close ties to Northeast Ohio and mentions long-time friend Jeff Karp in all the interviews he does. “But when I’ve heard him talk about how he pitched it, one of the things he says is that he wants to make Detroit one of the characters in the show. All of the guys are underdogs and there’s even an episode when they rename the bar Underdogs. We all represent being underdogs. They’re all hard-working and loveable and really good friends. On the outside, they’re losers. Detroit and Cleveland are these underdog towns so it paints that picture of who these people are.”
Glassman says since “nothing is official,” he can’t talk about other upcoming projects he has in the works. But he continues to keep busy as he and his co-stars wait to hear if the show will be renewed for another season.
“I’m still making videos online,” he says. “I’m writing everyday. I’m doing standup. I try to get up every day and write. I’m writing other projects. The web videos are something that I could do when I wasn’t working, so it really helped.”