Q&A with Jason Jones, Comedy Central alum, star of "The Detour", and closet golfer
Season Three of “The Detour” debuts at 10:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday on TBS. This mature show about a family was created, written and executive-produced by arguably the funniest married couple in the biz. Samantha Bee and Jason Jones have three children together and were both correspondents on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”. But only Jones plays golf. The Canadian-born comedian has a unique take on the game despite his insistence that sports and humor don’t mix. Jones sat down with Golf Digest’s Max Adler to share his golf dreams and fears, as well as his formula for nailing any interview.
What’s your ideal round of golf?
Perpetual sunset and every hole includes at least one dramatic carry over a sea cliff. I’d also like to crack open an ice-cold beer on every hole. I wouldn’t finish it, because what I’m really interested in is that first perfect sip. I suppose there could be someone to drive around the opened beers on ice, as I don’t want to be wasteful, but I’ll walk because I like the exercise. I play fast, but I want the option to randomly stop and huddle with my playing partners to tell stories. So we might need to clear the tee sheet behind us a bit.
How’d you get into the game?
My uncle and cousin introduced me when I was very young, 6 or 7, but it wasn’t until theater school that I really got into it. All my actor buddies and I were waiters at night with tons of free time during the day. We’d all hang out at this outdoor bar that had volleyball, ping-pong, basketball, and a driving range. I loved the place. I helped my buddies with the basics, and then started taking lessons myself. I remember the pro informing me that I didn’t have a golf swing, but a golf hit. Which is probably still the case. My ball goes pretty far, but I don’t care about putting. I feel like once you hit the green, the game’s over. Which I guess is an odd attitude to have developed considering one of Toronto’s greatest assets was a par-3 course in the heart of the city. You could literally slice a ball onto the main highway of bars and restaurants. The course was just an interim project while money was being raised to build condos—it’s now been paved over. But for a while it really set the city apart. Golf, along with snowboarding in the winter, got me through 10 lean years of trying to make it as an actor.
What was your main ambition at the start of your career?
The big thing as a young actor was to land a commercial. You’d only get a small fee for the day of filming, but if you got lucky and the commercial aired for several months in the United States, the check for the residual could be something like fifty grand, or more. It happened to people I knew, and they quit waitering, but it never happened to me. My big break came in 2005. My wife, Samantha Bee, had been on "The Daily Show" for about a year and a half. The deal with the audition was, you pretty much had to do an impression of Stephen Colbert doing an impression of Stone Phillips, pompous news reporter guy. One of the producers was like, “Do I know you?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m Sam’s husband.” I figured there was no way I’d get the job, because they’d be concerned about office politics. But they gave me a chance.
And you’d go on to set the Daily Show record for field reports at 118. How’d you enjoy all that travel?
Loved it. All I wanted was to get airtime, so my hand was always first up to volunteer. Sure, I’ll hop on a plane to Russia, Iran, India, anywhere, and come back that night. Once the show won Emmys and started getting a little bloated, we’d schedule more days to “get our bearings and decompress.” But I never got tired of seeing new cultures up close. You see how our perceptions, based on our nation’s paper of record, are often just totally wrong. Most of us don’t realize how beholden we are to the narrow and subjective views of one or two reporters. The hard thing was, whenever I found an interesting person, I still had to make it a joke. The formula was, ironically agree with the person whose take you don’t agree with, and ironically disagree with the person you agree with. If a subject was smart and started parsing their language, I had to end the interview right then. The goal was always to find people who weren’t aware of their own hypocrisy.
As a golfer, why haven’t you done any bits involving golf?
I’m of the fundamental belief comedy and sports don’t mix. I was once hired to do this thing for NFL Today, where I played a super fan living in his mom’s basement who gets to interview players. The first one I did was with Steven Johnson, the wide receiver for the Bills, and the bit was me insulting him and him getting mad. Johnson loved it, I loved it, but the guys at the desk—Warren Sapp, Kurt Warner, Deion Sanders—hated it. Rich Eisen pulls me aside and asks if I might do it shorter. The clip was only two minutes to begin with! Sports fans want stats, talking points, prognosticators prognosticating, people saying the right things and being gracious. Whenever a producer says, let’s inject a little humor, it never works. The fan base doesn’t want it.
Some notable comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, have sworn off performing on college campuses because they say the environment has become too politically correct. Do you agree?
We still technically live in a free speech society, which doesn’t mean everything should be said. We had a joke in "The Detour" last season—the plot was our family was living in a trailer park as outsiders, and there’s this moment where I get clocked in the nose and accidentally wipe a swastika-looking thing in blood on my white tank top. At the same time, my wife is fixing the door behind me with starred children’s tape and it ends up looking like a Confederate flag. In the Obama era, it was taboo and funny. But after Charlottesville and some other recent events, that’s not funny anymore. Times change, language changes, and you can’t stay rooted. If you’re fixed in any position, you’re a dinosaur and you will die. That’s my gentle advice to guys who are way richer for me.
Probably time to take this in a lighter direction. How much golf you playing these days?
With three kids, not nearly enough. When we shot season two of The Detour in Atlanta, my two producers and one of the writer assistants and I would go to TopGolf every night. My biggest problem is, I don’t know anybody. I should be hitting up this huge network of celebrity friends to host me at their private clubs around New York City. But the truth is, I mostly just hang with my family. The last time I was on a golf course I went sledding with my son.
What is your greatest fear?
Being perceived as an elitist because I play golf. Seriously, the game could do itself a favor and drop the whole dress code thing. I can almost see it in certain restaurants, because we’re all here together in this same room, though even then it’s ridiculous when the maître d' gives the $20 junk loaner blazer to a guy in $300 jeans. But on the golf course we’re all miles apart. You can’t even see each other.
What is your greatest golfing achievement?
When I was 22 or 23, I had a hole-in-one on that par-3 course in Toronto. It was 102 yards. I was pretty drunk, and I remember sticking my chest out and thinking, “How many holes-in-one does Tiger Woods have anyway?” The euphoria of that perfect shot, it keeps you going through all the crap. I just want to hit that one shot and have the three people I’m playing with cheer, and then the lawn chairs come out and we all sit down and enjoy a beer and watch the ocean crash.