When someone does something at the highest level, many assume that they will continue to do that thing or something exactly like it in perpetuity. After all, that’s the thing that they’re good at. For almost ten years on The Daily Show, Jason Jones was very good, but now he has taken on a very different challenge. As the co-creator (alongside his wife, Full Frontal host and fellow Daily Show legend Samantha Bee), sometimes writer, sometimes director, and star of TBS’ The Detour, Jones is trying to present a sitcom about families absent the typical saccharine sweetness. It’s a role that we’re not used to seeing him in despite previous forays as an actor, but it’s also one that he seems determined to nail.
In our interview with Jones, we discuss the spark behind the creation of The Detour (which has since been picked up for a second season), taking aim at family sitcom tropes, corrupting young minds, leaving The Daily Show behind, and the strain of staring at the news cycle day in and day out.
When you’re pitching this idea, how do you get around comparisons to National Lampoon’s Family Vacation, Little Miss Sunshine, and other family trip movies?
You know, I don’t think we get around it. I think we sort of embrace it, but celebrate the differences in it because there certainly are, and once people start to watch it, they’ll go, “Oh, this is familiar, but it’s completely different at the same time.” Then, especially where we’re going with the show — it’s a radically different change. A detour, if you will, from the expected.
Are there any road trip memories from your life that informed the idea of the show?
You know, growing up, my parents would take us down to Florida and those [trips] were always horrendous. It’s not so much they were bad, but they were just boring. Just being on the road was always boring. That’s kind of the idea behind this: it’s not about the journey, but it’s completely about the destination.
The show goes through a lot of life-changing conversations that parents are going to have with their kids. The daughter has her period for the first time, the son has his first crush. Any personal experience that you’re drawing from there as a father, or are you kind of horrified by the prospect of those things still?
No. No, not at all. We embrace those things as parents, both my wife and I. We had our “where do babies come from?” talk really early on. [Laughs] Probably too young with the kids, which led to obvious questions and that was a fun, awkward conversation that we embraced in that second episode when we’re in the garage talking about it. A lot of these really do come from our own personal lives, these types of conversations.
You guys handled it in such a unique way. I’m kind of curious about what other TV tropes you’re are looking to tackle in your own kind of way. And also, what kind of TV tropes you’re looking to avoid. I know you’ve said in the past that you guys really didn’t want to be a standard family sitcom.
Oh, God no. No, no, no. Basically, the idea behind this was, “Hey, I want a show about a family that I would like to watch and laugh at.” I don’t laugh at family comedies. But a comedy starring a family? I would absolutely laugh at. That’s what I created it for. It was for parents or for non-parents, or just kids who were part of that family or mature enough to laugh at this stuff. I wouldn’t expect children to watch this show, but certainly mine have seen some of it and find it funny. It wasn’t so much [that] we set out to sort of turn tropes on their heads, but if we ever encountered a trope, we would certainly do our best to find a unique way or angle in on it.
The kids on this show aren’t decorations. On some family sitcoms, the kids are just kind of there to say a precocious thing and then walk out of the room. This really feels like an ensemble.
I think it’s a true four-hander, in my opinion. I think you said it. Kids are appendages on so many family sitcoms. They’ll come in, they’ll make half a joke, and then they’re like, “Okay, gotta go to school” or “I’m going to my room.” And then you never see them again. It’s trusting… we found two terrific kid actors, obviously, but trusting these kids to pull off jokes was the big thing, or to land moments of truth. I think that they both did it exceptionally, exceptionally well.