‘So beautiful I almost had tears’: the comedy and wonder of Joe Pera | Television
Joe Pera wanders around New York City, patiently enduring the kind of technical calamities that cause investigators to wake up in a cold sweat. I apologize and apologize again, but he is unfazed. “It’s okay,” he reassures me in his familiar soft, hesitant voice. “I’m watching a beautiful sunset.”
It’s a perfect answer. Since his debut Adult Swim special Joe Pera Tells You About Sleeping in 2016, Pera has painstakingly crafted a comedy unlike anything else. His series Joe Pera Talks With You – which is set to return for a third season on All 4 – is a hushed, polished wonder. Pera, playing a fictionalized version of himself, guides the viewer through some of his favorite subjects; they are mundane on the surface, but presented with an air of wondering silence. There’s an episode called Joe Pera Takes You on a Fall Walk, and another called Joe Pera Watches Internet Videos with You. The second season, which aired just before the pandemic hit, contained an extended arc about growing and caring for a bean ark.
A show like this, where a New York comedian indulges in small-town life, always has the potential for the comic to indulge in snobbery. But what’s amazing about Joe Pera Talks to You is that he never loses sight of the dignity of his subjects, and that comes down to Pera himself. His commitment to the character is total, in that when you google him, one of the first questions you ask yourself is “How is Joe Pera in real life?”.
It’s hard to answer. Pera is protective of his personality, not revealing his age (although Wikipedia puts it at 33) or much about his personal life. Talking to him, you sense that the TV version of Joe Pera is just an extension, rather than a total invention, of the real Joe Pera. Its careful, polished cadences are exactly the same, and in a recent podcast interview, writer Jo Firestone — who plays Pera’s doomsday prepper love interest — suggested the episodes often stem from Pera’s real-life obsessions. So where is the line between character and performer?
“I didn’t want to do a show about another comedian doing stand-up comedy in New York,” he explains. “There’s already Seinfeld and a million other shows for that. I thought about the guys I went to school with who became music teachers, and I thought I could have been too. So I went along with this line of, ‘What if I had done this instead?’. I don’t know, I think there should be more shows about choir teachers in middle school.
But what if you did a series about yourself as a New York comedian, I ask. Would the character of this show be very different from the one we are watching now? Pera laughed – a laugh, then three seconds of silence, then another laugh, then another three seconds of silence, then another laugh – before slowly tying himself up in knots.
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I think I’ve met some great people who do comedy, and I also think there’s a lot of people with open mics who are real characters who deserve their own show. I don’t think there has been handled entirely correctly.He then goes on a long, cautious tangent about a documentary he has already watched.Finally, crisis averted, the matter is so distant that we can take a new path.
I was sent three episodes of the new season to watch and, with the exception of Joe Pera Sits With You – an episode about buying a chair so beautiful it almost made me cry – Pera him -even is a peripheral figure. One episode centers on Mike Melsky, a troubled character played by Connor O’Malley of I Think You Should Leave; the other involves Pera listening to his girlfriend drunkenly tell a story. Is he deliberately aloof?
“Yeah,” Pera replies. “Maybe it’s me who bores me, but I also think that even in the small town where it’s set, there are so many other people to explore. I’m fascinated by other kinds of humor, different characters and different points of view, and I want to grow the show that way.
The new series is also very slightly darker than before. At one point, a character is very careful to announce that it’s still 2018 and all is well, and later the Firestone character begins to mutter darkly about unseen terrors looming on the horizon. Joe Pera Talks With You is such a sweet show, and you end up feeling protective of the characters, to the point that the thought of something bad happening to them is too much to bear. I ask Pera, more out of concern than curiosity, if the season will end in disaster. “I don’t know,” he hesitates. “I don’t want to spoil anything.”
The new worldbuilding also hints at a slight shift in Pera’s sentience. “I don’t know about you, but the last year I’ve been craving TV and movies that were a little less dry,” he says of his budding love for broader comedy. “I found a lot of fun in Dumb and Dumber.”
Here I have to disagree, because Joe Pera Talks With You was the perfect lockdown show. He’s so small and shy and full of decency that it’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up in him. When things go wrong, it acts like a force field against the real world. This is partly due to the soundtrack by Ryan Dann. “It’s the soul of the show,” says Pera. “Ryan inspires me to write better stuff to match his music” – but that’s also due to the soothing presence of Pera himself. I quote another review to her, calling the show an “ASMR comedy.”
“I appreciate that,” Pera says, sounding as frustrated as she can be, which is still barely frustrated, “but ASMR is about something else. I think it’s about relaxation and being comfortable. I never want to forget, as a comedian who has to keep a live audience in mind, I never want the jokes to be less than crisp. It’s easy to do comfortably these days. Just play some good music and showing beautiful images. But it’s also a comedy, and I take that very seriously.
He also seems to take craftsmanship very seriously. The comedian recently made a video with Townsends, an 18th-century revival YouTube channel where you can learn how to dye fabric using ancient American techniques or how to make an inkwell out of clay. Like Joe Pera, the channel is slow, tactile and earnest. Pera’s video, in which he creates a three-legged stool using old iron instruments, is essentially a bonus episode of Joe Pera Talks With You. I’m impressed with his skill in woodworking, so I ask him if he had any previous experience in furniture making, but for some reason it shuts him up. “I don’t want to spoil the end of the season,” he stammered. “But yes, I know how to make a chair.”
Maybe Pera is right to be so protective of himself. Part of the reason people feel so attached to him and his work is that his fanbase grows largely through word of mouth. People tend to find out about it because a like-minded friend recommended it, and they in turn pass on its work to their friends. As a result, it still feels like a discovery. When people fall in love with Pera, they fall hard.
“People watched the last season of my show and they started sending me pictures of bean arches they built,” he reveals, looking genuinely amazed. “It was the best thing that could have happened. And the best real-world response to any kind of art is to have people build bean arches and find out how much fun that is. is growing your own beans. If you do that, you’re doing something wrong.
As the conversation ends, long after our agreed cut-off point, I again apologize and wish Pera a good evening. “You too,” he said, “Even if it’s getting late where you are, probably.” It’s 10 p.m., I tell him. As soon as this call is over, I’m going to bed. “Perfect,” he replies with a warm, familiar laugh. “I think my main audience is people who go to bed at 10 p.m..”