Joe Pera: The Alt-Comedy Of Manners

A Lazy River of Smart, Heartwarming Humor

My friend once asked me if I ever noticed how the shows on Adult Swim get weirder the later you stay up. I did. The shows range from avant-garde, to grossout, to Eric Andre (who gets his own classification.) And then there’s Joe Pera Talks With You, a show that’s totally weird but mostly because of how much it deviates from anyone’s preconceptions of what a “weird show on Adult Swim” is or can be.

For other shows on the Adult Swim block, I might keep my bong at wedged-between-my-legs length, but when Joe comes on, I know I can set down my drugs and enjoy a natural high. It’s a late-night show I could handle before noon with a cup of coffee. Each episode features a lightly-fictionalized version of Joe Pera, the stand-up persona, as he talks about a different quaint topic ranging from “Iron,” to “Hiking,” to “The Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada (1950-Present Day),” the latter being my favorite episode.

It’s intentionally boring, but they embrace that as part of the joke and charm. The humor is so dry, sometimes it’s like watching paint dry, but in a good and funny way. When the paint finally dries, you step back and say, “Hey, that’s a nice house.”

Pera presents the show as as one-topic, stand-alone episodes. Though watching them in order slyly sneaks in arcs and a large scope of small-town worldbuilding for an 11ish minute program about a city in Michigan that’s so Upper-Peninsular, you can’t even point to it on your hand.

It has the feel of something in the combined realm of public access, the SNL’ “Delicious Dish” sketch, and a locally-produced travel show. He’s like a man with the interests of Ron Swanson, but much less venom or vice. He never punches down, to the point where I think Pera has never even thrown a punch in his life.

I first noticed his slow-burn in this before-the-series short with the premise that he’s literally trying to talk to you to sleep. As I scrolled through the YouTube comments, the overwhelming positivity surprised me. I thought surely carrying the Adult Swim banner might get negative attention from some of the less-savory fanbase members of, well, almost any other show on the network. It looks like Pera won over most viewers by the end, if not sooner. Instead of wanting to bang on a McDonald’s counter over Szechuan sauce, watching Joe Pera makes me want to go plant a tree. Speaking of trees, I know I’m a month late, but I feel so strongly about his holiday special Joe Pera Helps You Find The Perfect Christmas Tree” that I’ll still recommend it in January.  It’s still the only thing to date on Adult Swim that’s made me tear up.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joe Pera’s standup cred. I’ve seen him live twice, both times at a dingy punk club in Boston where you wouldn’t expect a thirty-something Mr. Rogers comedy act to fit in. Pera didn’t change anything about his pacing or material. He made a bunch of punks drinking $4 PBR tall boys laugh at jokes you could mostly tell to your kids. It’s sometimes assumed that comedians would mostly associate with other comedians that have similar styles, or that comedy clubs should create line-ups that way. Both times, Joe performed with a line-up of great comedians with a full range of comedic styles and all collaborate on his TV show in various ways:

  • Dan Licata wrote “Joe Pera Reads You The Church Announcements,” one of the most praised and talked about episodes. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of low culture and uses it on one of the funniest look-at-your-own-risk Twitter accounts I’ve ever seen: @danlicatasucks
  • Jo Firestone nails the comedy and dramatic moments, giving the show’s best acting performance as Sarah, Pera’s fellow music teacher/bunker survival enthusiast.
  • Connor O’Malley plays the perfect foil as the unhinged patriarch of Joe’s neighbors, the Melskys, when he’s not putting other comedic irons in the fire as a writer for Seth Meyers or playing the super horny driver on I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.

I could talk about this for as long as Joe Pera could talk about Canada, but with almost two whole seasons to watch, I wouldn’t want to keep you from viewing them any longer.

John Tullar

John Tullar writes questions for Geeks Who Drink Pub Quizzes, contributed to their "Duh" book, and is currently appearing in this bio. He is originally from Tucson, but many doubt he ever existed at all.

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