Joe Pera talks with EW: Why Adult Swim's gentlest comedy is essential, beautiful viewing
Do you enjoy hikes, fall drives, going to breakfast, and the joyful, electrified feeling you get upon hearing a great song for the first time? If so, Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks With You might be the show for you.
And even if not, it still might be. It’s hard, and perhaps diminishing, to capture in words the experience of watching this comedy series (which returns for its second season tonight, Dec. 6, at midnight ET), despite its straightforward premise: A choir teacher in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Pera, a New York-based comedian playing a fictionalized version of himself) explores a variety of topics with frequent tangents, and with the directly-addressed audience along for the gentle, yet laugh-filled, ride.
“I’ve been trying to explain it as CBS Sunday Morning if hosted by a choir teacher who sometimes gets distracted, and also has got jokes,” Pera tells EW.
These are both painful clichés, but Joe Pera Talks With You truly is unlike anything else on TV, and really is best explained simply by watching it, which you can do, for free, on Adult Swim’s website. It contains multitudes within its 11-minute runtimes: a portrait of small-town Americana, a socially awkward love story, a window into one man’s mind. It’s also startlingly sincere, especially considering it shares a network with such chaotic programming as The Eric Andre Show and Rick and Morty. And it’s an earnest attempt by its creator to share his personal tastes and interests, even as episodes often diverge from — or rather, go beyond — their ostensible topics.
“All the subject matter in the series is something that I got very excited about at one point or another,” Pera says. The season 2 premiere, aptly titled “Joe Pera Talks With You About Beans,” came about as one might expect: “I just started really enjoying reading about beans.”
Pera was a fixture of a certain sector in the comedy scene for several years, with such projects as MTV’s Pancake Breakfast Critic, before two Adult Swim specials — the animated Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep and the series’ spiritual predecessor Joe Pera Helps You Find the Perfect Christmas Tree — secured his place at the network. His character on Talks With You is not far removed from the soft-spoken, slightly awkward persona of his standup, and it’s not unusual to wonder how much of that persona is genuine. “I guess you could hang out sometime if you wanna see if it’s different,” he quips when asked about this. But speaking with the comedian, it seems there’s only mild exaggeration going on.
“A lot of times, I think, the show is what it’d be like if I became a music teacher instead of a comedian. That’s all,” Pera says.
None of this is to say that Pera is the hard-driving auteur of the series. Watching different episodes, you might notice that each feels distinct in ways beyond subject matter: The soothing, somewhat documentary-esque “Joe Pera Talks You Back to Sleep,” for instance, aired back-to-back with the exuberant short film that is “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements,” in which Pera can’t contain his enthusiasm after hearing The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley” for the first time. That diversity is thanks to such creative voices as Pera’s longtime collaborators Jo Firestone and Conner O’Malley, both of whom also act on the show.
“Each [episode] kind of comes differently and also is approached a little differently by each of the writers, who all have their own strong comedic voice,” Pera says. “They have different approaches to the style of the show, and I think that makes [the episodes] all feel different, which is something I’m proud of.”
That blend of voices extends to individual jokes, which mix absurd non sequitur, dry wit, and cringe comedy with plenty of straight-faced wholesomeness. (The writers are experts at doling out hilariously jarring lines like, “Hello, Joe. Please, don’t come over here.”) “Some writers like Conner and Dan [Licata, who wrote “Church Announcements”] are into a little bit bigger types of comedy. They can write all styles, but they like harder jokes and are good at writing those,” Pera explains. “And then a writer like Jo Firestone is better at writing real people and emotional stuff.”
Perhaps that’s why Joe Pera Talks With You is such a pitch-perfect blend of uproarious and heartwarming, a blend the second season looks likely to maintain. In addition to exploring more of the host’s favorite topics du jour — the aforementioned beans, lighthouses, a road trip to Milwaukee, going to the grocery store — Pera teases a turning of the spotlight to other denizens of the show’s charming Michigan setting.
“It grows the story a little bit, and more characters start to play a bigger role, and you kind of get a glimpse into the supporting characters’ lives,” he says of the upcoming crop of episodes. “Letting them have more screen time was more fun for me. And writing for the others is just so much fun.” (It’s the kind of disarmingly wholesome statement Pera might make on the show as well.)
If any of this has piqued your curiosity, the good news is the series is short, easy to access, and makes for a perfect holiday-season watch on top of everything else. If it’s not your thing, Pera gets it — “Some people say it’s a little dry, or too slow, and I understand that,” he says — but its many flavors of comedy hold something for everyone, and an experience that has the ability to make you laugh, cry (don’t underrate the tearjerking power of a Jack-o-lantern funeral), learn something, and just maybe look at the mundane with wide-eyed wonder, is as rare as someone who’s never heard “Baba O’Riley.” So if you have 11 minutes to talk with Joe Pera, he’d love to talk with you.