Joe Pera Talks With You is unlike any other Adult Swim show. While Rick And Morty and The Eric André Show thrive with brash, boundary-pushing characters and trippy aesthetics, Brooklyn-based comedian Joe Pera’s series is a soothing and remarkably heartfelt gem.
At a surface level, the show has the same effect as an ASMR or meditation video, with Pera breaking the fourth wall, telling the audience in his gentle voice about a mundane topic, like growing a bean arch, or picking what to eat for breakfast. But at its core, the series is about finding fulfillment and taking joy in small things in life, while processing emotionally challenging situations and learning how to adapt.
It would be too simplistic to refer to Joe Pera Talks With You as merely a comfort show. Unlike TV series like Ted Lasso that push wholesomeness in a way that can feel forced, Joe Pera Talks With You feels genuine. During a Q&A at the premiere of the first four episodes of the new season, Pera and the show’s director Marty Schousboe discussed wanting to write characters who are neither “good” or “bad,” but realistic and nuanced.
Though the series debuted in May 2018, it gained a wider fanbase in the past year, as viewers craved escapism and comfort during such a harrowing time. Now the immensely positive reaction to Joe Pera Talks With You has also led to Pera and Dan Licata (one of the show’s writers) consistently selling out their recurring comedy show at Brooklyn’s Bell House, and turned Pera into a micro-celebrity of sorts. The A.V. Club spoke to Pera about the challenges of making season three during the pandemic, and what fans can expect from the new episodes.
The A.V. Club: You made a big return to stand-up by bringing back the Dan Joe DVD Shows.
Joe Pera: Dan [Licata] and I are thrilled. We started the show in 2012 and I’ve had a couple of breaks. But yeah, it’s crazy to think that we were doing it for like, there are two people at our first show and then I don’t know, we had a lot of attendances of like 12 people, 10 people. And now to do it at the Bell House… I think people are just super-excited to see live stuff again. We feel very, very lucky to be able to have that now. But it’s been going since election night in 2012; that was our first one.
AVC: It’s usually sold out to the point where people have to stand because there aren’t enough seats for them, and it seems like each show has even more people. It’s usually the same folks returning every week, too.
JP: By the time of the end of our run at the distillery [N.Y. Distilling Company], it was nice because we see a lot of the same people at least a couple of times a month. And there were a couple times like people have romances and stuff and we’d connect them; guests on the show started to form their own community. It was a really nice thing, and I like the idea of it happening [again], people sticking around and drinking beers in the house and getting to know other people just because they came to the show.
AVC: Your fanbase also grew so much during pandemic, so it’s been amusing to see how Joe Pera Talks With You’s following has led to Dan Joe DVD Show also becoming massive.
JP: Yeah, people have been emailing and said that [Joe Pera Talks With You] was helpful and I’m really happy it could function in that way. After we finished season two, I didn’t get to do much stand-up; I had a bunch of shows planned [that were canceled because of the pandemic]. So this is kind of like the first time I’ve truly been doing stand-up since COVID, so it’s like a bunch of seasons worth of fans now that are coming out regularly. A stand-up comedian getting to have a regular audience in New York City is the best.
AVC: You’ve spoken in other interviews about getting messages from healthcare workers, who said Joe Pera Talks With You helped them throughout the pandemic. How does it feel to know that your show’s been so impactful during such a dark time?
JP: Some people who work in hospitals said that they watched the relaxation special that I did early on in the pandemic to help them wind down after a day at the hospital. It wasn’t like a thousand people; it was a good handful who said that it was helpful, and that was very neat to hear that it could be helpful for them.
AVC: Last season introduced grief as one of the main themes. With the pandemic being such a big part of the past year and a half, are there going to be some similar topics to grief being explored for season three?
JP: I think the characters are still dealing with the grief from the past season. And [this season] is more about where do you put that energy and how do you rebuild and find something—not to replace, but worth building a life around again when so much was based on the family that [fictional Joe] had that he doesn’t have anymore. I don’t want to give it to anything away for anybody who hasn’t watched any of the show before. But yeah, it’s a different kind of thing. The surface level thing [of this season] is his interest in sitting and finding the right chair across the seat.
AVC: So, sitting is going to be the big theme this season.
JP: It’s not quite as overt as the bean arch, but it’s kind of going on in his head the entire time; it’ll come up every once in a while.
AVC: Why sitting?
JP: I was just telling somebody earlier—we were talking about how funny it would be because we try and get into stuff that’s very specific, but also kind of universal. And at first glance, you can’t make this season or a show about sitting—but the trying to figure out how to and talking about sitting is just a funny thing to do. That’s why I think looking back now, I think it does maybe relate to the past year and a half. Especially since everybody did so much sitting, and they think that maybe in Gene’s search for a retirement chair was maybe me thinking about how much I’ve been sitting in my own chair for all of the year or so, that particular chair to write in and not having a wide variety of chairs as much as we usually do during the times when there’s not a pandemic. But that’s kind of the simple answer for why sitting; it was funny to think about.
AVC: What was the timeline for when you started working on this season? Did you write it all in the past year?
JP: Yeah, we started late June and and I don’t think anybody was in production at that point. We were writing and hoping that we’d be able to shoot. So it was kind of weird not knowing what even the constraints would be. We’d hoped that we’d be able to do it, period, while not knowing how things would function and what scale we’d be able to do it. So it was kind of a hard writing experience. It’s not as motivating to write when you don’t even know something could be shot. You don’t know what the world’s going to look like by the time you’re finished [writing].
AVC: It’s probably very difficult to figure out what works and what doesn’t when you can’t be in the same room with the other writers, and you’re not even sure if you’ll get to the production point.
JP: Yeah, it was hard. I test out a lot of jokes from scripts in standup. So not being able to do that throughout the writing process was kind of tough, to not hear any audience feedback… it was really strange to completely do it [without that help]. That’s why I don’t write novels: One, because I’m too dumb, and two because I like all the audience reinforcement along the way. So to not have that audience bounce or, you know, at least know that something works… like I read some of the monologues from other seasons at the [Dan Joe DVD] show I could tie them up, but it was just all on what the writers felt was best.
We screened the first episode where the show is filmed in Marquette last week, and to hear it played for a live audience was really incredible and it felt great. And yeah, the network’s allowing us to play new episodes at each weekly show at the Bell House for the next month. The high point of every season is having the premiere screening and watching them with the live audience because it’s the best feeling in the world, especially in stand-up, to get.
AVC: The show has a small core cast, but it’s still a challenge for any production to film during COVID times. What was shooting season three like?
JP: It was a tougher shoot. We thought that we had finally learned well enough how to do it over the past two seasons and then truly, with COVID, it added another layer. It was tough. We could only have a certain amount of extras because they all had to be tested. For that reason, there’s not a ton of scenes in my choir class so all that was kind of—we knew it was off the table early. We had to air out the rooms every so often, so you lose momentum of performance, which was hard for the actors. And just the fear [of COVID].
It was just about halfway through, maybe three-quarters of the way through, everybody got vaccinated on the crew and it just changed everything, the whole mood for everybody to be safer. But I hope that everybody that worked on it is proud of what we did because I think it came out good.
AVC: It must’ve also been nice to leave New York for a bit after spending so much time in isolation, and working in person with everyone again after doing the pre-production process remotely.
JP: Yeah, and also just being able to go from there was a lot of people’s first jobs shooting again in production. And just to be able to work in a collaborative environment. Even beyond set, everybody was wearing a mask and testing, but it was still nice to be able to put in a day of work.
AVC: With the limitations of Zoom, what was the pre-production process like?
JP: We were sitting in adjacent apartments in Milwaukee, so it just slowed everything down. It was tough. I told somebody earlier that one of the things I realized was that because at the end of the shoot, we can go for a beer with everybody and start drinking. At first I was like, oh, this is nice, because then I don’t end up staying out too late at the end of each week, and I’m more tired than I already would be. But I kind of realized that that’s like when a lot of the communication between the crew happens, like the department head will find the producer that they may not have thought to call up. Or, you know, people are solving problems together while they’re having beer.
AVC: Are there any episode themes you can tease for this season?
JP: There’s a bunch of them in the trailer, like listening to your girlfriend’s drunk story when she comes home from wine night. And it treads a little different territory than the show has done before, which I thought was really fun to have that, but also allow another character to kind of narrate. Jo Firestone’s character, Sarah, had a moment last season. We kind of wanted to continue that.
There’s one about watching the NFC Championship with your neighbor’s extended family. There’s one about what videos and films are appropriate enough to show at school; [another episode is about] how to build a fire. We got that episode in the woods I’m excited for.
AVC: It seems like when you have episodes outdoors, they’re going to be big ones in the season’s story.
JP: They’re fun, and that’s part of the reason why we chose the Upper Peninsula to set the show is that we could shoot in the natural surroundings, which are so pretty up there and very unique.
AVC: The show has this ability of making city folks like us crave small-town living. Does it ever make you crave having that kind of slow-paced life again?
JP: Definitely. I think the show is probably an expression of some of our desires. I don’t want to portray it as some Midwestern fantasy, but people take their time a little bit more and stop to talk. I do get, I guess, an overlap of the show and reality. I get to spend that time in the Midwest while we’re making the show and I enjoy that time period, and I also like coming back to New York to do stand-up again. It’s very nice to have a balance right now.