Whether we wanted to or not, a good portion of us spent the last 18 or so months sitting on our asses, feeling safer staying put in one comfortable, hopefully virus-free space. The act of sitting isn’t something most of us think about because it’s so simple and quotidian. In true Joe Pera fashion, though, the comedian spends the first episode of season three of Joe Pera Talks With You contemplating this commonplace activity.
It’s classic Joe Pera to take an activity we think little of and mine it for both comedy and meaning. In “Joe Pera Sits With You,” he accompanies his older friend Gene to a furniture store to sample its wares before Gene makes an important purchasing decision—an outing based on Pera’s real-life interests.
“I don’t test drive cars like some people do for fun, but I will go into a furniture store every now and then just to see what’s going on, try out a couple chairs,” he tells me over Zoom in his characteristically soft-spoken way.
Originally from Buffalo, Pera came up through the New York City comedy scene. One of his fellow comics used to work at the New York Design Center in Manhattan.
“He had this office where he sold patio furniture, specifically outdoor furniture. And it was the funniest thing, I think they even had astroturf on the ground. He was just surrounded by this furniture all day and he could sit anywhere he wanted and I would go visit him,” Pera recalls.
Chairs and the act of sitting became a theme of the beloved Adult Swim show’s third season early on, not originally as a means of exploring the pandemic (the season takes place in 2018 and only vaguely alludes to oncoming doom), but the subject quickly took on more meaning. The magic of Pera’s comedy is his ability to reveal curious truths about human nature through examining that which others might overlook.
“People having preferences about chairs is a good show of personality, and it’s kind of ridiculous and practical at the same time. So don’t get me started, I could talk about it for a while,” Pera explains. Personally, his favorite chair is a blue-and-white checked recliner of his grandfather’s that now sits in a corner of his apartment.
For those of you wondering, talking to Pera isn’t all that different from a conversation with his fictionalized self. At one point I ask him where he is at the moment, and he tells me he’s in Costa Rica.
“I live here and do most of the writing and editing in Costa Rica,” he says. Partly thanks to my own gullibility and Zoom awkwardness, and partly because of his ever-sincere delivery, I believe him for half a minute before realizing it’s a bit.
The show itself follows Pera as a choir teacher in Marquette, Michigan, rather than his reality as a comedian in New York, because he found the latter idea to be pretty played out.
“A lot of my friends from school became choir teachers. I thought that that would be fun to explore,” he says.
Marquette occupies a special place in its heart, in part because of its similarity to his hometown of Buffalo. Pera loves being able to just go and take a hike if he likes, along with the plethora of breweries. He raves to me about the Portside Inn in the upper peninsula, describing a particularly good fish fry he had there with a Widowmaker beer that made him think, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
The placid enjoyment of quiet moments is part of what makes Joe Pera Talks With You so captivating, so Pera’s comfort activities feel particularly fitting: taking long walks, writing, listening to German classical/electronic artist Nils Frahm and watching YouTube videos of people fishing or building things.
One of Pera’s favorite pastimes is, obviously, performing comedy in front of a live audience, which he’s been savoring since comedy clubs have welcomed back crowds. Pera and his frequent collaborator Dan Licata have started doing their DVD Show at the Bell House.
“I appreciate [doing live stand up] a lot more. And the show has been extra special since we’ve been able to be back,” Pera says. He especially loves “being able to feel a live reaction, doing crowd work and just having a true experience with a live audience.”
While he enjoys being able to make a TV show, he sees value in the rough edges of stand-up—not polished specials (though he would like to make one), but those weekly shows where comedians continually workshop bits, stumbling over words and tweaking phrasing. Pera aims to make use of one of the pandemic’s few silver linings—greater event accessibility through online streaming—to engage people who live outside New York and other comedy hubs so they can also see that ongoing process.
“I’m hopeful and interested in trying to live stream the show so that you don’t have to live in New York to get that same experience,” he explains.
Wherever or not you live in the Big Apple, the third season of Joe Pera Talks with You will be hitting Adult Swim on Nov. 7. Just be sure you have a comfortable chair to enjoy it in.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.