When a comedian tries to play a character on stage, that character usually has an over-inflated ego or is some larger-than-life specimen whose presence demands your attention by yelling into a mic or speaking with a self-appointed authority and importance. It's just a rule.
Comedian Joe Pera is the complete opposite. He speaks softly and doesn't carry a big stick. And he can still command an audience's attention.
"It's just about good-quality jokes that hit hard, because when I'm talking at a slower pace instead of doing as many jokes as I can, I give five good ones that hit really hard," Pera says. "It's about being economical with words, so I think it's just about making sure that the writing is high-quality."
Pera is currently in the "Fall Everywhere Else" wing of his Summer in the Midway and Rustbelt Tour Part III (Fall Everywhere Else). It will bring him to the Texas Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 15, for two shows, the first of which is already sold out.
Pera is a uniquely clever writer with a brave delivery who doesn't try to punch you in the face with his comedy. He's a rare laid-back, shy and soft-spoken comic who delivers material that celebrates our commonalities rather than our differences, and in a way that makes him endearingly charming.
Pera started writing jokes in high school in his hometown of Buffalo, New York (another perfect touch for Pera's soft spoken persona), with his friend and comedian Dan Licata. The two decided to pursue a life of stand-up on the road after seeing the Comedians of Comedy documentary, the title of which is a play on the "______s of Comedy" trope of live comedy screenings in movie theaters, featuring alt comedians Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford and Brian Posehn.
"I remember watching that in high school and thinking traveling around and doing stand-up with friends seemed like the best existence possible," Pera says.
One mind-blowing chunk of Pera's set, in which he tries to help an audience fall asleep while telling jokes, attracted the interest of Adult Swim, the late-night comedy cable network that airs alternative and animated comedy programs like The Eric Andre Show and Metapocalypse. He produced a 10-hour ASMR-ish animated video called Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep that racked up millions of views and led to three seasons of his critically acclaimed show Joe Pera Talks to You. "We did a short animation for them and that turned into a Christmas special, so we made it live action and about Christmas trees and how to pick the perfect Christmas tree and that springboarded into a show," Pera says. "It seemed like a test along the way, and when the audience seemed to like it, they gave us bigger projects."
Joe Pera Talks to You stars Pera as a fictionalized version of himself. Instead of being a stand-up comedian in New York City, Joe Pera the character works as a music teacher in a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Each show has a theme like rocks and minerals, grocery shopping or simply reading church announcements.
In one episode, Pera hears The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" for the first time and exposes his audience to a life-changing moment that most music fans experience just as they begin to comprehend their musical tastes but may have forgotten. In another episode, Pera revisits his Talks You to Sleep video by trying to talk you Back to Sleep. He muses on the sound of raindrops hitting a window and why he believes "that you shouldn't waste kinetic energy."
The Adult Swim show rolls out like a toned-down Pee Wee's Playhouse with characters that come and go from Pera's life each episode, like the short-tempered and sarcastic suburban dad and husband Mike Melsky. Melsky is played by Pera's friend and fellow comedian Conner O'Malley, who seems like the polar opposite of Pera in every way.
"We have some similarities in how we grew up and what we found funny," Pera says. "It sounds like an anecdote. We met up to write and get coffee and he brought his own thermos of coffee to a coffee shop. And we hit it off right away."
The show made a noticeable mark in its time. Late-night host Stephen Colbert saw a couple of episodes during its first season and loved it so much that he invited Pera to do an extended interview on The Late Show in which they mostly talked about buying food and eating breakfast. Colbert introduced Pera by calling his show "one of the funniest and most beautiful things I've seen in a long time."
Right now, Pera is back on the road prepping material for a new special that he says he'll start recording early next year. It will also feature live music from Ryan Dann, the composer for Pera's Adult Swim show.
"His music is such an important part of the show," Pera says. "That's kind of a new addition that I'm working on, but I'm always doing new jokes throughout the show to make it better, and Dan and I also do some local jokes for each show to make its specific, so every stop is a little different."
Pera says he's excited to do a show in Dallas because he's never performed here and the "only time I was in Dallas, I was in for a funeral."
"When I haven't done it in a while, it gets scary again because it's kind of a ridiculous thing to talk out on stage and be listened to when you have the time to think how ridiculous it is," Pera says. "It gets a little nerve-racking when you're doing shows every night on tour, you get a rhythm and the nerves aren't there quite as much."
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE...
Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune,Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.