Pittsburgh City Paper called comedian, writer and actor Joe Pera, whose Spring in the Midwest and Rust Belt tour is stopping in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 10 at the Carnegie Library in Homestead, to discuss performing in that area, do your research and what which is so funny about bodybuilders.
Although Pera has been doing stand-up since college, right now he is perhaps best known for his television show, Joe Pera speaks with you. Season 3 recently aired on Adult Swim and is available through various subscription streaming services. In the show, Pera plays a fictionalized version of himself, as a “soft-handed choir teacher who’s just in awe of Michigan’s geological splendor” in Marquette, a college town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His character is described in the new season as “a person of integrity who likes to describe things”, which fits well with the presentation tone of the show.
Pera’s humor and the humor of the show, which he has repeatedly called “community-created,” is unlike anything else on stage or screen right now.
“I love the franchise,” Pera told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a joke Dan [Licata] writing that unlocks a lot of humor: “You know what I like most about barbecue? The smoky flavor. [Laughs.] That’s literally it. [Keeps laughing.] There’s something so funny – it’s just stating a fact. [Still laughing.]”
Each 11-minute episode, with titles like “Joe Pera Makes You Sleep”, “Joe Pera Waits With You”, and “Joe Pera Reads Church Announcements to You” (which is an absolutely valuable piece about him hearing “Baba O “Riley” from The Who for the first time), begins with a direct address from Pera’s heavy, sweet, respectful small-town music teacher and often involves some aspect of the character’s in-depth knowledge of his hometown and Pera’s research interests are at the heart of the show, offering insight into everything from Canadian rat control to beans and, most recently, chairs.
In the series premiere, Joe Pera is in his living room giving us a presentation on the regional importance of iron when a family of five arrives to view his home, which mistakenly has a “For Sale” sign. on the grass . He decides the right thing to do is to honor the sign. Still holding his piece of iron, he shows them the house without telling them that he hasn’t put it up for sale.
Something about his earnest, unassuming presence, gentle, people-pleasing tendencies, and attention to the mundane details of the material world give him what I consider to be a distinctly Midwestern/Rust Belt-influenced masculinity, though Pera was reluctant to be in my area. generalizations.
Although Pera toured with Carmen Christopher, Christopher recently left the tour to pursue an exciting opportunity. Instead, Casey James Solango will appear with Pera in Pittsburgh.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Presumably, you could shoot anywhere in the United States. Why the Rust Belt and the Midwest?
It just worked. I love playing in Chicago and Milwaukee because we shoot the show there and have a group of friends and it’s just, I don’t know, it’s a nice place to be in the spring.
I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, honestly, but my friends Ed and Nick are there and I’ve been trying to make this show work for a while. I was super excited for it to finally happen, so I can see Nick and Ed. Pittsburgh is a bit off New York.
Do you think you have a particular resonance in the Rust Belt and the Midwest that you might not have in other parts of the country?
I hope the humor will translate, but I don’t know. I always prefer to use local details. The more specific, the better, I think, with acting and writing. I grew up in Buffalo, so I feel like those are the details I know best, based on my own experience. But I think everyone can relate to a lot of things, like the breakfast episode. There are different feelings about where you go to have lunch in different places, but this Saturday morning ritual, the routine, I think, is pretty general. The fact that I try to use local details makes it feel real to everyone, not just the people where the show takes place.
[The Midwest has] historical and cultural elements that overlap with Buffalo. So that translated, but it got me excited about looking for a new place. There was also the desire to place the show in a very cold and [Marquette’s] the main street sort of opens out from the base of Lake Superior, and it’s so expansive and the city sits against such an intense yet serene backdrop that it seemed thematically correct for the character and the show.
I was actually in Marquette the first time I saw Joe Pera speaks with you. It’s beautiful up there.
And why not set up the show somewhere where you can take some great outdoor photos? It’s just surrounded by beautiful nature. I learned that it’s hard to shoot [in nature]. And that’s why people don’t, but that’s what I wanted to see on TV. You know, when I sit down to watch something, I like watching the scenery as much as the show. I find that satisfying.
I love and really appreciate how clearly research is built into your work on the show. I wonder if and how you use search in your stand-up.
I try to make sure I’m aware of everything I’m talking about. With the TV show, the writers are kind of going to stop me and say, “That’s way too much detail to be compelling TV.” And when I’m writing new jokes, I’m going to find that, you know, there’s distances that the audience doesn’t go – they don’t want to listen to just facts on stage, so I have to cut a lot of jokes so they don’t provide only the necessary information. When you write or read a piece of journalism, it’s like you can sense that someone has done the research and knows what they’re talking about. So even though a lot of stuff gets cut, I want that feeling to stay, you know, I hope this guy knows more than he has time to present.
What are some of the facts or topics that come up in your stand-up these days?
I try to think of an example that is both funny and interesting. I’ve researched hermits, but haven’t found a way to summarize them a bit yet. I was kind of like free writing and development. There is a lot of interesting research on hermits. I was reading this book, can’t remember the name, it’s about the hermit who lived alone in Maine for 27 or 30 years without a campfire because he didn’t want to alert anyone he was living the low. I started there and just read about hermits all over the world and tried to figure out what to do with it, but it hasn’t come together as a concise element for the scene yet.
How do you find the joke among all the information you have gathered?
I think as a stand-up, I’ve developed a sense of knowing when the audience is starting to tune out. I’m on tour right now with Carmen Christopher, who’s a really funny guy. And just in conversation, when we talk, you can say what keeps your friends excited and interested.
We were excited to talk about the shame that bodybuilders have to tan and damage their skin. Just kind of a conversation like, “I fully support bodybuilding. Any damage caused by steroids may fade over time, but skin damage is irreversible. So we laughed about it. It’s a great way to do things on the road, talking to anyone, especially when you have a comedian friend, talking to them and having a laugh is how the best things are done.
Joe Pera, Spring in the Midwest and Rust Belt Tour. 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 10. Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, 510 E. 10th Avenue, Munhall.