Joe Pera Talks About Comedy, Blueberry Season and the Alberta Rat Wars

Joe Pera headlines at the Oriental Theater August 16.
Joe Pera headlines at the Oriental Theater August 16. Adult Swim
Fans of Adult Swim's absurd yet heartwarming series Joe Pera Talks With You are in for a treat when Joe Pera, Jo Firestone and Conner O'Malley's Blue Berry Tour lands at the Oriental Theater. Firestone and O'Malley are talented standups as well as writers who've been instrumental in shaping the show's utterly sui generis comedic voice, but there's something about Pera's good-natured awkwardness that makes every situation just a bit odder and funnier. In advance of the August 16 date, we encourage readers to do themselves a favor and binge-watch the whole first season — it won't take long; each episode is just eleven minutes long — and then seize the opportunity to see the three minds behind one of the of the most delightful shows on television.

To find out more about the tour and the show, Westword caught up with Pera — who had to delay the call so that he could continue listening to a cab driver's tale of breakup woes — and chatted about blueberries, the future of Joe Pera Talks with You and the Alberta Rat Wars.

Westword: Thanks for talking to me. Sorry to hear about that heartbroken cabbie.

Joe Pera: No, I think he'll be all right. Sorry it took so long to call you back.

The Denver show marks the final night of the Blue Berry Tour. Is there a story behind the name?

Well, we were thinking of names for a late-summer tour, and blueberries are in season. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that we all like fruits and vegetables a lot, and that the Blue Berry Tour just sounded good.

Speaking of blueberries: As the former Pancake Breakfast Critic, what’s your stance on the best pancake topping?

Topping? I like chocolate chips a lot. I like blueberry pancakes, too, but they can turn a little mushy on the griddle.

Whereas chocolate chips are nice and melty.


Why did you decide to shoot
Joe Pera Talks with You in Michigan — specifically, the remote Upper Peninsula?

There are a lot of reasons. It had a lot in common with Buffalo, where I'm from, but I really just like the location on Lake Superior. The show is kind of about an isolated guy, and the UP is a very isolated region. They also have hockey, and I'm fascinated by the shipping. They have a big harbor there that used to be even more active than it is today. So was mining. There's just a very particular type of person who lives there, and I thought it would be nice to feature them in the show. Also, the nature up there is beautiful, and it's also very cold. Which I like.

Do you think the character would work as well outside of the small-town context?

Yeah, I think so. There are music teachers everywhere. I can't imagine him in, say, Arizona. He belongs in a cold-weather region. Maybe in Buffalo or some other part of the Midwest. There is something special about Lake Superior; I've been there a couple times in the winter. It's just very vast.

How is the show version of “Joe Pera” different from your standup persona — apart from him being a Midwestern choir teacher and you being a comedian from New York?

I don't know...I guess I went to school with a lot of people who became choir teachers and it was a potential career path. But I guess the big difference is that I felt a desire to pursue comedy. That's the big difference. So, yeah, my profession and the fact I live in New York is what's different. The character has lived in Marquette this whole time.

The tone and pacing of your shows is unlike anything else on television; what draws you to create something so uniquely sedate and gentle-hearted?

I'm a pretty slow and methodical person, and so is most of the stuff that I do... . I don't think very fast, so it's easier for me to do comedy at a slower pace. I just make the comedy work at my own pace. There are a lot of very witty comics, and I don't do that. I like thinking about jokes for a while and taking my time to develop thoughts. It's comedy at the speed that I want to hear it.

Do you know if Adult Swim is going to order another season?

I can't say officially.

Your co-stars and co-writers Connor O’Malley and Jo Firestone are joining you for the tour; what made you want to hit the road with them?

We all happened to have free time at the same time, and it seemed like the right time. Jo left her writing job at The Tonight Show, and it just seemed like hitting the road in August with your best friends...that's the dream. I think you could say this for all of us, but Comedians of Comedy came out at an important time for all of us. We were developing as comedians, and we really loved it and would talk about it constantly. We're not trying to re-create that or anything, but I think why we got into comedy is so we could go see the country and do shows with our friends.I don't think it gets any better than that. Jo Firestone is in it for the money, though; you can put that down.

How do you think their sensibilities have shaped Joe Pera Talks with You?

Connor — he's very different in person. He's not as aggressive as a lot of his characters come across. But there's a different energy to the type of jokes he likes to do. Jo is closer to my speed. But Connor does love to yell in his comedy. So it's just a fun contrast. Plus, he's from Chicago and Jo's from St. Louis, so we're all kind of from somewhat similar backgrounds. We all get along, and I think that's what makes both the live show and the TV show interesting. And I think the live show will have pretty different styles while still being in the same ballpark. But I don't know; I'm interested to see what the audiences think. It's a little something different from the three of us, and hopefully that'll make the shows fascinating.

Do you have plans to shoot a standup special or any other upcoming projects that you’d like to mention before we start wrapping up the interview?

Honestly, I put a lot of things from my standup into the Adult Swim show. And part of the reason for doing the tour is to develop new material if we get another season. But I don't know — I like doing live shows. There's something a taped special can't really capture in quite the same way. Standup comedy is never quite the same each time, and I think you lose something when you're just watching a tape of it. That's why these live shows are really neat; right now I'm just interested in getting to go to all these different places.

Okay, one last thing: Any updates on the Alberta Rat Wars?

I think they still got all the rats out. They had a big scare in 2011, but they took care of it.

Joe Pera, Jo Firestone and Conner O'Malley will appear at the Oriental Theater at 8 p.m. Thursday, August 16; find tickets, $15 to $20, and learn more on the Oriental Theater's box-office page.
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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham