People look to comedy shows as a way to take a break from the difficulties of everyday life. Since the inception of the comedy show, it has been used as a method to disappear into a world where things are just a bit less serious.
The same applies to stand-up shows. We go to shows to laugh, and in laughing we are finding ways to process the world. When a comedian shows us the humor in a situation, it helps us to see things in a new way.
Comedy shows have for a long time been mostly lighthearted. For years, the biggest comedy shows on television were a bit more light and fluffy. Going way back, we have shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick van Dyke Show, and All in the Family. Come a little closer to the present and you have shows such as Friends or The Brady Bunch.
Fast forward to today, and the most popular comedy shows are so much darker. Shows like Barry and Rick and Morty are some of the most popular comedies on television today, and even their lightest episodes delve far darker than Archie Bunker would ever go.
Sure, there have always been comedies with more serious tones, but the tones and settings of such shows have clearly changed dramatically as time goes on.
It’s precisely this that makes Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks With You stand out so much. Yes, the show’s presentation is unique and its humor is unusual, but it also leans heavily on this comedic history.
Joe Pera Talks With You goes deep into the “comforting” comedy of the past. The titular character, Joe, approaches the audience and the world with a childlike innocence and honesty, and if any show’s aesthetic could be summed up with a picture of a thick cardigan, it’s Joe Pera Talks With You. But the show is not pulling a Stranger Things – it’s not trying to catch upon your nostalgia or make you reminisce about a time period that you weren’t even alive for.
The show works precisely because this type of sincere and honest comedy is almost the edgy pushing of the envelope that the darker comedies originally were. Sure, seeing an entire alien signaling tower come out of Cartman’s butt was shocking on South Park. But now, having a show that is warm and comforting without a trace of irony is shocking too.
The show is not a parody, and that’s what makes it work. Pera’s character is enigmatic because we expect him to pull off the mask and reveal the troll. Pera has mentioned in interviews that he and the writers of the show draw heavily upon YouTube videos and internet culture. Videos in which people are presenting a completely unfiltered version of themselves can be hilarious, and something that is hard to replicate on a scripted, highly produced show.
Joe Pera is wrapping up his weekly live show that he does with fellow comedian Dan Licata, The Dan + Joe Diving Board Show, in a couple weeks. It remains to be seen if the show, currently hosted at The Bell House in Brooklyn, will continue in its current format after the summer break. His persona onstage is unique in a similar way. While stand-up comedy has spent the past few decades acting as the counterculture to the buttoned up, clean comedy of the past, Pera leans away from that too.
Pera breaks the mold by tapping into the counterculture that is at the heart of all comedy and subverting expectations. It’s not a regression to older comedy, but a subversion of what we see so much on stage now.
It might make you laugh, it might put you to sleep. But it feels different in a time where true originality can feel hard to come by. If everyone is trying to be unique in the same way, it loses its potency. Pera goes his own way.
There is also no word yet on the next season of Joe Pera Talks With You, and beyond extensive touring, we don’t know exactly what’s next from him. It will be exciting to see how Joe Pera finds a way to make us think while we laugh.