In a comedy business that’s increasingly built for go-go-go, Joe Pera remains oh-so-slow. His cool, calm demeanor stands out onstage and onscreen, from his Adult Swim series, Joe Pera Talks With You, which ran for three seasons from 2018 to 2021, to his debut hour stand-up special, Slow & Steady.

Pera’s releasing his new stand-up hour Friday night on YouTube, and before that, he spoke with Decider about some of the jokes in his special, as well as his collaborations with the likes of Whitmer Thomas and Conner O’Malley, and what comes next for him.

Parts of our interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.

DECIDER: Joe, congrats on the special! I don’t know how much you keep up with comedy debates or comedy journalism, but over the past week or two, there’s been a big debate about honesty in comedy, based on that New Yorker piece on Hasan Minaj. So first off, is it true that Netflix’s Dahmer show has been kind of problematic for you in real life?

JOE PERA: It has been a little bit of a pain in the ass. Yeah, I haven’t watched it. It feels like from what I know, it’s kind of like murder porn. I don’t want to watch that. That’s not the type of thing that I would usually watch or interact with. But I guess it took off and now like a lot of younger people have seen it. When I tried to do TikTok, anytime I post anything on there, they just say Dahmer, Dahmer, Dahmer. That joke is true. That people have been reaching out when the show came out. It’s something I usually keep out of my consciousness, but now this Dahmer show on Netflix, that I would have never watched, is forced on me.

JOE PERA SLOW AND STEADY STREAMING
Photo: YouTube

Have you met or interacted with Evan Peters, that actor at all? Because maybe it’s more him than it is Dahmer.

A couple of people have said his acting seems closer to me than the actual Dahmer. I just don’t like being compared to it. It’s not a big deal. I was trying to address it in a fun way. The joke is true. Whitmer Thomas from LA actually handed me a sheet of paper. I gotta give him credit, before the show I did in Los Angeles, he said I dare you to do this joke. That Dahmer joke with the punch line was in there and I thought, he dared me to do it. I figured we’d make each other laugh and that’s fine, but it actually worked and was like kind of a fun way to address it without rambling like I did about Evan Peters theorizing about how it happened. And it was so similar. And then it’s just like a good, funny brush-off and laugh, I address it and hopefully nobody will have to think about us again. So that was fun. That was one joke I didn’t write and kind of give credit to Whitmer for, but it just started off as a dare to try it out.

There’s another part in the special where, I don’t want to spoil it. But your tone, you sound differently than the audience is expecting. And I wonder, you know, you mentioned what Whitmer Thomas contributed to this. I know Conner O’Malley is also credited as a creative consultant. Was this a dare from Conner?

When I wrote that joke, it was me Dan (Licata) and Conner were sitting and writing together. I was joking, what would be funniest to say next to keep growing the joke. Conner definitely deserves credit for helping figure that one out and going to a different place.

It was a fun turn. It was nice. It’s fun to bounce ideas off of your friends and pitch other jokes. It’s just like with Joe Pera Talks With You. You could tell that there were elements of Dan and Connor pushing the show in different directions and oftentimes they’d be annoyed that I was like, oh, that might be too far for the show. But that kind of tension of them pushing and then to get it a little bit wackier, more vulgar, or just outside of my ballpark led to the show going in different directions and feeling more complex. That’s why it’s good to be bouncing jokes with friends and just giving suggestions. You know, that old-school comedy thing, of tossing out Ideas with your friends to make something that’s a little bit more interesting.

Are there elements of you, then, in Conner’s Endorphin Port?

I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m (laughs). No. That’s pure Conner and Cole (Kush). That’s Conner, taking it in a whole new direction which is very exciting and I haven’t seen anything like that in comedy yet. So I’m excited to see where Endorphin Port heads. Really. It’s very exciting. I think like his new hour that he’s doing kind where he addresses AI, how he feels, not just about it, but laced with it all sorts of ways for exploration. That’s really cool.

Speaking of which, you describe yourself in your new hour as an “alternative comedian at the tail end of the second comedy boom.” How much do debates about AI, or about you have to self-finance and self-release your own comedy special on YouTube, how much does that play into the fact that this really is the tail end of the boom?

I tried out that joke a few ways, because it feels like the tail end of the second comedy boom might not even be the best way to describe it. I tried that joke is like at the tail end of the second comedy boom, and the beginning of whatever this touring-podcaster-slash-crowd-work-clip era is. Because I feel, it didn’t have the same rhythm and also was lost on the audience that doesn’t read a lot or think as much about comedy. Overall I think it’s exciting. I think people have a lot more flexibility. It’s a little bit riskier, but I feel it’s exciting. People have ability to put out a whole special on YouTube. Not all are great, but it allows people to find what they like best, and more comedians to make work, have it out there to be found.

I think there’s more shades of comedy than there ever were — and more outlets — and I think overall that’s a good thing, and it makes it more complex as opposed to like a few networks having a few champions or big shows, and that there’s comedy for most audience outside of the bigger cities where they can see shows regularly, of comedians that don’t have TV shows. But now it’s cool. Just the amount of podcasts, you can find anything. You could stumble across all sorts of new stuff in a way that wasn’t possible before. It’s also I think, exciting that like Conner’s Endorphin Port, hoping to be able to make work that’s direct to the audience and they’ll pay for it. It might be harder to do projects that are as big as a full TV show, but maybe people get there. I don’t know, I think they already are, but just there’s more possibilities. It kind of sucks that almost every comedian now needs to be kind of like a businessman, too, which maybe detracts from the art of comedy, but it’s just more possibilities. And yeah, I probably will lose a bunch of money out of this, but it’s exciting.

The risks and the responsibilities are all now on the performer. Unless you’re already a household name that Netflix is gonna throw a lot of money at. Even the comedians who are on Netflix, who aren’t the Chappelles or the Chris Rocks, I hear from them that even those comedians have to take the risks upon themselves first and, and self-finance and produce the special, and then Netflix acquires it from them.

I guess it’s not that tough, because I was always trying to make videos, with Conner do live shows, put on our weekly show with me, Dan Licata and Charles Gould. There was always this kind of you have to get things started if you want them to happen yourself. And I think it’s nice, I feel like there’s a lot more ways to make a living off comedy, even like it’s kind of stinks that it’s harder to make a living doing it. I feel like there’s just more avenues. I hope that stand-up still stays strong and people are able to prioritize doing stand-up because I feel like performing live to an audience is such an incredible thing that sometimes the internet, stuff that remains internet-only or TV-only doesn’t have. But I hope the live stuff stays strong and there’s a willingness and opportunities where people still can get up in front of live crowds. Because that’s in the last year after the TV show, doing Joe Pera Talks To You was great, but it was really special to get to see the fans that found the show, and get to perform for them. Meet them. Be able to take my jokes a step further. And then be a little goofier on this tour.

Did you feel you had peaked with the Adult Swim show after three seasons? Or did you feel like you had a lot more to give to that, but the ownership changeover to WarnerMedia or Warner Bros. Discovery got in the way?

I gave it all that I had from the first season. We thought if we only get one season we’re gonna make it as good as possible. And we did that three times. I feel like a lot of people found the show during the pandemic, when it was released on HBO Max. They were looking for something a little bit more relaxing but still funny to watch. It kind of caught me, all of us off guard how many people had found the show because it was like kind of a niche program on Adult Swim, which was perfectly fine with me, but I think judging by the size of the audiences and how they were much bigger than we thought while touring this past year. I think a lot of people found it through the Max app and how much it could have grown if it continued. But that’s fine. I feel like we did three really good seasons in the tone that we wanted. And it’s exciting to do live stand-up and it’s exciting to try and explore in a new tone. Maybe going forward or taking further in some other way. Because every episode we tried to make feel different, and the only thing I really hate doing is the same thing. So I’m sure we would have found new ways to grow it and change it. But I’m just excited about figuring out what’s next and having a blank slate to be kind of creatively lost and then hopefully find something new and interesting and different way.

You’re certainly doing that with Ryan Dann, with both the monthly podcast Drifting Off With Joe Pera, and then you incorporated him into the special.

Yeah we have a sleep bit at the end and that’s neat. I like the monthly special. With the tour and the podcast. We had the 11-minute show. I tried to make every joke, every second of it as precise as possible. And through touring with the live audience that was unpredictable. And then the faster deadlines and regular deadlines of this podcast that we have to throw together. Just me, Ryan, and our producer Grant. It’s been forcing me to be a little looser about how I put things together. And it’s a good learning thing because I think we’re willing to try stuff or just go for something because it needs to happen fast. And I know that it’s not the definitive work in the way that I hope that the TV show would be. But if the podcast is looser, if we stretch the tone in a weird way, I’m able to try more new things faster, be OK if they’re not perfect. And I think that’s a good thing for me to work on.

You say faster but to the audience it still feels slow and steady, so to speak. I mean, you’re doing a monthly podcast, not a weekly podcast, not a two times a week podcast, not a daily podcast. It’s a monthly podcast. So that’s slow in podcast terms.

I guess that’s true, but I’m writing 15 minutes to 20 minutes of new material. Plus Ryan is writing 20 new minutes of music. That’s pretty fast, considering coming fro a stand-up standpoint where you want every punchline to work and you know getting a tight five can take months, or 10 minutes of good material can take a really long time to perfect. So working this speed, it is pretty fast coming from a stand-up background where you’re trying to be precise with every joke.

How do you feel you’re able to maintain your voice and your pace in a comedy world that seems increasingly faster or built for crowd work clips on TikTok and Reels and everything has to be, let’s put it up, get it out? How do you maintain your slow and steady? Is it as simple as where that phrase comes from, The Tortoise and The Hare, that it’s as simple as just keep going, doing what Joe Pera does, and you’ll get to the finish line?

I will say I have noticed that my performance has sped up and even if you look at the third season of the show I think things move at a faster pace than in the first season. I don’t know if my own patience is shortening or taste is changing. But I have thought about that a lot. I think everything in my stand-up comes at walking pace, and this show, and I try and maintain the pace. In the mornings I’ll go for a walk and try and get that rhythm that slowed-down pace and before a show I’ll pace around in a circle just trying to get just a steady pace going. I feel it’s internalized. That can’t be rushed, a good enough inner calm to get through the writing or creative for performing. I don’t know. I do get stressed out or sped up in other parts of the day. It’s hard not to. But if I can internalize that pace, rhythm, and calm, and then convey it in the work, I think that it carries and I’ll be able to maintain it, but like everybody else these days it’s hard to grasp and hold on to peace.

You mentioned how this era, whatever we call it, whether it’s the tail end or whether it’s the whatever comes after that that part of it is the fact that there’s more opportunities for comedians to not have to worry about HBO or Netflix giving you a special. You can just do your own. But at the same time a lot of those other people are showing that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on it. You can do it really no frills. You chose to go with some veteran people in Arts and Industry, Michelle Caputo and Shannon Hartman, to executive produce. And it looks just like an old-school HBO special. How important was that to you to go that route?

I wanted it to feel high quality. Marty and I are always trying to push ourselves. Marty Schousboe, the director, makes the best, most interesting looking thing and the thing that feels right for the jokes and amplifies the humor. We could have done a smaller venue, and lesser quality cameras. I think we didn’t splurge. We used pretty simple cameras, actually. But what was important, it felt like, I don’t want to say alternative comedy because that’s vague. I guess people think that my stand-up may only work in a smaller or back room or a niche venue with a particular taste but on tour I was able to perform regular theaters and make audiences laugh and I wanted to make sure to show that the jokes held up in a bigger environment. Something about a big stage amplifies the quieter humor and I always love just the image of a stand-up comedian on a bigger stage. It makes it funnier, especially when it’s slow paced, where the jokes are more subtle. Having it work in an environment that I think is more interesting, funnier. And has the event-type feel that a special should have. The bigger audience feels present. Specials work in all sorts of ways. We came close to shooting it at a smaller theater in Woodstock but something just fell right about the Opera House and doing it on a big stage.

And you had that door!

Yes, the door.

You can’t do that at Union Hall in a Brooklyn basement.

I didn’t think of that opening joke until the day of the show, because it has to feel spontaneous. The funny and strange thing about stand-up is just that one guy walking out to the center of a big stage and trying to make it work with a spotlight and attention. Yeah, I think we made the right choice even though it wasn’t the simplest one.

Speaking of tough choices, you couldn’t have known you when you filmed this and decided to put it on YouTube, that the Golden Globes would announce that they’re adding a new category for stand-up comedy with a caveat. To be eligible for the Golden Globe, it has to be on a regular TV network or streaming platform which I guess makes self-released YouTube specials ineligible.

That’s really dumb on their part, because some of the best comedy specials have come out on YouTube and the more interesting ones. I think they’re cutting off all the voices. I understand why they need to maybe simplify it, because there’s tons of stand-up on YouTube. But it’s really a shame. Not that any comedian worth their salt should give a s–t about a Golden Globe. That’s so silly, to limit an art form, or limit eligibility in that way.

On the bright side you still have the special and the writers strike is now over. So you can actually think and talk about what’s next. Are you able to think about now what you want to do next?

In entertainment, you always kind of have to try to set a few things in motion and then follow the one that actually happens. But it’d be a dream to do a movie someday. Just a really good funny comedy that doesn’t have to be too expensive.

Doesn’t have to be Elemental.

No. No, no, no, I don’t want that pressure, of what they think they had $200 million budget. The director Peter (Sohn) was very cool, but I think you feel it’s hard not to feel the pressure of a $200 million budget.

The other thing, we’ll see how before the strike started, me and Dan Licata we’re working on our maybe 8-year old (animated) project called My Two Cars, about a guy who has a PT Cruiser and a Mini Cooper, and how difficult life must be to have to choose between those two cars, which we went through the work of figuring out. We had episode ideas. We wrote a whole pilot of stuff and got into like how do you make such a simple idea of function for a whole series, but I think we did it. So hopefully something will happen with it, because My Two Cars needs to be seen.

Joe Pera: Slow & Steady premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, on YouTube.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also hosts the podcast The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First that are comprised of half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories.



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