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Joe Pera on Midwestern Audiences, Blowing up on YouTube, and Hard-Luck Sports Franchises

'Like most Midwesterners, I also like to eat a little heartier food and drink good beer,' says the cult-loved New York comic who exudes Midwestern sensibilities.

Mindy Tucker|

It’s Joe Pera.

On his old show, Joe Pera Talks With You, the titular star was described as “a person of integrity that likes to describe things.” It’s an apt description; even the mundane can elicit wonder from Pera.

From the beauty of a well-constructed bean arch to the tangible benefits of having a second fridge to the comforting satisfaction of a Friday fish fry to the mediative effects of a fall drive, Pera thoroughly enjoys describing things.

And that’s exactly what he did for three seasons of his critically applauded Adult Swim comedy show, which became an instant cult classic that Racket urged every Minnesotan to watch. Pera played a fictionalized Yooper version of himself in Joe Pera Talks With You, and in each 11-minute episode he would cover seemingly straightforward everyday topics like breakfast, hiking, and going to the grocery store. Through his endearing, slow-natured narration, he would elevate the subject matter and showcase why the simple can be funny through heartwarmingly calm, folksy, matter-of-fact jokes.

The jokes are what made the show because, at his core, Pera is a standup comic. And while he shares just some similarities with his television self, the New York-based comedian can thank the show’s popularity for a devoted audience that not only appreciates him but gets him. It’s why he was able to book back-to-back performances this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater—the second show was added due to demand. We here in Minnesota? We get Pera. 

Pera caught up with Racket over the phone while on his Peras Tour from Boston to chat about his upcoming Fitz gigs, his special passing 1 million views on YouTube, his crowd, and much more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

With this tour coming soon after your 2023 YouTube special, Slow and Steady, is this all-new material or a mix of some old and new? I was just kind of surprised that you were already on tour since I know it can be a bit methodical to create a whole new set.

Yeah, this tour is all new material, and I don't know… I was so sad when the last tour ended. I was doing the TV show for five years, so I never was able to do a significant tour and I also never had an audience like I did after the TV show. 

So, I enjoyed touring, seeing new stuff, and going to places, and I wanted to keep touring for a little bit longer. Writing new material is hard, but the touring itself is a little bit more straightforward than doing TV. It's just showing up to the shows, drinking a beer, making the audience laugh and then you get to go home.

How do you write your set? You write everything out or try to figure out stuff on stage?

I really sit down, write my stuff and then I perform it on stage. I maybe use the stage time to explore it and get new ideas from that. But it's all written. I write a lot of it and then I use the spaces in between to talk with the audience, but I always make sure I've got something to go back to. That way it's always the highest quality show possible. 

When you say talk with the audience, you mean crowd work right?

Yeah, there's some. There was some stuff last night at the show where I learned some new things. I always kind of use the shows to learn about where I'm at a little bit. There's nothing better than talking with the audience about where they live. Sometimes I'll do it more than other nights, depending on the environment and the way that the theater is set up. I think what's kind of special about shows is making it between you and the audience, as opposed to just performing. 

Do you feel like a lot of your fans coming to your shows are unfamiliar with how a standup show works? Like they only see you as the character you played on TV and not as a standup?

There’s some of that. During the last tour and even on this tour, people have come up to me after shows and told me that this was their first actual standup show. It’s not a regular thing, but it’s cool when they say that it's their first show, because I hope it's a good experience for them and they'll keep going to more shows. 

It annoys me when somebody's first comedy experience is not a good one or they get taken advantage of by promoters that overpromised on the quality of the comedians. They'll never go to another comedy show. So, I'm hoping that if they come to my show for the first time, they'll keep going to stand up after that. 

Slow & Steady just passed a million views on YouTube. That’s a big number. Did you anticipate that?

I've been doing more shows on the road since the special, which is cool. I'm really appreciative that many people have watched it. I guess that was the hope of putting it out for free on YouTube: People will find it, watch it, and share with their friends. The fact that a million people have watched it is incredible. 

Yeah man, I noticed a difference because when you first announced The Peras Tour, there was just one show here, but in like a few weeks, you added another. What’s been you experience with doing shows in the Twin Cities?

I did a show at Turf Club a long time ago, that was the first time there, with Connor O'Malley and Jo Firestone, and then I came back a couple years ago and did a show at The Varsity. Both shows were a great time. I’m excited to come back especially since this is the time of year when the Midwest looks incredibly green.

I think my shows do best in the Midwest like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. There's a great scene in the Twin Cities and I’m having two local comics open for me, Comrade Tripp and [occasional Racket contributor] Devohn Bland. Devohn opened last time for me, and he was so funny. I'm excited to have them on the show. One thing I like about touring is you get to see comedians from all over. So, I'm excited to watch their sets.

Why do you think your comedy resonates so well here in the Midwest?  

I guess I always talk about family restaurants being a little sad in winter. I think it resonates. And like most Midwesterners, I also like to eat a little heartier food and drink good beer.  

Since you’re from Buffalo, there’s a pessimistic mentality here around the professional sport teams, like, why should we get excited because they’re going to let you down. Is that similar to Bills fans?

Yeah that’s kind of similar to Bills fans. It was a great run by the Timberwolves, by the way. But the Bills, especially lately when they're playing the Chiefs now, it's like they're so good that you can't get too ahead of yourself. I don't know. 

We've kind of lost heartbreakers in the playoffs the past couple years and until there's zero on the clock, you can't get too excited... I hate to say it. The Chiefs are good, like Mahomes can put together a fourth quarter drive and you know, pull off a game winner. It just sucks that he's done it against the Bills the past couple years.  

Oh, so you kind of share the same mentality? Based on your comedy, I thought you would have a bit more of a positive outlook.

Well, it kind of starts the same way every season. Let's see how they do, let's see if they make it worth skipping a Sunday afternoon to watch the game. Then they start winning. You get excited, then you get really into it, then you're watching every game you know and drinking beers on Sunday, and then I don't know.

I mean, I don't consider losing in the second, third round of playoffs a bad thing. It's respectable. Especially when a lot of the Bills teams I grew up with, never even made it to the playoffs. But it's just a bummer to get so close and never win. I do think we could have pulled off the Super Bowl if we got past the Chiefs this year and last.

Ah so, you got some positive vibes. Let’s end on a high note then: Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to with your shows at The Fitzgerald?

I'm very excited that Comrade and Devohn are doing the shows and just performing my new material to my fans there. My Minneapolis show was one of my favorite shows of the last tour, and I can't wait to get back and spend a couple of days there. 

Oh, got anything exciting plans for your stay here?

Yeah, we got tickets to Paisley Park. I’ve never been, so I’m looking forward to that. 

Joe Pera
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
Tickets: $35+; find more info here

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