If you’ve exhausted your supply of “The Joy of Painting” or “Unlikely Animal Friends” and need a new show to soothe your soul, look no further.
Meet Joe Pera. He’s a stand-up comedian, but on his television show, “Joe Pera Talks with You,” it’s hard to tell if he’s 32 or 82. Joe is a soft-spoken middle school choir director. His only technology appears to be a landline telephone, and he lives alone, aside from his basset hound. Joe’s best friend is his Nana, who cooks him softball-size meatballs while providing sage advice.
He has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure topics, but street smarts are not his forte. This is perfectly introduced in the pilot episode, where he shares geology facts while simultaneously worrying if he has to sell his house because a misplaced “For Sale” sign made it appear like his was on the market.
Television does not get more wholesome than this.
The real-life Joe Pera seems just as meek, although he’s sometimes bearded and dressed a bit hipper. He’s also visited Lancaster County — more on that later.
Just a few weeks ago, my fiance and I started watching “Joe Pera Talks with You,” which got its start on Adult Swim and is now streaming on HBO Max. The 11-minute episodes go down as smooth as the weak coffee Joe brews in his classroom (too much caffeine makes him jittery). Watching “a Joe,” as I lovingly call the 11-minute episodes, is effectively the glass of warm milk and forehead kiss of my bedtime routine.
Prior to the series, Pera hosted an animated special on Adult Swim, “Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep.” There’s a continuation of this in the series proper with the episode “Joe Pera Talks You Back to Sleep,” (Pera’s really got a knack for this — I felt my fiance’s head on my shoulder feel heavier and heavier as this episode progressed. You did it, Joe!)
Aside from being the best virtual bedfellow you could ask for, Joe’s just downright charming. A highlight of season one is Joe hearing The Who’s seminal “Baba O’Reilly” for the first time. A major theme throughout Season 2 is the development of his backyard bean arch. And he has great one-liners too, like Mitch Hedburg, only cuter: “Sheds are little barns.”
Because the episodes are so delightfully short, I burned through my supply regrettably fast. To cope, I turned to YouTube, searching for more Joe Pera content. That’s where things really got fun.
In 2014, Pera filmed a series called “Pancake Breakfast Critic with Joe Pera” for MTV. Despite pancakes not being the main fare, his travels took him to none other than Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse for its annual Lancaster County Rhubarb Festival.
Reader, believe me when I tell you I shrieked of excitement when I saw this existed.
In this video, he’s joined by Brooklyn comedian Jeff Katsman, who is the rowdy brute to foil Joe’s straight-laced nature.
“If you’ve forgotten how much you loved rhubarb, this festival will definitely remind you,” Pera says. “It features a rhubarb derby, and what I’ve been dreaming of, a rhubarb baking contest.”
Sadly, Pera doesn’t get to live out his dream. His rowdy partner-in-crime rudely takes Joe’s spot, and Joe gets increasingly agitated over the course of the day. Still, it’s only agitation by Pera standards, and he’s still unwaveringly polite.
“Sometimes, things just don’t seem to go your way,” Pera says. “I remember when I was 8 years old, I went fishing with my grandfather. We spend the entire afternoon out on the lake. I feel I disappointed him by not catching any fish. Of course, he never treated me any differently, but would he have loved his grandson more if he caught one smallmouth bass? I think it’s the worst feeling in the world to disappoint your grandfather.”
Pera may not have judged the rhubarb baking contest, but he fit right in among the attendees, sporting a red checkered button-up shirt, khaki pants and ball cap.
“You seem very Lancaster County-ish,” one woman at an informational stand tells Pera.
“Thank you,” Pera says. “I take that as a compliment.”
Jenelle Janci is Life and Culture team leader at LNP. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.