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Interview: Joe Pera Goes to Shows with You

Besides sharing performance spaces, the connection between comedy and music is expansive. Joe Pera has often had his experiences with comedy in tandem with music. The Brooklyn based comedian is well known for his calming and endearing show Joe Pera Talks with You along with his mellow and grounded comedy style. Part of finding his footing as a comedian involved interacting with the East Coast DIY and indie scenes in the early 2010s. 

Pera called in from Boston ahead of his stand-up comedy performance which will take place at The Englert Theater on June 14th. In his quaint and humbled tone, he talked about his favorite bands and music, along with his interactions with music scenes, and the friends he has made from them. He also goes into detail about how both comedy and music performances meld well together, and the aspects of performing.  

Interview has been edited for clarity.

Image via The Guardian

Glab: You’ve expressed before that you have an interest in hardcore music, going to shows, and the energy that it provides. How did you first get into hardcore and punk? 

Joe Pera: I do like it, but it’s not like my number one genre. I’m not going to pretend to be a superfan. Basically though, my friend Dan Licata is a bigger fan of that music and would often take me around to shows. You know, he’d ask if I wanted to go, and I’d go to the shows and enjoy the energy. I don’t know, it feels different than the usual stuff I listen to. Most of the hardcore shows I went to were through Dan Licata.  

Even if you’re not as into hardcore as other people, are there any specific bands that you like. 

Dan featured, they’re not super hardcore, but he had the band, and our friends, Washer score his special. I like their music a lot. 

What kind of music do you listen to most of the time? 

All sorts. I listen to a lot of ambient and instrumental stuff. Somebody recommended the new Elori Saxl album, and I’ve been enjoying the song that’s out from that. The Blue of Distance, with clarinet. I enjoyed that very much as well. But yeah, it’s mostly on the mellower side.  

In Iowa, my friend Dan Wriggins is opening for me. He’s in the band Friendship, whose music I like a lot. One of the guys, Michael Cormier-O’Leary, and his label Dear Life Records has another band called Hour that I performed with recently and will be on tour with soon too. They’re kind of instrumental based. They range anywhere from four members to I think like almost ten or more on certain nights. It’s kind of semi-improvised songs of them playing together. It’s got a pretty gentle and beautiful tone that kind of lets the instruments speak. Those are two that I listen to a lot, but yeah, I’m excited to be on tour with Dan Wriggins as well.  

Dan Wriggins. Image via Ordinal Records

I knew Dan Wriggins a little because he worked at the university here. I really liked his Friendship stuff, and the solo stuff as well. 

Yeah, I’m not sure what he’ll be playing, but I’m excited to watch him as much as I am to do the shows myself. A lot of the time if you bring someone along that you want to watch as well, then it’s like a free show.  

You mentioned Washer before. How did you come to know Kieran and Quigley? 

Shows in Brooklyn. We kind of met through Dan Licata, and then they would come to me and Dan’s regular show and play sometimes. Just bumping into each other in New York. 

Is there an aspect of their music that you like a lot especially? 

Yeah, I really enjoyed their new album. A lot of the energy, but still very melodic in how they do it, which I appreciate. 

How much have you been within the indie scene in Brooklyn, or the East Coast in general, from like the early 2010’s to now? 

Every now and then. Even when I was at school, I’d occasionally get asked to open for or share a bill with a band a lot of times through Dan Licata. It’s always popped up throughout my time in New York. Bands ask me to open for them, it usually goes pretty well. We’ve done shows with everything from independent venues to larger ones. I’ve also opened for Yo La Tengo at their Hannukah shows in New York. That was pretty special.  

It feels like I’ve been able to continue that type of collaboration or make it more formal with the podcast I do, Drifting Off with Joe Pera. I’ll collaborate with a musician that I admire, and then ask them to score the podcast. But yeah, every now and then I’d be asked to open for a band. A lot of the times the contrast between my quiet style and a louder show can be a lot of fun.  

Image via KIOS-FM

Do you feel like comedy, or at least your style of comedy mixes well with a live music show? 

It seems to have worked in the past, but I don’t know if it will work everywhere. It’s always a little challenging, especially if people don’t know that comedy is happening. A lot of the times, when I’ll be on the bill, like when I did a show at Baby’s Alright in Brooklyn and opened for a few bands a couple weeks ago, people seem to enjoy it. It’s nice, I think the comedy and the music complement each other well, and kind of keeps the momentum of the show going, like I was going up in between the acts. Generally, I think people who like good music like good comedy as well. They have good tastes across the board. 

Do you yourself have good taste? 

Eh, sometimes.  

I feel like from everything you’ve described, I’m pretty much in agreement. I love Washer, and Yo La Tengo is pretty good.  


One other band that I love is Parquet Courts, I know you’ve collaborated with them before with their Feel Free album visualizer, and you’re in the “Outside” music video filmed at the Knockdown Center.  

Yeah, they had me open for them at their holiday show the year before the album came out. They had me tell some jokes, and that was pretty intimidating since it was such a large room. But the fans I think are comedy fans too. A lot of the musicians like watching comedy, obviously, I can’t generalize, but like Sean Yeaton, the bassist of Parquet Courts, we have some mutual friends, and he’s also a very funny guy. We both had done voices for our animator friend Kieran O’Hare, who did the original “Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep” animation with me. Sean’s friends with him and has done some really good voices, he’s extremely funny himself. That’s how we connected. I guess I mostly know Sean, but he’s a really funny guy, and that’s probably why he has good taste in comedy. Also, I think that a lot of people who go to shows, if they want to see live entertainment, they’ll check out a share of music and comedy shows if they’re out and about in the city. 

Parquet Courts “Outside” Music Video

In the “Outside” video you had the Christmas tree, what was that about? 

I knew I had to perform for like a thousand people, ready to see a rock show. So, I did some jokes, but also I had fun. It was a holiday show, so I picked up a small Christmas tree on my way to the venue. I tossed it to the crowd, and they crowd surfed this tree, pretty funny. I guess a music crowd would be open for something unusual like that. It’s also something I couldn’t do at a stand-up club. I was just trying to match the energy of the space and the event, and it led to something cool. 

Was that your first time performing to that many people? 

One of the first big performances I did. I had just made my own Christmas special and was tired out. I hadn’t been doing as much standup in the weeks leading up to it. I just remember that night that I was talking to somebody, and then I went out on stage, and it hit me all of a sudden. I don’t remember the exact number, but it felt like at least 500, maybe a thousand. It’s such a big space that I kind of had to brace myself, because it was a pretty large crowd to ask them to pay attention to jokes about New Balances. 

Now would you say it’s a pretty common occurrence to perform to that many people? 

Yeah, I’ve gotten more used to it. We started the last tour where we set some dates at 150-200 people venues, which is what I was doing before, but I guess a lot of people found the TV show during the pandemic when they wanted something relaxing and nice to watch. I guess I didn’t anticipate the crowd, my audience, would grow that much. Now the shows I’m doing in Boston are for a thousand people, and I think the ones in Iowa are about 600-700. 

Yeah, I think The Englert’s at about that capacity. 

Yeah, pretty good size. I don’t know if I’ll fill it, but I’ll do my best. 

I was looking at the ticketing recently, and it seems pretty much almost full. I think the upper balcony has some open spots, but they sold really quickly. 

That’s awesome. I’m very excited. That’s very cool to know. The only time I performed in Iowa before was at the Hinterland Festival, so I haven’t been through recently. You have to go through a place a few times to get an audience. That was a music festival too. I didn’t know how that was going to go. I performed basically the end of the Billy Strings concert, which was the big event of the night.  

Afterwards, I performed for the people who were staying overnight in the camping section. I was nervous about that because it was both an outdoor stage, and everybody was in an energetic mood. It went really well. There were huge clouds of weed smoke floating my way the entire show. The audience gathered around the stage outside and it was pretty special. Definitely had a sigh of relief when it ended, but it was a really fun night, and the crowd turned out to be really great. Like I said, I think people who go to live music shows are open to new stuff. You know, it won’t necessarily go well all the time, but they’ll give you some smart attention at least for a little while, and give you the chance to win them over. 

Image via Paste Magazine

Do you think that doing comedy sets is pretty similar to how musicians in their sets match the energy of the audience? 

Yeah, it’s not the same for all musicians. I know some of them are adjusting throughout their set. I think I have a little more flexibility as a solo performer. Like if I feel that something’s not working, or I need to do a quick adjustment during the set, or you know throw in the joke that’d hit harder to up the energy. I’ll be able to make adjustments on the fly and change my set completely, or even just talk with the audience in a way that the musician wouldn’t have the luxury to do. I feel like that’s the advantage of doing comedy live over music. There’s also plenty of musicians who adjust. When they’re having a bad show, they can also get stuck when it’s not going well. There’s pros and cons to each. 

It’s all a very receptive activity. 


Is there anything else you wanted to say? 

Just I’m really looking forward to performing in Iowa again. This time indoors. Dan Wriggins is going to be there, so I think it’ll be another good show with both comedy and music. You know, it’ll feel like a proper night out on the town. 

Anything that people in Iowa City can come to expect at the show? 

It’s all new material, different from my special. It’s all new jokes. It’s at the point of the tour where all the material is new and fresh for me as well. It’s really exciting to see. I think it’s a good show, but there’s some stuff that I’m still figuring out, and I think that’s the most fun time to see a show, when it’s still forming. When you’re not sure how it’s going to go, that’s more fun. 

Tickets to see Joe Pera at The Englert Theater on June 14th are available here.