Once Upon a Midwest: Please talk with Joe Pera
There are 480 million acres of Midwest, filled with 68 million unique human beings. Hundreds of rivers and lakes amble through plains and forests. No one Midwestern state is quite like the other. For that reason, it can be difficult to understand the Midwest as truly one territory. Were there a library to mythologize the Midwest, the images and ideas of what we are and want to be might astonish you. This series wanders through the stories and imagery, the myths and legends, woven into the fabric of our identities.
Joe Pera is the kind of person you wish you knew. I would like to describe him, but he kindly did it for me when he called himself “a soft-handed choir teacher who is just in awe of Michigan’s geological splendor.” He likes autumn drives, breakfast, “Baba O’Riley” by the Who and the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada. Pera is awful reserved and has the demeanor of a 60-year-old man, despite only being in his thirties. He lives in Marquette and is good friends with Gene and his neighbors, the Melskys. Joe Pera has only the best intentions. So if you’re blue about how your nephew forgot to call you to let you know he made it home safely, or about the fact that baby birds without fathers never learn to sing properly, Joe Pera would like to talk with you.
For being such a lovely human, the thing that might make you most sad is that Joe Pera is not a real person — at least, not the Joe Pera who teaches choir in Marquette. Joe Pera is a comedian who plays a man named Joe Pera on the Adult Swim show, “Joe Pera Talks With You.” I do not know if the real life Joe Pera is at all the same as Joe Pera the character, but I feel better off not knowing. Otherwise, it might ruin the wholesome and sincere charm that makes “Joe Pera Talks With You” worthwhile.
In more ways than one, I feel as though I’ve known Joe. I must have met people exactly like him on the street, in the East Detroit Bakery or even in Woodwinds Restaurant in Onaway. I say “must” because Pera’s performance is so genuine, pure and humble, there is no way it is a performance. From the slow way Joe talks, with his carefully placed pauses and soft voice, to his unrelenting kindness, Joe the character could not be more midwestern.
“Joe Pera Talks With You” is kind and gentle. No one is hurt in its humor. In one episode, a “For Sale” sign is placed in his yard on accident, and when a family comes to consider buying his house, he feels he has to honor it. Joe spends a whole other episode with his glasses off because he tries to retrain his eyes to see. The show is incredibly funny, but funny in the way your one uncle is kind of funny because he’s very deadpan and takes everything literally. Joe Pera is funny because he is familiar.
If the show sounds boring, I would dissuade you from writing it off. Joe Pera is truly special. He may not be the most interesting human, but he is kindhearted, considerate and modest. If nothing else, he knows what he loves and wants to share it with you. Watching “Joe Pera Talks With You” is like watching a video a relative has made for you because they knew you were sad and wanted to cheer you up. It feels like finally finding the thing you were missing.
Turning the show off at night left me pondering not what I just watched, but who I am and what I love. “Joe Pera Talks With You” is not a show about a boring guy from Michigan who loves uninteresting things. It’s about realizing that you matter and the things you love matter. It transcends parody to become something genuine and conscientious. It is a reminder that you are surrounded by people who love different things; it reminds you that you have a home. Joe’s home is the Midwest. Joe may be fictional, but he is the very best of us.