Hello. Today is December 10th. I will now tell you what happened when my husband and I watched “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” We watched it last Friday and we haven’t stopped talking about it since. It’s the sixth episode in the series Joe Pera Talks With You, and it begins with the titular Joe Pera beginning to read the church announcements at his (presumably) regular Sunday service. He then stops mid-sentence and looks up from the lectern: “I’m sorry, but have you guys heard The Who? They rock! They’re unbelievable! I heard them for the first time on Thursday and I haven’t slept since!” After living vicariously through Joe Pera’s musical discovery, we were transformed. We listened to “Baba O’Riley” in the car on the way to get our Christmas tree. We quoted the episode to each other throughout the day. Every now and then, à propos of nothing, one of us would start singing, “I don’t need be forgiven, yeah yeah yeah yeah” and we would both laugh. In the afternoon, we listened to “Baba O’Riley” in the car, again, on our way to our friends’ house, and when we got there, we made them watch “Joe Pera Reads the Church Announcements” with us before dinner. And we laughed, loudly, the whole way through even more than we had the first time. I cried a couple of times (not that you’re surprised). The next day another friend came to visit, and we made her watch it with us, too. We all laugh-cried together; I think I laughed harder than I had the first two times. I sent the video to my dad and my brother and my best running friend, and for that matter I posted a link to it in my running group.
This is an 11-minute episode of TV that perfectly depicts what it feels like to be under the spell of a great song and immediately succumb to the irresistible urge to not only experience that thing again and again but also to get everyone you know to experience it, too. In so doing, it has masterfully turned us, its viewers, into evangelists of “Joe Pera Reads the Church Announcements” on the same level as Joe Pera himself, whose evangelism of The Who deep-sixes the church announcements after about 30 seconds.
Do you remember the first time you heard the song “Baba O’Riley”? Or maybe you knew it as “Teenage Wasteland” (if so, the sarcastic radio DJ Joe eagerly dials to ask what song that was will set you straight). Watch Joe Pera receive those opening chords over the electronic intro: as he’s doing his “kitchen chores” (or rather washing his dishes with soap before putting them in the dishwasher) he stops suddenly, sudsy bowl suspended midway to dishwasher rack. For a few moments, we just see the barely-perceptible bob of his head on the downbeats. His physical reactions to the song aren’t big (yet) he’s too busy feeling all the feelings inside, and he shows us just enough (slowly turning off the water, turning around, his head still bobbing) that we know exactly what he is experiencing. We have been Joe Pera. We have lived that euphoria. And when he then calls every radio station in the area one by one to request the song again and again, we feel like we are watching something special. We are watching someone experience a kind of weightlessness, an immediate and inimitable joy that, in my mind, only art can create.
You don’t get to watch other people experience such things very often. I can remember seeing Fun. in concert once and feeling roughly 30 years older than everyone else in the audience. A friend had invited me, and I thought it sounded like, uh, fun! Despite not being a true fan of the band, I had a good time at the concert, and what I remember most about it was watching the true fans in the throes of total bliss. They looked like mostly high-school kids, and they were having the time of their lives. They knew every word to every song. iPhones floated in the air as girl after girl Instagrammed her heart out. Cries of “OH MY GOOOOOD” abounded. It was kind of magical. I loved watching them love the hell out of this band. I didn’t need to love Fun. to appreciate what an effect they had, and seeing that effect in action was in and of itself life-affirming. Watching other people love things is a thing that I happen to love a lot.
Joe Pera’s nine episodes show us a man who loves lots of things an embarrassing amount (rocks and minerals, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, his dog, fireworks, the history of rat wars in Canada, breakfast restaurants, thinking, The Who, and Starbucks coffee). Unlike me, though, it would never occur to him to call his love embarrassing. He just wants to share it, without a hint of irony.
I think this is why Joe Pera might be the only white male character I ever need to see again on TV, or at least the only one I need to watch playing a version of himself. Pete Holmes is pretty endearing on HBO’s Crashing, and his self-awareness earns him some points, but honestly it’s an uphill battle for me to feel particularly invested in him. Marc Maron pulled off a pretty good Maron in Maron, and I’m also glad that he decided to end that show before it got old or started to feel annoyingly self-serving. Honestly, if Maron were a new show airing now, I doubt I’d watch it. Call it the 2017 effect; I’m just kinda over white dudes exploring their feelings and frustrations, even if I can allow that their feelings and frustrations are likely very interesting to them and probably worth exploring for them. Even Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm has a far higher bar to clear than he once did, and that’s really saying something (but you can pry “Beloved Cunt” from my cold dead fingers).
Joe Pera is awkward like Pete Holmes and to some degree socially stunted like Maron, but he’s not cruel and selfish like Larry on Curb, nor do others respond to his awkwardness with scorn or indifference. for the most part. Joe lives a life in which he doesn’t feel slighted or wronged or misunderstood. There are only a few moments that are truly cringe-worthy throughout the nine available episodes of Joe Pera Talks With You, and when they happen, they don’t arise from people being unnecessarily mean or improbably shortsighted. Rather, these are the sorts of daily awkwardnesses that arise from people’s honest efforts to understand and relate to each other sometimes not being enough. And on Joe Pera, enough people are trying to be kind and good that watching them occasionally stumble doesn’t hurt quite so badly. Watching people act generally kind and loving towards one another and share in one another’s excitement and enthusiasm about things sounds like a pretty smarmy premise for a show, but its honesty and its capacity to marvel at the world and its desire to put good things out into it set it apart from nearly every other show that interests me. The last TV show I wrote about took Seinfeld’s “no hugging and no learning” ethos to a new extreme, and I have loved and respected it for that. It’s good to know that the same heart that loves Sunny also has room for Joe Pera and all the wonders he has to share.