Joe Pera isn’t mellow — he’s downright lethargic. The comedian has a groggy, neurotic style full of stiff arms and hiccuping words, that make him one of the more unique comedians working today. Just look at his recent appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” (his national-late night debut): he shuffled to the mic in a green crew-neck sweater, blue button-down and khakis, scooched his head down, hands in his pockets and told jokes about his nana's beauty parlor before mumble-speaking some "Jesse's Girl". He speaks softly, the words heading to the back of his mouth – you have to catch them, the way you do the warbles of a cricked on a windy night. And once Pera's peculiar style sinks in, he’s inherently relaxing in that sort of “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy” way. Fittingly, he cares about your sleep.
In a recent Adult Swim late-night bit, “Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep,” a cartoon version of him appears in a "Good Night Moon"-esque setting. And when he says “I’m sorry that you’re having trouble dozing off,” in his trademark upstate New York accent, you can believe him. “In my opinion,” he says, “falling asleep is one of the best feelings there is.” From there, he gives you tips to relax, like “remembering to refill the ice cube trays,” thinking about favorite barns and watching pretzels being made. Things get fittingly weird, but it works exceedingly well, both for bursting into stitches and conjuring sleep. We spoke to Pera about his peculiar style and his own sleep habits. As expected, he was drier than the dust bowl.
So, how are you sleeping?
Pretty well. We've had a mild spring with good sleeping weather. Also, after covering rent and necessities, I took the bit of extra money I made from the show and got a full-size bed. I don't want to admit how long I was sleeping in a twin bed, but I am sleeping much better now in my big-boy bed. In that way, making the show about sleep improved my own sleep
How many hours a night?
Seven to eight.
Do you find you’re wired after a late set? What's your routine to calm down, or your sleep routine in general?
I have a bit of a walk home from the train, so by the time I get home, I am pretty calm. I will say hello to my roommate Tomas who is sitting on the couch with his laptop. He will tell me about politics, and I will tell him whether my new joke about potato chips worked or not. Then I will get into bed, and read one to two pages of a book before falling asleep.
You've given people good advice on sleeping in your video. Do you follow it?
No, I don't want to listen to my own voice before bed, and also I can watch new episodes in my head whenever I want. But Ryan Dann of Holland Patent Public Library composed some beautiful music for the show that I will sometimes listen to as I doze off. His other work is nice for sleeping to as well
How'd you come up with the video?
A few years ago, my friend [comedian] Nate Fernald suggested that I record my most mellow jokes for a cassette or CD people could listen to before bed. To gather and polish material for that, I performed an hour-long live show with the same name and goal as the animation. And parts of that turned into the animation.
So there’s more.
I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of sleep humor. Between the live show and animation, I've got pages of notes and ideas and subjects I'd love to dig into. I hope we get the opportunity to make more, because there is a lot of stuff I'd just like to make so I can watch it myself — like holding the camera on a campfire and tossing in different objects to explore the hypnotic quality of fire and watching stuff burn. It'd also be good to do an episode about oceans and water and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, casting Garrison Keillor as an adult altar server.
And the plan is to still do the cassette or MP3 version that I set out to do originally.
In the video, Gus is resting by the fire. What kind of dog is he?
How does he sleep?
Pretty well, I guess.
What's the best food to eat for a good night's sleep?
A big spaghetti dinner is good for me.
Do you have nightmares?
Yes. When I am worried, I often dream about snakes and that they are in my bed.
Do you lose sleep over the Buffalo Bills?
I try not to. I remember, however, that when I was very young, I would include them in my bedtime prayers.
Getting personal here: What do you wear to bed?
Can you be more specific?
A sweatshirt, lightweight pajama pants, and socks.
Socks. I feel like there's a hard line drawn here. You either sleep in socks or you can't bear to sleep in socks. Does this mean anything?
I guess people do make a big deal about it, but it's something I've always done and I like it when my feet aren't cold.
When do you usually wake up?
8:00 a.m. during the week. 8:30 a.m. on weekends.
Usually an egg sandwich and coffee.
Pera’s other “mostly mellow” work can be found on his website, joepera.com. He performs standup regularly in New York, including co-hosting the free weekly show “Dan + Joe + Charles” every Tuesday night at 8 at the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. Holland Patent Public Library, which did the music for the sleep video, is in the process of making a new album which will be available in the next few months at http://hollandpatentpubliclibrary.bandcamp.com/.