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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Joe Pera, Jim Carrey in alternative standup

With his first standup special, Joe Pera compares and contrasts with alternative comics of the past.

joe pera.jpg

Joe Pera is pictured.

On Oct. 6, comedian Joe Pera released his first standup special on YouTube. He opened it with the following words:

“How ‘bout this door?”

He then turned to gesture at the massive black door looming behind his substantially smaller body.

“Something pretty big could come through this door.”

Pera just smiled warmly and stayed pointing at the door awhile. The absurd investment was never mentioned again for the rest of the special. There is not an inkling of explanation for it.

Pera’s standup, as well as his performance in his Adult Swim show, “Joe Pera Talks With You” (2018-21), is reminiscent of a happy sloth heavily sedated by melatonin. Each of his words are delivered carefully and deliberately, in the way that packages labeled “FRAGILE” are.

Unlike most comedians’ observational jokes, Pera’s doesn’t dig into some dark, complex paradox that makes the audience laugh because he’s excavated some hidden and taboo part of their mind. Instead, he focuses more on small moments, like when a squirrel picks up a pita chip the size of its body or when you’re struggling with your partner to find the right temperature for sleep. He uses his unique slow delivery and precise wording to make the crowds roar with laughter. In an age where attention is currency, his comedy is almost hypnotically gentle, a style you can fall asleep to. In fact, that’s exactly what friends told him a few years ago, prompting him to begin a sleep podcast that’s currently on its ninth episode.

If Pera’s style can be labeled as one end of the comedic extreme, then arguably, on the other end, one would find Jim Carrey.

Though Carrey is best known for his roles in iconic comedies like “The Mask” (1994), “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and “The Truman Show” (1998), he began as a standup comic. Though it took him many years of playing comedy clubs before his first television appearance, when the world saw him, they couldn’t look away. Despite the extreme exaggerations and outbursts of energy that characterize his performances, it’s abundantly clear that Carrey is extremely meticulous and controlled in his craft. In one of his most famous bits from his 1991 comedy special “Unnatural Act,” Carrey impersonates celebrities using only facial expressions, transforming from Jack Nicolson to Clint Eastwood to James Dean. Most impersonators only do voices, perhaps with some accompanying physical gestures, but Carrey has the ability to manipulate his facial muscles in such a way that he temporarily takes on the face of the ones he’s impersonating. Throughout the special, his body contorted, bent, stretched and expanded in wondrous ways, often underscoring his punchlines with literal punches or kicks.

What’s even more fascinating, however, is how much Carrey has changed over the years. In the 2000s, aside from his usual comedy films and animation voice overs, he also began to take on more serious roles in movies such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) and “The Number 23” (2007). In these performances, his usual style still shone through from time to time, but it was evident that he was perfectly capable as a dramatic actor, demonstrating to the world that he is capable of not only physical but also emotional acrobatics.

In the 2010s, however, tragedy struck. He was wrongly accused of the death of his girlfriend Cathriona White, a lawsuit that persisted from 2016 to 2018. Combined with his existing struggle with depression, the event struck a huge blow to Carrey, contributing to his gradual recession from the public limelight. Nowadays, he talks about wanting to get out of acting altogether. He has become nearly unrecognizable from the ball of lightning he was a few decades ago.

Over the course of his lifetime, the comic giant has traveled further and further from his end of the comedic spectrum, passing by other high-energy performers like Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams, observational comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Norm Macdonald and dead-pan comics like Tig Notaro and Stephen Wright: he has approached the world of Joe Pera.

Alternative comedians like Carrey and Pera may exist towards the two ends of the comedy spectrum, but they are often more similar than they seem. They both chose this line of work to make people laugh, whether it be out of a need for connections, recognition or joy. Comics are human beings first, and perhaps there’s no better demonstration of that fact than the unlikely and growing stylistic union between Jim Carrey and Joe Pera.

If that black door behind Joe Pera’s stage does open, one can perhaps imagine Jim Carrey would walk through, exhausted after a journey decades long. Perhaps the two would hug, then sit in the quiet corner of the second comedy boom, finding joy in the small things before a crowd of hundreds, wondering what might happen when a squirrel receives a pita chip that’s bigger than itself.