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Clayton native Jo Firestone on ‘Joe Pera Talks With You,’ teaching comedy to seniors and more

Comedian, podcaster and actress Jo Firestone has a big role in the wonderfully Midwestern show “Joe Pera Talks With You,” which just premiered its third season.
Jo Firestone
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Comedian, podcaster and actress Jo Firestone has a big role in the wonderfully Midwestern show “Joe Pera Talks With You,” which recently premiered its third season.

In the few years since his sweetly Midwestern hit TV show premiered on Adult Swim, Joe Pera has introduced viewers to many wonderful things, regularly breaking the fourth wall to share his understated and endearing insights on everything from grocery shopping to sleeping.

But as fans of “Joe Pera Talks With You” follow Pera’s fictionalized self through his everyday comings and goings in the small town of Marquette, Michigan, it’s not just Pera who shines with gentle humor. So does his fellow comedian and actor, Jo Firestone, who plays Pera’s girlfriend, the character Sarah Conner.

Firestone, who grew up in Clayton, Missouri, brings joyful comedy and depth to the role. In the first season, Sarah becomes a fun-loving, quirky companion to equally idiosyncratic Joe. She also introduces Joe to her fortified basement, full of stockpiled supplies, as she has some concerns about the future.

And now, in the newly premiered third season, Firestone’s character grapples with those concerns in fresh ways.

“We were writing this in the lockdown, this season, and a lot of us were feeling really, really anxious,” Firestone told host Sarah Fenske on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “The show takes place in 2018, so we weren’t going to write it about the pandemic, but just kind of seeing [that] maybe this character who’s already a little anxious can start to be more relatable than she has been in the past.”

The comedian, who also serves as a writer and producer on the Pera show, said she and her collaborators spend significant time in Marquette to make sure they’re getting that location and the Midwestern vibe right — and “portraying people as real people.” The fact that a lot of the writers are from the Midwest also informs their work.

“We also have made some friends in Marquette through the years, and people in Marquette give feedback,” Firestone said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, well, we really like [this or that]’ — just certain things that they like and certain things that they really value about their area — then we try to incorporate [that] in the show. Because we’re lucky to be filming there.”

Firestone, who has lived in New York City for about 11 years, also recently premiered “Good Timing with Jo Firestone,” a comedy special on Peacock that focuses on her teaching comedy to seniors.

The project started just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.

“I wasn’t intending to do an online class, and it was only supposed to go for 13 weeks,” Firestone recalled. “It was going to be in person, and then we moved online, and everybody was pretty savvy with the Zoom stuff. If somebody’s muted, then everybody yells, ‘You’re muted!’ It’s very — everybody helps each other out.”

St. Louis-raised comedian Jo Firestone opens up
After attending Clayton High School, Jo Firestone went to college and then to New York City, where she’s lived for more than a decade. But one of her current gigs, as a writer, producer and co-star in a hit TV show, puts her back in the Midwest in a fictional version of Marquette, Michigan.

The class has continued for nearly two years, and Firestone has found it to be a satisfying gig with some very invested students.

“There’s about 26 of them in the class — only 16 did the special, because the other people were saying, you know, ‘I’m not ready for primetime’ — and yeah, it’s a really funny group,” the St. Louis-area native said. “It’s been really fun to see them kind of learn and develop their voices and kind of bounce off each other. And it’s really fun to see people making each other laugh. That’s probably the best part.

“They have all these inside jokes now and all these different relationships, and they know how to kind of get each other going. It’s really a fun way to start the week.”

While that class has remained online, Firestone has started doing in-person comedy again and is glad to be back on stage in venues where vaccine and masking protocols are in place.

“It feels pretty safe, and you know, people keep coming out,” she said. “And, knock on wood, I haven’t gotten sick yet. I think it’s this kind of thing where it feels so good and it feels so social and you get to work on your craft. And so I think the pros right now are outweighing the cons.”

The crowd energy has been a huge plus, Firestone added.

“When we first came back we were doing a lot of outdoor shows, and usually with outdoor shows the laugh goes up into the sky — you can’t even hear it. But it was so much louder than anything I’ve experienced in the last 15 months that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I really did well!’ You just are so blown away that people would react to something you say [that] you kind of forget that that’s an amazing feeling.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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