If You Suck, You’re Doing It Right: Pete Holmes on Life as a Comedian and Crashing

New HBO half-hour series features clean comedy and painful truths

by | February 17, 2017 | Comments

Pete Holmes in Crashing (HBO)

New half-hour HBO comedy Crashing stars Pete Holmes in a largely autobiographical look at his early days in comedy, when he was a struggling comedian whose wife had just left him.

Crashing is a collaboration between creator Holmes and Judd Apatow, who executive produces the series and directed the pilot. Holmes told Rotten Tomatoes that he credits Apatow with distilling Holmes’ real life into an interesting and humorous TV format.

“I like to think the emotion of the story is 100-percent true, but the events have been changed — not like a crime show, ‘to protect the innocent,’ but it’s to make it funnier and more eventful and more interesting,” Holmes said. “What I think Judd is very, very good at as a director and producer is taking the emotional truth of a story like mine, but making it very, very funny and interesting. If we did it exactly like it happened, it would have been a lot slower and drawn out and more montages of me eating ice cream.”

Pete Holmes, Lauren Lapkus in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

But make no mistake — even after condensing the material and punching things up, Crashing is still a story of Holmes’ struggles. The title has a double meaning; not only is it about Holmes bombing on stage, but it’s also about him crashing on other comics’ couches after catching his wife in bed with another man.

Pete Holmes, Artie Lange in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

Pete’s tragedies are a great vehicle to introduce guest stars like Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, Sarah Silverman, and more.

“The thing that I love about the engine of the show is we get to introduce all these guest stars,” Holmes said. “I see the true application of that premise lasting probably two seasons and then maybe resetting if Pete were to get to the next stage and maybe go to L.A., because that is what happens. When comedians move from New York to L.A., they kind of start over and start crashing on new couches.

“And even if Pete finds an apartment at some point when he gets his act together, I think there will be ways to find those bottle episodes where we can have like Sarah Silverman for one episode. When you’re a comedian, you’re like a troubadour, and you have maybe 15 friends where you see most of them only once or twice a year.”

Pete Holmes, T.J. Miller in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

With most of the guest stars playing on-screen versions of themselves, we had to ask if they have been exaggerated for Crashing or if they are mostly staying true to what they’re really like. Holmes says by and large, the comedians are truly playing themselves.

“Some of them might have been nudged up a notch or two just to make it a little bit funnier. Something that comes to mind is TJ, in the second episode, becomes combative and argues with Artie about the order of the show and that’s something TJ would never do in real life. He’s representing an attitude that comedians have sometimes. So with TJ we definitely ramped him up a bit,” Holmes revealed. “But with Artie and Sarah and some of the others, that is almost exactly how they are. We’re not doing the thing that the great show Extras did, where we’re taking the character and what they’re known for and exaggerating it.”

Pete Holmes in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

Another way the show is staying very true to life is highlighting Holmes’ penchant for clean comedy and peppering in references to his Christian upbringing and continuing spirituality. Holmes says that being openly religious can be a challenge in the world of comedy because “almost everybody that [he knows] in show business is an atheist or an agnostic.”

But what he’s been trying to do with his podcast, You Made It Weird, is to find common ground with his friends.
“What’s so funny when we push past those labels and we really talk,” he said, “like people say they don’t believe in God, and then you uncover that I don’t believe in that God either — the one that they’re not believing in — then you get to a nice space where people are appreciative of the mystery and the strange game that we’re all stuck in and all the different poetic and mystical and scientific ways to interpret that. I’m happy to say that given some time and the right format, I find that even my atheist friends and I have more in common than they originally thought.”

Crashing stars Pete Holmes (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

But he does agree that being a clean comic can be a challenge at times.

“I remember Jim Gaffigan, who is clean, he told me once that swearing is like steroids — it does work, but it’s not necessarily the most interesting way to do a good show or a good joke. I love swearing now, for me I just want to express myself as honestly as I can, and it turns out I enjoy swearing from time to time, but I don’t like doing comedy that I find ugly, things that are tearing things down and making people more upset or more fearful or whatever it may be. So even if I’m swearing, I like to keep it light in a certain way. But there’s no doubt in my mind that doing clean comedy is more challenging and can be more artful than someone painting with every color they can possibly paint with.”

Pete Holmes in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

Holmes says that’s part of what Crashing is exploring: When you’re a clean comic starting out, you tend to stick out and not necessarily in a good way.

“Pete is trying to be a comic like Jerry Seinfeld or Ray Romano, and the truth is that when you’re starting out, it’s going to be three comedians talking about their genitalia and then there’s you. You don’t just get to start at Carnegie Hall with people in nice evening attire listening attentively,” Holmes said with a laugh. “You start in a shitty club and people are drunk, and if the past three people are talking about everything imaginable, and you’re trying to get people laughing about ice packs or cotton balls or something a little more cerebral — the truth is that it’s really hard, because nobody’s there to see you, so you just stick out like a sore thumb.”

Pete Holmes in Crashing (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Holmes sticking out among his peers is something to like about Crashing, because instead of having him rocket to instant success, he bombs (repeatedly) on stage in the first few episodes. You don’t actually see him have a good night on stage until the fourth episode. It’s hard to watch because it’s it can be so true to life.

“That’s exactly what we’re going for. We’re trying to slow it down and tell the true story of what it’s like when you’re starting,” Holmes said. “The truth is — and I’m not the only one who says this — is that comedians are bad for five years. That’s the average, unless you’re Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle. Most people, myself included, are bad for at least five years. So we’re telling that story. You might have a good job here or have a good set there, but it’s surrounded by the very interesting and very funny struggle.”

Pete Holmes, Artie Lange in Crashing (Mary Cybulski/HBO)

It might make people wonder how comedians don’t just quit after bombing night after night, but Holmes says to be a successful comic, you have to operate under a small bit of delusion when you’re starting out.

“Every comedian I know has a — this is a strange phrase — a healthy sense of delusion. Not ego, but a feeling that at some point if you just don’t quit, you’ll be better,” Holmes said. “I remember Mike Birbiglia, who is a consultant on the show, in his movie Sleepwalk With Me, he said that every comedian has to be delusional because you have to go up every night, do terribly, and then come off stage and go, ‘That went pretty well.’ And that’s true.

“Some comedians never get good, and they get what we call ‘laughter ears,’ a condition where you think you did well and you didn’t,” he revealed. “It’s a perversion of the little kernel of delusion that we each have.”

Pete Holmes in Crashing (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

But it’s like a comedian says in episode four: If it sucks, you must be doing something right.

“It’s supposed to be terrible, and if it’s terrible, you know you’re doing what Jerry Seinfeld did and Louis C.K. did and Bill Burr and Sarah Silverman did,” says Holmes. “These terrible little breadcrumbs that let you know you’re on the right path, because talk to every comedian and they’ll tell you how hard it was starting out. But they’ll also tell you if you keep doing it, you’re bound to get better.”

Crashing premieres Sunday, Feb. 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO

Tag Cloud

Super Bowl theme song science fiction PBS PlayStation legend trailers golden globe awards comic book movies Spectrum Originals Set visit screen actors guild Warner Bros. blockbusters harry potter justice league king arthur adventure Disney+ Disney Plus The Walt Disney Company hollywood Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt witnail TV One Marathons TV Land olympics Britbox Walt Disney Pictures toronto Turner Classic Movies USA IMDb TV Comic Book 2019 cancelled TV shows name the review Reality christmas movies animated Travel Channel Logo FX crime thriller streaming USA Network stoner Video Games Fox News Legendary Pop TV news BET Awards 72 Emmy Awards TCA Awards The CW strong female leads Fargo vs. basketball Comedy Central APB YouTube Premium Paramount Masterpiece ABC Signature Comic-Con@Home 2021 Black Mirror breaking bad 90s cults razzies IFC HBO FXX YA BBC America documentaries action-comedy Character Guide Holiday Mudbound Watching Series A&E miniseries scary based on movie TV movies CMT TIFF films Pirates VICE twilight Drama Sundance kong ratings hispanic heritage month Disney Rock Apple TV Plus BET comics satire popular true crime 2017 Freeform GLAAD Rocketman Country kaiju wonder woman Marvel Studios rt archives Fox Searchlight reviews spanish Polls and Games romantic comedy sports GoT dogs Animation Baby Yoda Lucasfilm VOD OWN 71st Emmy Awards documentary james bond Adult Swim comic book movie zombies unscripted Syfy singing competition cinemax Crackle Action Countdown Discovery Channel australia Pacific Islander Turner obituary rt labs critics edition space Tokyo Olympics ViacomCBS quibi Nominations Hear Us Out TLC Shondaland Awards Tour 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Disney streaming service 99% die hard ESPN Mary Tyler Moore series TCM RT History revenge El Rey Western criterion gangster live event Netflix Christmas movies Crunchyroll Paramount Network Women's History Month toy story Schedule Image Comics high school 2020 universal monsters slashers foreign festival Thanksgiving YouTube Peacock Writers Guild of America award winner boxing Mary Poppins Returns renewed TV shows Oscars TNT Endgame indie italian Netflix Photos heist movie biopic Epix CW Seed Grammys golden globes aliens new star wars movies finale DirecTV Musical nature television travel spinoff 93rd Oscars Opinion Instagram Live SDCC historical drama dragons comiccon medical drama live action Amazon nfl chucky blockbuster FX on Hulu Nat Geo Red Carpet royal family Showtime Film National Geographic E! dc Creative Arts Emmys best Black History Month doctor who See It Skip It Family Apple TV+ Christmas psycho movie ABC Family 73rd Emmy Awards screenings BBC genre 20th Century Fox marvel cinematic universe Bravo AMC Plus 007 Marvel scene in color supernatural Comedy leaderboard BAFTA dreamworks Heroines Mary poppins CBS Wes Anderson Premiere Dates reboot what to watch Vudu MTV AMC parents Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Acorn TV scary movies green book The Academy Biopics cancelled television boxoffice HBO Go Song of Ice and Fire Tarantino The Walking Dead thriller telelvision First Look GIFs mission: impossible Tubi Binge Guide zero dark thirty Infographic streaming movies composers feel good directors dceu Reality Competition indiana jones Avengers rt labs venice DC streaming service 2021 Rom-Com book cats Elton John hispanic pirates of the caribbean Television Critics Association werewolf Election PaleyFest Podcast Rocky crime drama psychological thriller Mindy Kaling Valentine's Day Pop Year in Review anime OneApp hist rotten movies we love elevated horror Music Hulu adaptation talk show zombie LGBT Sundance TV President slasher ghosts comic books free movies Hallmark video game show mob fast and furious 4/20 stand-up comedy A24 fresh Shudder disaster women Sci-Fi YouTube Red Neflix political drama remakes child's play Captain marvel concert 21st Century Fox tv talk Star Wars TV video on demand Ovation FOX sag awards Holidays richard e. Grant Tumblr TCA 2017 Martial Arts superman scorecard dark Calendar crime ITV 2015 Television Academy facebook know your critic spy thriller 45 X-Men ID The Witch laika cartoon Spring TV sopranos WGN Musicals worst emmy awards batman MCU cancelled Lifetime halloween tv Ghostbusters Disney Plus Lionsgate kids sequels Nickelodeon Comics on TV lord of the rings TCA Kids & Family Classic Film japanese SXSW Lifetime Christmas movies deadpool Pet Sematary stop motion Quiz mockumentary football TruTV Sony Pictures suspense godzilla posters DGA Cartoon Network art house New York Comic Con Toys Cannes young adult Spike WarnerMedia VH1 canceled black festivals latino Sneak Peek spain Winners prank french superhero LGBTQ NBC asian-american 24 frames cars debate versus History Columbia Pictures canceled TV shows transformers all-time Hallmark Christmas movies natural history serial killer king kong critics HBO Max Awards docuseries robots trophy teaser NYCC spanish language saw IFC Films American Society of Cinematographers rotten Certified Fresh Amazon Studios Extras politics First Reviews diversity joker TCA Winter 2020 1990s rom-coms hidden camera CBS All Access adenture international Paramount Plus Alien Superheroe Star Trek Disney Channel children's TV binge independent comedies japan Universal Box Office archives monster movies Exclusive Video Trailer book adaptation Starz halloween 2016 Broadway dexter romance BBC One jamie lee curtis south america cops marvel comics target Horror Winter TV TBS Stephen King RT21 biography San Diego Comic-Con comic movies MSNBC NBA CNN social media aapi Emmys sequel Mystery Amazon Prime Sundance Now crossover Teen Food Network Trophy Talk mcc Chernobyl Fantasy police drama cancelled TV series Fall TV cooking dramedy Apple Dark Horse Comics Brie Larson new york Academy Awards technology TV renewals franchise Funimation worst movies Marvel Television casting Esquire nbcuniversal Interview The Arrangement game of thrones Emmy Nominations SundanceTV Summer vampires Cosplay Pride Month Universal Pictures docudrama critic resources black comedy 2018 sitcom jurassic park blaxploitation Film Festival a nightmare on elm street Superheroes mutant Tomatazos Trivia Amazon Prime Video Best and Worst anthology new zealand discovery war spider-man Anna Paquin DC Comics The Purge Arrowverse spider-verse DC Universe period drama Pixar E3 ABC Ellie Kemper classics