“Sometimes we just look at each other and ask, ‘What would Big Bird do?’”
This is the question Pete Holmes, creator and star of HBO’s comedy show “Crashing,” and his writers ask themselves when they don’t know where to go with his character — a clean and somewhat naïve version of his younger self, navigating life and laughter in the brutal world of show business. Holmes recently talked to The Daily via a conference video chat to discuss the show’s second season, his experience in comedy and what it’s like to relive his own life through the show.
The loveable “Sesame Street”-esque aspects of Holmes’s character are what makes “Crashing” special among other shows of the same “comedian’s life” type like “Louie.” He’s completely genuine as a person, fallible and sometimes not even that good at comedy. But these chinks in his armor are integral to the show’s overall flavor, bringing a fresh perspective to a story many comedy fans are already aware of. Holmes is really good at telling bad jokes, making his character’s newbie status on the scene believable and infusing a youthful bounce into the show. “Crashing” follows this fictionalized version of Holmes through his struggles as a comedian coming up in the New York scene after his wife leaves him, literally crashing on other comedians’ couches as he tries to make it in the tough club scene. Holmes says he “wants to take the struggle of doing stand-up and add on top of it as many relatable jokes and situations as possible.” The show definitely achieves this, making the difficult journey up comedy’s ranks understandable from an outside perspective and focusing in on the humanity of it all.
The first season of the show, which came out last spring, laid the foundation for an interesting look into the realities of a young comedian’s life. Holmes’s own experiences are the basis for “Crashing” — a series of emotional and professional ups and downs that keep the viewer engaged and invested in the show’s plot. He created “Crashing” with the guidance of co-producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), who helped to balance the show’s narrative to create something unique. After his first endeavor — a talk show on TBS called “The Pete Holmes Show” — Holmes says he asked himself, “What is the story that is kind of the most personal to me, that only I could tell?” His life was somewhat of a rollercoaster, Holmes reflected.
“Well, I was raised religious. I got married when I was 22. My wife left me when I was 28, and then I really started trying to become a stand-up. I was like, ‘That sounds like a Judd Apatow idea.’” Holmes flew out to New York for what he says was “15 minutes” with Apatow while he was filming Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” a meeting which would prove integral to the show’s creation.
The balance between drama and comedy is what really stands out about “Crashing,” especially in its new season, which currently airs on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EST. Holmes says Apatow is the real master behind this equilibrium.
“I basically tell him what really happened in my life and he figures out how to make that funny,” Holmes said. “I’ll tell him for example, ‘There’s a lot of solitude and eating Chinese food,’ and he’ll be like, ‘OK, you can do that for like a scene, but you have to work at Cold Stone Creamery.’ So I’ll give him credit on that one.”
The second season of the show tackles more existential and serious topics than the last, exploring addiction with frequent guest star Artie Lange (“The Howard Stern Show”) in the episode “Artie” and the battle to maintain faith in the spotlight with magician Penn Jillette in the season’s premiere “Atheist.” These themes of self-discovery and realization give a new edge to Holmes’s character, bringing him from “Big Bird” to something else — a poignant representation of what it means to change while pursuing your dreams.