Stand-up comedian Pete Holmes is probably best known to college students as the former late-night talk show host whose Batman parody videos enjoyed viral success a few years ago.
After releasing his 2016 one-hour special “Pete Holmes: Faces and Sounds,” Holmes returned to television last spring with his semi-autobiographical sitcom “Crashing,” which tracks Holmes’ humble comedy beginnings as a recent divorcee who is forced to rely on others’ kindnesses as he pursues a career in stand-up comedy.
Holmes recently sat down for a live video chat with The Lantern and reporters from student papers across the country to discuss the difference between his true self and the character of “Pete Holmes,” his partnership with Judd Apatow, and what it is like working on “Crashing” with his friends and fellow comedians.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did you approach balancing the drama and the comedy in this season [of “Crashing”], specifically?
PH: I think that’s really Judd Apatow, who of course creates the show with me and produces the show with me. Really, that’s kind of his expertise. I basically tell him what really happened in my life and he figures out how to make that funny. I’ll tell him for example, “There’s a lot of solitude and eating Chinese food,” and he’ll be like, “Okay, 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.
Q: I felt like this had a bit of a “Seinfeld” vibe. Would you say that liking “Seinfeld” had a kind of a personal connections to the stories that went on?
PH: Oh sure. Thank you. I will take any comparison to “Seinfeld.” Obviously I love that show and I’m a big fan of Jerry as a comedian and a creator. So yeah, I mean they’re similar in the way that we want to take relationships, we want to take the struggle of doing stand-up and add on top of it as many relatable jokes and situations as possible.
Q: I really think the second season was really about Pete’s journey of self discovery through comedy and in his personal life. Where do you plan on taking him next season?
PH: I think the end of this season is kind of applicable to what we’re doing now. You’ll see that my character gets into the college market, and I’m sure you guys are familiar with what it’s like when a comedian comes to do a show. So I think the third season potentially would end with Pete coming off the road. We’ll see a little bit about what it’s like to tour and live in motels and drive six hours between Dakotas and all that stuff. These are all just kind of early ideas. But then, he’ll have to come back to New York. And one of the things that I think is really funny about stand-up is if you leave New York or LA or Chicago or Boston, by the time you get back, the entire scene is completely different. So I think it’ll be really fun to see him have to start over again and again and again. Because in my experience, that’s what show business is; it’s not making it once, it’s like you have to make it a dozen times.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Judd Apatow and how that came to be, and was “Crashing” something that you brought to him or is that something that developed from that partnership?
PH: It’s actually kind of interesting. I had a talk show that was on for a while, and Judd, it turns out, was a fan of that talk show, called “The Pete Holmes Show,” and that show got cancelled after about 80 episodes, and I started to kind of like dig a little bit deeper and ask myself, “What is the story that is kind of the most personal to me, that only I could tell?” People could make a lot of different shows, but I was like, “What’s unique about me?” I was like, “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,” and I was like, “That sounds like a Judd Apatow idea.” I had known him because he did a sketch on my talk show, because he was a fan, but we didn’t really know each other very well and I think I had that idea on a Wednesday and I flew into New York where he was shooting “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer, and I think his assistant, who is now a good friend of mine, was like, “He has 15 minutes,” and I was like, “OK, I’ll fly to New York for 15 minutes with Judd Apatow.” I think anyone would. I told him the idea. It was actually toward the end of the conversation we mostly talked about comedy and just what it’s like doing stand up and stuff, for 12 minutes. He liked it, but it wasn’t like he was like, “Deal, let’s make this show.” He was like, “Go write the script, go write a few episodes,” and that’s what I did, and then we went out and pitched it. He’s the only person I wanted to do it.
Q: So you’ve had various guest stars, and one of your guests, or a returning guest star is TJ Miller. Have the recent allegations about him affected him coming on the show at all?
PH: TJ is a dear friend of mine so obviously it was heartbreaking when that story came out. A lot of the details of the story were news to me like they were to everybody. There weren’t any plans to have TJ on the show again. One of those things that I like about “Crashing” is that it feels like real life to me, which is, take TJ in my real life, TJ, I just said, he’s one of my dear friends, I see him maybe once a year. That’s just how show business is … It can kind of sometimes seem lonely or hollow or strange. And TJ, when he was on the show, his character was kind of complaining about that — just the solitude and loneliness of doing something that when you start, you’re at the open mics and you’re having drinks and you’re having laughs with your friends, and then when you make it, you’re alone in Boise, Idaho, and you’re just like losing it, losing your mind. And that’s deliberate. When we have somebody come on, like for example Bill Burr was on. I don’t know if we’ll have Bill Burr back, but part of what’s interesting to have new people popping in [is] because that’s what show business feels like to me.
Q: Was it interesting working with fellow comedians who were already your friends as opposed to people you didn’t really know?
PH: Yeah, I love that question. It’s sometimes great working with somebody that you know, and sometimes it’s even more fun to work with somebody that you don’t know and you get to know. Like, Bill Burr and I have known each other for a long time, but shooting the show was far and away the longest amount of time we’d spent together. And making TV there’s actually quite a bit of downtime so Bill and I would go and get lunch or something, and I was like, “This is amazing. This is one of my favorite comedians, we’re shooting a show, he’s playing himself, he’s having fun, he likes it,” and that is kind of even more of a thrill. Although, when John Mulaney, who has been my friend for over a decade, is on the show, I don’t think I’ve tried to not laugh harder than I did doing that scene, because he was being exactly how he is when we make fun of each other. I think it was so funny. So many people were like, “Oh, John, he’s playing against type and he’s pretending to be a jerk,” and I was like, “When comedians talk to each other, we love being mean to each other.’” There’s an understanding that it’s done in love. I think it’s so funny that people think he’s not like that. Of course he is. He’s the sweetest, nicest guy, but he can also make fun of your shirt. That’s just what we do.
“Crashing” airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. Seasons 1 & 2 also are also available on HBO Go and HBO Now.