Pete Holmes looks beyond ‘Crashing’ and into world of a ‘Comedy Sex God’

Interview: The Lexington native reflects on the departure of his HBO show and opens up about the spiritual component of his new book

Via peteholmes.com
 
 

As a fan, it’s never fun to see your favorite show get cancelled. It becomes a weekly ritual that you stick to, one that gets you through the week. So, imagine being the one who wrote, directed, and starred in a show, and then have it be cancelled out of nowhere after writing out the fourth season.

Enter Pete Holmes.

Holmes’ HBO brainchild, Crashing, was cancelled after three seasons earlier this month, and while the surprising non-renewal might sting a bit for its viewers, the Lexington native is feeling grateful for the opportunity to have been able to do the show at all. In fact, he’s sort of glad that he didn’t know it was ending before shooting the fourth season, as the season three finale seemed to fit as a better series finale anyway.

While there is a natural sense of mourning for the show’s early exit, he’s not super down about it — in fact, Holmes is already set to move on to his next creative project. Comedy Sex God, a book set to hit shelves this spring, with a discussion May 18 at WBUR CitySpace in Boston, is sort of a continuation of what Holmes’ semi-autobiographical character on the show went through when coming to terms with the evolution of his faith in God. In the book, Holmes isn’t looking to promote any sort of new religion or faith, but rather show readers that may be dealing with the same feelings that they aren’t alone in this.

Vanyaland decided to get him on the horn and ask him all about it.

Jason Greenough: It’s been a few weeks since you got the news about the unfortunate cancellation of Crashing. How are you feeling about the whole situation now after having a bit of time with it?

Pete Holmes: Well, I’m feeling the same way I was the day I found out, which is very grateful and very happy with what we made. It’s funny, and you’re kind to do it, Jason, and it is the right thing to do, but I find people sort of tiptoeing around and expecting that maybe I’m devastated, and like, eating Ben and Jerry’s and drinking vodka on my couch. But that’s not the case.

In fact, when I talked to the folks at HBO about the show not coming back, I was very clear that all I was feeling was joy and gratitude that I got to make this in the first place. This isn’t positive repression or anything, because I have access to all my feelings and there is some mourning when it comes to thinking about the fact that I won’t be able to work with Judd [Apatow] as closely, or shoot another scene with George Basil, or Artie [Lange], or Jamie Lee and all of these wonderful people that I love to see. But as a project, I feel like the third season wrapped up perfectly, so much so that I kept accidentally calling it the series finale when we were shooting it. People kept having to correct me on that.

The truth is that there was something, possibly subconscious in me, that knew that this was a nice way to end the story. The fourth season would have been wonderful, for sure, but it would’ve changed the show. It would’ve been about my character getting some sort of a break, or if it followed the trajectory of my life, he would’ve gotten a talk show or something. That is interesting, but when I pitched the show to HBO and to Judd, I said I wanted to make a show about suffering that acted as sort of a love letter to suffering. A break isn’t necessarily the right story to tell. I love that we made a show that is as ambiguous and sort of non-monumental as a life in stand-up really feels for the most part. There are flare-ups, no doubt, but you’re out doing what you do because it’s what you love to do, and then occasionally there’s these side things that come up that are exciting. But really the show was always about the beautiful grind in the life of an artist, or rather someone trying to make it.

There was definitely a quality to the show ending without the cookie-cutter, fairytale ending.

Yeah, totally. And maybe even the fact that we didn’t know it was ending helped us make a better ending. I sort of feel like it’s this open-ended, hot ending. I mean hot in the way that it was interactive. Fans of the show, I hope, would take time to wonder what happens next. [My character] was pretty funny, and he was working at the best club in the country, and there was a chance he could get back with his girlfriend, so there’s all this stuff to discuss as opposed to tying it all up, and that sort of keeps it alive in the imagination of the fans, which I think is really exciting.

Going back to the first question, if I could, I was just joking with a friend about how I made a show about dealing with the ups and downs, and rolling with things when things end or fail. I don’t consider, by any stretch, three seasons a failure. I think it’s a wonderful thing that we got to do, but I was talking to Ron Funches about it, and was like, “How disappointing would it be if the guy who made, wrote and starred in a show about crashing, couldn’t handle a tiny little crash like this?” That would be such a letdown for me.


Taking it back to the moment you got the news that it wasn’t coming back — did you feel like it wasn’t coming back at any point, or was it completely surprising to you?

We had planned out the fourth season, and we had an outline when we went in to HBO and pitched them the outline. I remember thinking “if they’re letting us pitch this outline, then there’s a good chance that they’ll probably want to make a fourth season,” but it’s almost like wondering if the hot person in high school that you have a crush on likes you. There’s no way to know until you ask them out, so you’re trying to interpret these signals when you’re like “Oh, HBO wants to meet,” or “I know there was a Deadline article about how much HBO likes the show and they were talking about how creatively satisfied they were with the show,” so you try not to speculate too much, but maybe you do go “They love, they love me not.”

But ultimately, I know the decision, and I experienced this with my talk show and with Crashing, is not personal, and it’s often not even based, as was the case with Crashing, on how HBO felt about the show creatively. You’re usually waiting on news from the analytical department for the ratings and subscribers brought in, versus the cost to make our pretty expensive show. You’re sort of waiting for data more than a personal decision, like whether or not they like you.

I feel like the show will definitely continue to make an impact far beyond its time on HBO.

Isn’t that crazy? I mean, back in the ’80s, you have shows like Cheers or M*A*S*H or something that, while they weren’t cancelled, they went away and they didn’t even know that we would be buying VHS and then ultimately DVDs and iTunes of these shows. I’m fortunate that, in the wake of this non-renewal, I can go “yeah, it’s still up on the site,” where there’s 24 episodes, which is 12 hours of a show that I made for HBO, and that’s an incredible achievement. I can’t wait for more people to keep finding it.

I’m also grateful that we’re a “C” show. We’re right there at the top of the list on an alphabetical site, baby. You’re gonna go right past Arli$$ and Ballers, and then there’s Crashing. We’re on there before Game of Thrones, c’mon!

You certainly haven’t wasted any time moving on to the next thing! You’ve got Comedy Sex God coming out in May. What is the book about?

There always was a spiritual component to Crashing, and that was always one of my favorite worlds to explore, and people always responded to that. We would always use Leif’s character to, even if he was doing it in a funny way, dispense dome wisdom or some perspective. [My character] was obviously dealing with the existential crisis of realizing that the God that he was raised with wasn’t in line with what his intuition and experiences were telling him. So, he’s hungry and thirsty, as he talks with Penn Jillette, and Leif, and as he talks with everybody and is searching for a new model of the mystery, because the word “God” is so loaded. There’s only so much you can do in a 30-minute comedy to talk about this, so the book is about me directly addressing this topic. It’s my favorite thing to talk about, it’s probably my biggest passion in life, so I wanted to write a point blank excavation of my new thoughts and my new philosophies, as well as the story that brought me there.

I really wrote the book for people like my character, and everybody, obviously, who are the recovering evangelical. People that grew up as fundamentalists, but the grew out of it as their experiences pushed them out of their traditional faith. It’s for the people who are looking for a belief system or symbol system, who are looking for that connection to the mystery, because it’s something we can plug into and flow with every moment of every day.

What’s interesting is that within writing the book, and talking about these things on my stand-up and my podcast or whatever, I found that there’s gotta be millions of us who think this is a niche interest, and then you end up meeting so many people who don’t just lose their faith, but that have some sort of feeling that they don’t know what to do with.

I’m not trying to turn anybody on to any sort of group or really even sell any sort of philosophy. I really wrote the book for two “R’s”. I wrote to relieve suffering, because I’ve met so many people where their belief or lack of belief is causing them suffering, and I wrote it to restore some sort of connection to the mystery, because I think that’s what we’re all after. Science, as well as mysticism, is looking for some sort of way to fit on the pulse of the mystery and feel it, or experience it. And that’s what I’m sort of sharing in the book.

You’re bringing a book tour back home to Boston to help promote this book. How are you feeling about coming back to the city to shell out this idea?

It’s exciting, but also daunting to go back to where you’re from. I love going to Boston, but especially with Boston being the place where my earliest foundation was laid, I tend to get extra passionate knowing that some of the people from my college, Gordon College, might be there, or the people from my old church might be there. So there’s an extra electricity to going back to where you sort of took your first steps in the direction towards God. I wouldn’t say there’s any bitterness when I look back on my Christian college or my old church. There may be a little bit, but for the most part, the majority of the message is, and this is a big point in the book, is that anything that begins your journey is a good thing, and even if you end up losing your faith, that is also a good thing.

It’s a very inclusive message in the book that whatever brings you closer to connection and to truth is a good thing, including my divorce, which I never would have understood in the moment. But that’s one of the ideas in the book, that it’s all working together when you zoom out and look at it, and then you understand it, which is a pretty far out idea.

COMEDY SEX GOD LIVE! A CONVERSATION WITH PETE HOLMES & MEREDITH GOLDSTEIN :: Saturday, May 18 at WBUR CitySpace, 890 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., $37 :: Advance tickets :: WBUR CitySpace event page