There is a moment in the second episode of Crashing where amateur comedian Pete tries to play Artie Lange some music on the way to a gig, blasting “Flood” by Christian rock band, Jars of Clay. As the semi-melodic tune plays, Artie continues to scoff and roll his eyes while Pete desperately tries to defend them. “People make fun but they rock man,” he says to Lange, bopping his head to the rhythm.
This could sum up the entire psyche of Pete Holmes’ newest project, Crashing. He’s a little nutty but ultimately Pete means well. Pete Holmes’ ironic background is center stage through the first season of Crashing, as the real life comedian relives some quasi-true material. Unlike any comedian-based television show, like Maron or Louie whose main stars are already successful comedians, Crashing documents the journey, the evolution of Pete Holmes.
Crashing brings up the question, and each weird scenario Pete falls into continues to ask, “What’s a nice guy like him doing in stand-up comedy?” This could be the genius of Pete Holmes’ entire persona, in his real life and on the show, because he’s unlike anyone else in the business. He can barely fulfill his ex-wife Jess’ sexual desires. He says innocently in the pilot, “I can’t bite your neck! You’re my best friend!” It’s a wonder this vanilla persona could ever make it in the big leagues, with the likes of Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, or TJ Miller, who all guest star on the show. The first season chronicles what appears to be the origin story for Holmes, in reality a well-seasoned comedian but once a G-rated youth pastor-like figure who, after realizing his wife (played by Lauren Lapkus) is having an affair with kombucha smelling dude Leif, (played endearingly by George Basil), flees to New York City, staying on couches of various comedians who feel bad for him. Reflecting personal experience, Holmes did not turn to the church, which may have been the first suggestion for a Christian like Pete to go. Instead, we see Pete struggling to identify with anyone who will listen to him on the stage.
In the opening episode, we watch the first of many shuddering moments, as Pete bombs during an act attempting to categorize his own horror to that of Tig Notaro, who in 2012, went on stage the day she found she had cancer. Notaro’s set is remembered as comedy genius. But as we watch Pete, struggling with a heckler, we know that he is not supposed to kill on stage. That will come at a later time, but now we need to feel embarrassed for him, because unlike Notaro, who is a seasoned comedian, TV Pete has yet to pay his dues.
It’s uncomfortable but Pete’s mishap allows his first guardian angel, comedy vet Artie Lange, to take pity on him and offer him a place to sleep. Crashing showcases the strong community within the world of standup. In Holmes’ real life, he crashed with comedians John Mulaney, Nick Kroll and TJ Miller.
What’s ironic about the real life Pete Holmes is that he did make it. He did pay his dues and now has one of the most popular comedy podcasts, You Made It Weird. The podcast, which was originally meant to be a dual effort for Holmes and fellow funny person Chelsea Peretti, has allowed Holmes to foster his own understanding of himself. Every week since October 11, 2011, (comedian Kumail Nanjiani was the first ever guest), Holmes invites various comedians, actors, musicians, and sport stars to come kick it with him and share their own thoughts on comedy, sex and religion.
Crashing feels like a prequel to You Made It Weird. TV Pete is unaware of the world around him. He’s a sweet guy but has no true purpose just yet. We cringe as we watch Pete’s innocence pitted against the experienced vets of comedy. He blows cocaine out, pretending he’s snorted it. He tells Sarah Silverman that he loves her in Wreck it Ralph but can’t handle her foul mouthed comedy. In contrast, Holmes’ podcast allows us to witness Pete’s real life evolution. TV Pete is different from podcast Pete, who has spoken on air about his therapy sessions, his confusion on God and even opening up about his own experience with drugs. Reality Pete now has perspective, a trait that has not yet been gained by the Pete in Crashing.
But we’re hopeful that TV Pete will grow up. On a February 23 recording of WTF with Marc Maron, Holmes admits that this show is “a break up with his wife, a break up with his parents and a break up with his traditional understanding with God.” Pete is going to have to loosen up and discover himself. He must be comfortable in his own skin. He needs to accept that he won’t kill on stage just yet or that the wounds from his divorce will continue to sting for a while. As this season hits its finale next Sunday, Pete will continue to let go of some his boundaries, reflecting the now seasoned comedian that Pete Holmes is in reality. But as of right now, it’s wonderful to witness the bittersweet struggle through his own mess in hopes that he will ultimately discover his own personal happiness. And anyone can relate to that.