Full disclosure, I fell in love with Pete Holmes the moment I saw him show up on my screen like some gangly white ray of sunshine. I stumbled onto his show Crashing by accident, scrolling along the homepage of my HBO GO app until I saw a photo of a man sitting on a couch in the middle of the street mock-screaming directly into the camera. “I don’t know who this guy is,” I thought, “but I have a feeling he gets me.” Long story short, it was a show about a comedian, I’ve done stand-up a handful of times, and I’m a regular sucker for guys whose noses are of the Adrian Brody variety. I gave it a go.
My love of comedy about comedians started with Jerry Seinfeld. For me, he was the first comic to use serialized television to tell an audience the ins and outs of being a working comedian. Yes, I realize this dates me as a ’90s child – I’m sorry about it, too.
But though Seinfeld hit so many excellent storytelling points, I always felt like Jerry’s career as a comic took a backseat. Granted, though the point of observational humor often being the funniest was driven home, opening and closing nearly every episode with a bit segment felt like trying to make a sandwich with lettuce buns – messy, underwhelming, and devoid of any heft or enjoyment. Your “guilt-free” burgers are weird, Sharon – that’s what I’m getting at here.
But since then, several shows have tried to hone in on the “comedian being a comedian” show, and the results have been pretty successful. Louie, Master of None, and a set of others followed suit. I don’t think I really left my couch when I discovered Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I wondered if there was a possibility of getting burnt out; that there was only so much mining you could do of the genre before it became something expected or a bit easily memorized. But Crashing put that thought to rest.
What sold me on Crashing from the beginning (aside from Mr. Holmes’ incredibly impressive facial appendage) was a small but immensely important detail: The title itself. This was not Pete Holmes IS Crashing. It’s clear that this was a show that wants to stand on its own. And I found a lot of appreciation for that.
But beyond that, there’s so much more to admire. Here’s a show that takes advantage of everything afforded to it. The Judd Apatow-executive produced series follows Pete Holmes playing an only-somewhat fictionalized version of himself, desperately trying to deal with the constant downward spiral that is his life. His marriage ends after his wife has an affair, he blows it on stage not once but several times, he even gets stabbed at one point. In grad school, one of my writing professors told me that the goal with a character is to metaphorically get them up a tree and throw rocks, or problems, at them. In Crashing, Pete Holmes’ metaphorical tree is cut down and then people beat the hell out of him with his own branches. The problems don’t let up, but here’s the kicker, neither does Pete’s enthusiasm.
I think I can confidently say I’ve never seen a show about a comedian where the comedian is this damn hopeful. But that also doesn’t mean that Pete is a perfect person – far from it. He hides behind his religion, has extremely selfish tendencies, and expects the world to mother him. But this makes him far more real; it makes him more afraid of the world when it’s not good to him, and it makes him all the more lovable in the moments when he decides to accept the consequences of his actions. His, “I love comedy more than life itself” attitude is straight-up endearing, and it’s a totally new concept to show a comedian before they find their footing – he is truly “aspiring.” Doing this also makes every stand-up bit that much more weighted – it turned the comedy into good bread to build a sandwich on.
At this point, I should also mention I find Pete more than just a little relatable: I went to a religiously affiliated college with the goal of becoming a pastor, married my high school sweetheart at 22, and now I’ve left the theological job market behind to pursue comedy instead. But regardless, watching Pete’s relationship fall apart was heartbreaking, watching him bomb on stage hit a little too close to home, and hearing him blast his Jars of Clay CD literally made me cry with happiness. I had never seen a comedian like this – vulnerable and desperately wanting to throw his middle finger up, but just can’t morally allow himself to do it.
The show also takes advantage of the fact that Pete Holmes knows a lot of comedians. Courtesy of his show, The Pete Holmes Show, which premiered on TBS from 2013-2014 and his still-running podcast, You Made it Weird, Pete brings out the big names. Sara Silverman, Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, and a slew of others allow Pete to crash on their couches, or guide him through the world of stand-up like some half-baked sages.
I honestly can’t say anymore or I’ll give too much away, so I’ll make it simple: Crashing is a show that lets you feel comedy in a new way, one that takes you behind a punchline, one that lets its main character get beat up in the process. It lets you sit and stay awhile. It lets you just crash.
The first season of Crashing can be streamed on the HBO GO app. It’s been renewed for a second season, but the release date has yet to be confirmed – which means you have plenty of time to catch up.