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How getting high with T.J. Miller inspired Pete Holmes' Crashing

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Mary Cybulski/HBO

A version of this story appears in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

On his new HBO comedy Crashing — debuting Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET — Pete Holmes plays a religious young comic named, well, Pete, who gets divorced from his unfaithful wife and finds solace in the dirty world of stand-up comedy. As the comedian tells EW, it’s a story he knows all too well. We spoke to Holmes and Judd Apatow, who executive-produces the series and directs multiple episodes, about comedy, religion, and getting high with T.J. Miller.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you start thinking you wanted to do a show like this?
PETE HOMES: Well, I was doing a talk show for a while on TBS. I found out the show was going to be canceled. It’s funny, when I got divorced in real life, you have that moment where you’re like, should I drink vodka? And when the show was canceled, it was obviously sad in a different way, but it was like, should we…is that what men do? That’s what you think you’re supposed to do! But I’ve never been a sad drinker or anything, so instead we were like, well, we could try making a sketch show. Let’s go pitch one!

So Crashing began as a sketch series?
HOLMES: Not really. Let’s say we were canceled on Tuesday. The very next day, we went to Comedy Central just to chat and see if they were interested, and they said that they had too many sketch shows. So I got in the car and was kind of frustrated. I was like, “If you could do anything, what would you want to do?” I’m a big fan of Girls and was really kind of…I wouldn’t say obsessed with but very into Lena [Dunham]. I would read about her process, and I was like, “That sounds to me like the dream.”

RELATED: Girls and 19 Other HBO Original Series Gems

Would you say this is your Girls? It does have a similar vibe.
HOLMES: I thought to myself, “What would be my show?” And I’ve always kicked around the idea of doing a show about my actual divorce. In fact, when I did a sketch with Judd for my talk show, I pitched him this show as a joke.
JUDD APATOW: I said, “Oh, your life is too sad.” But then he came in later [in 2014] and formally pitched this idea of a comedian who is going through a divorce and has no money — all he has is the comedy community. So he has to sleep on different people’s couches while he tries to get better at it because he’s not good enough to pay his bills. I thought that was great.
HOLMES: I remember that day [I pitched him for real]. He was on the set for Trainwreck. I woke up real, real early. I woke up at like 5. I wasn’t going to miss it. I got there so early! I knew Amy [Schumer] a little bit, but they’re not even there yet. I’m coming to set, and I hadn’t really spent much time on a movie set before, so it was a big thrill. And then in walks Judd, and it was just one of those moments — he’s such a regular guy. He doesn’t sit down and cut the end off a cigar and put his feet up like, “What do you got?” We just talked, and fortunately for me, the topics of the show came up because those are things that he’s interested in, comedy for example, stand-up, and we just…I just kind of told him the idea for the show, and there was no…like, he didn’t stand up and give me a hearty handshake. The way that Judd works is he was like, okay, you think you have an idea. Go write it. Go write it now, and I wrote it in two days or something.

RELATED: Is HBO’s Crashing the next Girls?

Judd, for Crashing you directed a couple of episodes, which you haven’t done for a TV comedy since the shows you created. Why was this the project to get you off the bench?
APATOW: Usually I feel like other people can do it better than me, and I’m always proven correct. I never directed an episode of Girls [Apatow is an EP], but I’ve also never watched any moment of Girls and thought it wasn’t directed as well as it could have been. But because Crashing stars a lot of comedians, it’s a world where I feel like I know I helped get the best out of all of these people. We do a lot of improvisation, which requires a different kind of directing — you’re writing a scene on its feet as it happens. That’s fun for me.

Pete, your character grew up religious, got married early, and is going through a divorce — so obviously the show has a lot of earnest, emotional moments. Was it difficult to balance all that while making sure it was also humorous?
HOLMES: We really played with the rawness. I think it’s funny, but it’s definitely sad for the character. I knew I wanted a Girls-type show about my life, but what’s the big thing that happened to me? Oh, I got married when I was young.

How much does your character’s fictional journey mirror your real-life one?
HOLMES: I’m not religious anymore, but I was raised religious. I was married when I was 22, and then my wife cheated on me. That’s all true. The show is obviously a fictionalization of that. The characters are different, the situation is different, but everything is based on a true emotion or something that’s like, this is how that really felt, and this is what I would have said, and this is what you would have said…. I always wanted to do something about what it’s like to get divorced, especially when it’s a young marriage to start with.

After he leaves his wife, your character crashes with famous comedians like T.J. Miller, Sarah Silverman, and Artie Lange. Is that also based on true experiences?
HOLMES: When I got divorced, the first people I called were Nick Kroll and John Mulaney and T.J. Miller — all the pals. Like, T.J. was a big help in healing his sad friend. He took me to his movie set and we smoked pot for the first time. All these things started happening [in real life], so we wanted to do a dramatization of what that’s like, when someone from a really kind of ethical, more traditional world is accepted by degenerates. [Laughs] Like, people who sleep all day and don’t think twice about doing drugs or having casual sex.

So it sounds like people should view Crashing as an uplifting love letter to comedy rather than a sad show about divorce.
APATOW: Pete loves comedy so much that it’s infectious. This show is about someone trying to be very positive and hold on to their morality while traveling in the weird, dark world of comedians.
HOLMES: It’s very interesting to find hope and something really beautiful in that world. Judd and I both enjoy stories about finding unlikely grace and redemption, and unexpected support and love, and that’s what I found.

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