WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday’s season finale of Crashing. Read at your own risk!
Crashing, the acclaimed HBO comedy from Pete Holmes and Judd Apatow, ended its first season tonight without its hero finding much happiness, if any at all. But that’s okay — the show will be back for a second season, which Holmes and his staff have already started writing. We caught up with Holmes to discuss the first season of his autobiographical comedy, the show’s future, and how watching his life on TV has been a cathartic experience for him. (Plus: strippers.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First, give us some background on that finale episode.
PETE HOLMES: Well, I felt like I was in a unique position or I am in a unique position to show the Evangelical world in a way that I haven’t seen on TV before. That’s a world that I’m very familiar with. So it was an interesting opportunity to show an adult baptism, and what we really wanted to do was juxtapose a piece of debauchery we have at the beginning of the episode where he’s in his own kind of personal rock bottom, going to a strip club. It’s just very compromising for him, and then that’s it. He’s had enough Mike’s Hard Lemonade and lap dances that he feels like he needs to hit reset and kind of try to go “home” in more ways than one.
We know much of the show is autobiographical, so how much of the events in the finale took place in your life?
At this point in the show, we have kind of veered off my actual literal experience, other than the fact that I was baptized when I was 18, and a lot of people I knew would get baptized in their 20s or even 30s, or you know, later. That’s just something that we were very familiar with. So I’ve been to many baptisms. I’ve even been to my own adult baptism! But we just couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of dragging someone like Artie Lange, to a place that… For once, Artie is the uncomfortable one and Pete’s in his element. Throughout the whole series, we’ve seen Pete uncomfortable and Artie in his element.
In the episode, there’s that scene where your character gets into an argument with a stripper about comedy. Was that based on an actual experience?
It was based on criticism I had been given before about how people think it’s weird that I don’t like strip clubs and even women think it’s weird that I don’t like strip clubs. And they think there’s something kind of twisted about not liking it, so we tried to write just kind of an atypical stripper character. Something that would be unexpected, and then Judd had the brilliant idea of having her know about comedy and kind of… we always wind up having people on the show who end up having a surprising outlook on life.
And so at the very end, Pete and Leif are in the bed together in that motel, and the season has an almost open-ended conclusion. What’s going through Pete’s mind?
I just think the whole season is Pete finding grace in unexpected places as a comedian, and here he is getting that lesson again — that you can’t plan on anything and life is going to keep kind of making jokes at him. I’m sure to Pete it almost seems like God himself is making jokes at him. So you know, he’s definitely not happy! But he’s also completely desperate, so we really like the idea of ending the season where he hasn’t even really learned too much yet. He’s just kind of learned to accept his divorce, but he’s still broke. He still doesn’t have anywhere to live and he’s with somebody now that he really would rather not be with anymore.
You’ve talked about your life experiences many times before this show, either in your own comedy or in your podcast, but is it different when you film it and actually see it? Has getting the show into the world kind of been like a different and maybe cathartic experience for you?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I remember one of our editors was like, “It’s going to be weird when your parents see the parents episode,” and I was like, “Oh, no. I told them about it.” He said, “Yeah. I remember I called my mom after an earthquake, and then she seemed kind of indifferent. But then after she saw it on TV, she called back and was like really, really concerned.” His point was it’s different when people see it. But there’s a good side to that.
I would say it might be as close to catharsis as I’ve come, even with therapy and talking a lot about it on my own: Making a show that’s not only about a divorce, but something that was, I would say, even more traumatic, which is starting in comedy. Putting it on screen and letting people see it. Not just hear about it. Not just have me mention it. See what a s—hole a comedy club looks like, see what a bad open mic looks like. You know, a lot of comedians reach out to me and they say how glad they are that the show has captured the suffering that we all go through, and that makes me really happy because, for whatever reason, I want people to know that it wasn’t easy. It’s good to know that people work hard at this stuff.
Let’s pivot a little bit to season 2. Obviously, it’s early and you guys are still working on it, but can you tell us anything about what it might look like, and where Pete will be professionally or personally?
I think that the first season, in my mind, is about denying his divorce, because he doesn’t believe it. I think second season is going to be Pete accepting it, and maybe even grieving it. And maybe even acting out a little bit, because it’s going to be real to him now. It’s not going to be a trial divorce, it’s going to be the real thing. He’s going to have to find a way to live. He’s going to have to find a new place to stay. And if he doesn’t get better [at comedy], he won’t have a spouse to fall back on, so his ass is even more on the line, which is where we find a lot of the comedy.
Will Artie Lange still be there for him to fall back on?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the plan. I know Artie was having some legal trouble, and we hope he’s doing well. I’m hoping that he will be and planning that he will be. I look forward to it.
Pete and Leif have this really buddy comedy, odd couple kind of vibe. Really good chemistry. Will Leif remain a part of the picture in season 2?
Absolutely. When I met George Basil at a party probably seven years ago, I literally said to him, “I’m going to write a movie for you.” I loved him so much I pledged to make him a project and all these years later, it happens as a TV show, but still. I’m not going to let somebody that great get away.
Now that the show is out there, has this affected your own comedy or your stand-up? Has it changed the way you’ve approached your routine of your audience’s expectations?
You know what it did the most? Mostly it reminded me just how hard it is to start as a stand-up, so it makes me appreciate more the fact that I’m in a place where I’m better and more comfortable and have more fun doing it, and also have access to shows. I think it can be easy at a certain point to take it for granted that you can kind of perform whatever you want. So it makes me more appreciative and more of a joyful performer, and now when I’m up there I’m really… because I’ve lived through it twice now, I’m really appreciative.
So you spoke about the Evangelical Christian angle, and as you said before, you don’t see this slice of Christianity depicted a lot on television. I’m curious if you’ve heard from people from the Evangelical community about their thoughts?
Yeah. You know, I think that community is a kind of simultaneously over-represented and also under-represented. There’s no shortage of assumed Christian values or Christian cultural lifestyle worlds and stuff, but I don’t think we’ve seen a show that featured, for example, an adult baptism or whatever. So I have heard from a lot of people that I went to Christian college with or people who I’ve been to church with. There have been a lot of those people, and then also just a lot of random people on Twitter who say that’s exactly what makes the show work for them. But ultimately the main thing the show is about is a stand-up doing standup comedy. That’s obvious, but because there are so many shows like that, I really like to lean into the differences, which are Pete’s faith, Pete’s relationship, and the fact that we’re focusing on the beginning as opposed to a show like Louie or whatever, which I love, but they’re always featuring established comedians that are already making a living.