Judd Apatow, the multi-hyphenate writer and director who brought you Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Trainwreck, has a pretty good track record when it comes to comedy king-making. Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham have all benefited from the Apatow bump. The next guy Apatow is throwing his weight behind? Pete Holmes, who will star in HBO's Crashing, premiering 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 19.
Not only is Apatow producing Crashing (much like he did with Dunham's Girls), he's also going out on the road with Holmes, and they're inviting Crashing costar (and former Howard Stern entourage member) Artie Lange along as well. The trio hit The Trocadero Friday for a pre-Crashing live show. “We have a lot of fun hanging together, so it’s like a vacation,” says Apatow.
Holmes was raised in a strict Christian household and almost became a pastor before changing lanes and becoming a stand-up. "We’re all after similar things, like, unity rather than division. A brain surgeon saving a person and keeping a family together is a religious experience," Holmes said. "Whether someone offers that up to God is another thing. If I can do comedy and get people to forget their differences, it becomes an audience, like a Mass … and that is religious to me; finding compassion and empathy for each other. I think comedy and storytelling is the same path as I had when I was younger, just with different language.”
His work onstage, on his podcast You Made It Weird, and in Crashing, traffics in the wonder of sex, comedy, and religion. For Holmes, charming and happy is his resting position. “I was definitely interested in the intersection of comedy and likability, at the very least, making my character relateable,” says Holmes. “Yet, you are aiming for qualities that are, yes, ethereal and even magical. So you wind up doing this invocation dance and chanting, ‘Oh boy, I hope this is pleasant.' ”
It was while doing TBS' now-canceled The Pete Holmes Show and his weekly podcast that Holmes’ origin story, and what would become the basis for his show, came out: his religiosity, marrying the first girl that he slept with and the subsequent dissolution of their relationship, being driven to comedy. It became worth pitching, but it needed gravity and context.
Enter Apatow. During a SXSW screening of HBO's Girls, which will premiere its final season Sunday, Apatow ran into Holmes, who invited the producer/director/writer onto You Made It Weird. “During a skit, Pete was pitching me ideas, all of them bad, until I asked for the 'big idea,' you know, his real one,” says Apatow. “He basically pitched me Crashing, and of course I said how terrible and depressing it was. Yet, after the podcast, I had to know more, the religious connections, the romance.”
The next thing they knew, the twosome sold Holmes’ very personal tale to HBO. “I like people with a good story who write from a personal space -- Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer -- and Pete’s was that he is a religious person trying to make it in comedy before he is actually good or knows what he is doing,” says Apatow. “That was engaging and funny to me.”
You can hear Holmes smile as he says, “I brought Judd a story directly inspired by my life (even the really nice character who has sex with my wife-character is mystically spiritual), and he internalized, made it more relateable, made it so something had to happen,” says Holmes. “And funny, because you have to keep reminding people that this is a funny show.”
Structuring all that Holmes has lived -- losing a wife, being broke, couch-surfing, trying out bits -- means blending in the backstories of those whose couches Holmes sleeps upon. “We see the personalities and the worlds of Sarah Silverman, T.J. Miller, and Artie Lange,” says Apatow, pointing out their Crashing tour costar. “With them, Pete gets to a better place, a more spiritual evolution. That’s a show. There’s only so many ways to go no matter what the show: a happy ending, one where you learn something, or the Coen Brothers type, where a guy gets shot in the head in some weird and mysteriously cruel fashion.”
Crashing has the happy one.
The Crashing Tour with Pete Holmes, Judd Apatow, and Artie Lange, 8 p.m. Friday, Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., sold out, 215-922-6888, thetroc.com