“I think a huge reason the show was picked up and a huge reason the show works is because of Artie [Lange] and I’s relationship,” Pete Holmes, the star of HBO’s Crashing, tells Paste before a recent stand-up show celebrating the Blu-ray / DVD release of the show’s first season.
Lange has seen the interest in Crashing first hand while touring. “I did the road quite a bit and so many people when they come backstage mention it,” he says of doing stand-up after Crashing aired. “That’s great, because I think a lot of this has to do with Pete.”
The two, playing fictional versions of themselves, seem like an odd comedy pair, especially in the context of the show. Holmes comes off as sweet and relatively innocent while Lange is a veteran, grizzled, foul-mouthed comic.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and I’ve worked with a lot of funny people,” Lange says, “Pete is without question the best comedy partner I’ve ever had. You don’t feel like it’s his show when you’re doing it. He’s a very generous man.”
When we talked Holmes was immersed in creating the second season of Crashing. He hasn’t been able to get out on the road like Lange has, but that didn’t show during his set that night as he lightly teased Lange for his audition. Holmes told the crowd that Lange looked like a “hysterical accountant” with his loose script pages. Lange apparently didn’t read any of his lines, Holmes said, but it was the funniest audition he had ever seen.
“When I had a talk show, Conan O’Brien taught me a term,” Holmes says. “When someone like Martin Short was on—a great guest—you call it a day off, meaning this person is just going to do great. That’s how I feel when Artie’s there. We’re not coming at it from different places. We’re coming at it as equals, obviously.”
Crashing adapts Holmes’s personal life to the screen, and it’s an origin story that’s well-known by now: his wife cheated on him, he threw himself wholeheartedly into his comedy dream, crashed on various couches throughout New York City, and eventually became successful. The show is like a lesson in comedy, with major players in stand-up guest starring in every episode.
“People are into comedy right now,” Lange says, adding that he wished he was two decades younger when this boom happened. “There’s a boom. I think because music is so sporadic now, people who would have been fans of one particular kind of music are comedy fans. I know from doing sets at the [Comedy] Cellar that they come around from all countries in the world.”
Holmes chimes in that these visitors just go to take pictures of the iconic Comedy Cellar, which features drop-in sets by Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., and of course, Holmes and Lange.
“When you tell someone you want to be a comedian, you’re a bit of a pompous ass just saying that,” Lange says. “You’re saying ‘Not only do I think what I have to say is funny, I think people will pay money to hear me say that.’”
As a show, Crashing isn’t afraid of casting the characters in a less sympathetic light while also exploring the more uncomfortable aspects of Holmes’s background.
“There’s just an audience for people going, ‘Go ahead and crucify yourself for our pleasure,’” Holmes says. “Artie’s character does that as well. In the second season, we both do that. I’m happy to tell you that I get even more despicable. I’m glad there’s a taste in the comedy audience to see the ‘What is grotesque about you? What is wrong about you?’”
“Shooting some of the scenes, where your character gets meaner, are working very well,” Lange says to Holmes. “We’re making extras laugh.”
One of the most memorable cringe-inducing scenes from last season was when Pete had lunch with his overly affectionate parents. “We downplayed my relationship with my parents, because Judd [Apatow] was like ‘No one will believe that and it’ll gross everyone out.’” Holmes says.
Crashing also tackles the humiliating experience of trying to be a comedian, specifically bombing on-stage. “Besides the stuff I did with my parents, the fake-bombing was the most painful,” Holmes says. “‘Cause we wouldn’t tell the audience to not laugh. We would just do it [the joke] over and over again. These are the things that Judd does to trick us into being better actors.”
Judd Apatow’s committed to the show. He took a break from his movie empire to direct two episodes of Crashing, the pilot and finale, while also serving as the executive producer. Apatow hasn’t directed more than one episode of a TV show since Undeclared. “Judd really figured out an atmosphere that helps all stand-ups,” Lange says. “He’s very good with stand-ups. He knows how to make you relax and he has a background in it.”
Over the past few years, Apatow has helped get dark comedies like Girls and Love made. Holmes cites Apatow’s Girls and the British Office as examples of the uncomfortable comedy that he wants to create.
“I really feel like I’m playing catch-up with other great artists like Lena Dunham and Ricky Gervais that would do that sort of amazing work, because that’s what makes me laugh,” Holmes says. “I like squirm-laughing.”
At the end of their stand-up show, Holmes promised to the audience that Crashing season two will have more of almost everything it’s known for. That means more guest stars, more comedy inside baseball and more scenes with Lange. Get ready to squirm-laugh all over again next season.