Crashing is a different beast in its third season. It’s still a show about a fictionalized Pete Holmes trying to make it in comedy, and all the minutiae that comes along with it, but it has broadened its scope. It’s no longer just about Pete, but about comedy as a whole, and the show is better for it.
One of those characters is Ali Reissen, played by actress and series writer Jamie Lee. Ali is mostly known as Pete’s ex, but in Season 3, she’s making waves. She gets her first stand-up spot on late night and becomes the center of attention at a comedy club in episode six (which Lee wrote). However, like other marginalized comics, she’s just absolutely exhausted by white men who don’t understand that times are changing thanks to the #MeToo movement—a huge plot point in episode four.
Lee sat down with Paste to talk about Ali coming into her own, writing about #MeToo in a comedy show, and about writing her own episode, which debuts Sunday, Feb. 24, on HBO.
Paste: How was it going into this third season?
Jamie Lee: It was pretty exciting. I think we’re sort of in this space where Pete and Ali are navigating friendship post-breakup but also being two members of the same pretty insular comedy scene, and that’s a really real experience I think a lot of comedians go through. We love dating other funny people, but when you do break up, it can be really tough because you start running into each other at shows or, in the case of episode four, you go on the road together. All of that is really real. It’s been cool to see this side of Ali that’s less defined by her relationship with Pete.
Paste: This season you have Ali coming into her own as a comedian. You have her going on Seth Meyers for the first time, which is mentioned throughout the season, and you have episode four, which hit me pretty hard actually.
Lee: Oh really? I want to hear, tell me!
Paste: It was the #MeToo stuff in regards to comedy, but also entertainment in general. Being in a world with powerful men makes things complicated and a lot of that stuff is real, you know? But I wanted to talk about that as well. What was it like for you going into that episode?
Lee: It’s interesting because that episode started in a very different place. It initially started as just a road trip between Pete and Jason [a fellow comedian played by Dov Davidoff] and we didn’t really know what it looked like. Then [executive producer] Judd [Apatow] and I had this idea in the room; my pitch was actually how awkward and interesting would it be if Ali had to work with these two that weekend? What would that even do for Ali and Pete on an interpersonal level? And then we realized we haven’t really gone deep with Jason’s character and we kind of landed in this place of like, well, if we were going talk about these hot-button issues that are happening right now and continue to be a part of the dialogue, he would be a great vessel for exploring that because we kind of alluded to it in earlier seasons.
Paste: It’s important to have it in a show that’s literally about comedy, but it’s also hard to have that in a show that’s a comedy, to make it funny. How did you guys go about making sure that it was still funny?
Lee: I think to a degree, when you have comedians writing a show also about comedy, I think there’s a pretty inherent understanding—I think that inherently, our brains are so trained to keep things funny and find levity even in dark situations that I think it actually gives us a lot of freedom to go there with heavier issues. I think we are naturally a checks and balances system to make sure at the end of the day, it’s funny. I think we’re also in this place where it’s the third season, we’re all willing to go a little bit deeper and to maybe have some heavier-handed moments because I think we deliver on the comedy front and I think we’ve continued to do that.
Paste: So everybody’s just more comfortable with the material? You have three seasons of Pete just doing Pete stuff, where do we go next?
Lee: I think also in the first season, there was an episode about “barking” and HBO told us early on, “we’re really interested in that because that’s something we really didn’t know about comedy.” I think this is a similar situation, not fully because this is obviously a topic that’s prevalent in the news and people are talking about it. It’s so big in the comedy community right now that as a show about the comedy community we wouldn’t be tapping into the authenticity we’re sort of expected to tap into if we didn’t touch on this.
Paste: I think my favorite thing about that is how Ali is thinking of her own career and she goes out and ruins Jason’s stand-up bit, which I thought was the best form of petty revenge. It’s interesting that it doesn’t go where you think it would go.
Lee: I think Ali’s in a spot where she wants to fight this fight, but is this guy worth it? Will he actually have enough self-awareness to know where she’s coming from? Likely not, so I think that by stooping to his level and, like you said, taking a pettier revenge route, I think she’s trying to speak his language a bit. That is the quickest, most efficient way to cut to the core of him because in the end, when they have the big argument in the parking lot, you can just tell from her tone that she’s tired of having to teach.
She’s in this space where it sucks that we have to be the ones to teach you how to understand where we as women are coming from, or people of color, or anyone who’s marginalized. She’s representing the exhausted perspective and he’s like heated and confused and feels like he’s under attack. I think that’s what we wanted to highlight, those two archetypes going head to head.
Paste: I wanted to jump to episode six, which you wrote. It’s about Pete of course, but it’s also about Ali and her ambition. I love this nervousness in her about watching it and all the things people tell her. It’s very relatable anxiety from her. And because you wrote this episode, I wanted to get your perspective on where it came from and how it came about, and what about this performance comes from your own experiences as a stand-up?
Lee: I had this idea of a viewing party and it being a bottle episode. It all takes place over the course of one night and really gets into what it’s like when a comedian has a viewing party when they do stand-up on tv for the first time, which is a very real thing. I have been to them for a lot of people. When I did stand-up on TV for the first time, I chose not to do it because I was such a nervous wreck. I think there’s something really interesting about someone having this career milestone but also realizing once you’ve accomplished the milestone, it feels simultaneously huge and insurmountable. You almost feel like a fraud for obtaining it, but then there’s this other part of you that keeps you in check. “You don’t deserve it. Why you? You’re in a bar full of hilarious and talented people, why are you the one on the TV you fucking loser?” And I think that’s where her headspace is the entire night, and it’s compounded by the fact that all her peers have gathered around to watch it, which is too much pressure.
Paste: Throughout this season, there’s been this underlying thing about issues in comedy. Not just with #MeToo, but also in terms of diversity, with Pete being this white guy. Then there are these other white guys in comedy trying to make sense of wanting more diverse voices. Overall, why was it important to have that underlying structure throughout the entire season and how did the writers come together to make sure this was there?
Lee: Honestly? It’s so interesting you say that because the more I think about it, I don’t even think it was intentional. I think we just tried to write the show that feels the truest and the most—I mean, it’s so corny to say the word “nuanced”—but we really do try to make this as true to the comedy scene as possible. Obviously it’s still television and it’s a narrative show and we’re going to tweak it and adjust it to be as entertaining as we can, but even from season one we always tried to have our finger on the pulse of what it’s like starting out in stand-up and what it’s like to be a part of this community. And unfortunately right now, we’re in this sticky place where everyone’s a little disillusioned because they’re learning things about their peers that they didn’t know… It was just a result of the climate we’re living in and I’m really happy we went there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Carli Velocci is a culture and technology writer and editor in Los Angeles with bylines in Polygon, Vice, SYFY Wire, and anywhere else brave enough to publish her. You can talk to her about her objectively good opinions on Twitter @velocciraptor.