crashing
Pete Holmes may be a funnyman, but he has a serious story to tell. (Illustration by Luca Bowles, Kingston University)

The Massachusetts writer, actor and comedian Pete Holmes has worked on several TV shows and films, as well as stand-up specials on Comedy Central and HBO, and now he’s brought us the gut-busting comedy “Crashing.”

He’s a larger man, standing at 6 feet, 6 inches tall with a jolly smile always plastered across his face, but despite his towering presence, Holmes has a softer personality that is light-hearted and compassionate. Much of his comedy is observational, based on everyday events that he draws out into elaborate bits accented by zany facial expressions and outrageous voices. Throughout performances, Holmes employs clever taglines and one-liners that unexpectedly strike audiences.

For instance, in Holmes’ 2016 HBO special “Pete Holmes: Faces and Sounds,” he questions why the trumpet has three buttons to play several notes while the saxophone is covered in buttons, one for each note. His flavorful punchline, “Sax looks you right in the eye when he shakes your hands,” made the Chicago crowd erupt. He went on to admit that bit never works on the road, holding a stern face when he impersonated other towns’ reactions, yelling, “Talk about your d—!”

The routine reflects Holmes’ comedy style: He uses clever references, isn’t overly vulgar and battles sophisticated topics. However, he never cowers before raunchy comedy and appeals to more overt comedic tastes without tarnishing his cleaner style. The comedian’s versatility makes him the perfect centerpiece for HBO’s comedy show “Crashing,” which began back in 2017 and is currently in its third season with new episodes every Sunday.

Holmes is the creator and writer of “Crashing,” a semi-autobiography that follows a fictionalized version of himself while he navigates the New York City club-comedy scene as a starving stand-up. In the show, the audience watches Holmes try to balance his dream of becoming a comedian with finances and girlfriends, in addition to friends who are also trying to break into comedic stardom. As the show runs, you watch some of Holmes’ peers doing their first big show, but you also see others grind for decades without recognition. Both sides have lasting effects on Holmes’ character, all while representing different categories of American comedy.

The title of the show, “Crashing,” derives from Holmes’ reoccurring habit of crashing on other comedians’ couches when he struggled to gain notoriety in the expensive city of New York. The show weaves in guest stars like T.J. Miller, Bill Burr, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Ray Romano, who appear as themselves. The characters not only offer Holmes a place to stay but also lasting advice for his career, which spurs on his character development. The wide array of comedic styles in the show reflect Holmes’ skill as a jack-of-all-trades comedian.

The series constantly introduces new faces while depicting Holmes’ slow-boiled ascension on the New York comedy scene, and it offers a pleasing hybrid of stand-up comedy and situational humor.

For example, in Season 3 Episode 4 of “Crashing,” called “MC, Middle, Headliner,” Holmes goes on the road to do a gig with an old-school comedian, Jason, who is overly masculine. The two arrive to find Holmes’ ex, Ali, is performing the same gig and the three of them will be working together. Tension rises between Ali and Jason when they argue over stage time, then Jason claims she’s nothing but “tits and teeth” for the club. From there, the male-female hostility leaks onto the stage.

Ali had seen Jason’s stand-up routine concerning the “awkwardness of asking for sexual consent” the night before, so when she introduces him, she delivers material that directly negates Jason’s lewd jokes. Afterward, the audience watches Jason perform the same previously successful routine, but his body language is ridden with anxiety as he mutters his jokes to a cricketing audience.

In the episode, “Crashing” vividly illustrates how the same routine can land differently depending on context, then Holmes gets trapped in the fallout after the disaster and emotions erupt off the screen; it’s unmissable television. “Crashing” always finds inventive ways to portray the ever-changing relationship between the comedy stage, emotion and everyday life.

Comedian, actor and writer Artie Lang, one of the recurring characters that plays themselves, becomes good friends with Holmes, and their relationship carries on for the majority of the show. In the series, Holmes was brought up in a strict Christian household and stayed loyal to his faith by refraining from sex until marriage, amongst other sacrifices.

Lang, on the other hand, is a free thinker who had never followed religion, and the two learn lessons from each other. Lang widens Holmes’ view of life, forcing him to doubt the characteristics of his religion that could be holding him back, while Holmes desperately tries to help Lang with his drug addiction and cynical outlook on life.

Many other heavy themes throughout “Crashing” complement the show’s hysterical jokes with an undertone of realism and substance. There is much to admire about Holmes’ creation, and it may be the most entertaining comedy on television. The show’s plot constantly evolves through characters and fascinating twists, so it should continue to grow for years to come.

If you like Holmes’ stand-up material in “Crashing,” I suggest you check out his 2018 HBO special “Pete Holmes: Dirty Clean.”

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