CS Interview: Pete Holmes Madeline Wise, and Judd Apatow on Crashing Season 3
“It’s super surreal to cast someone the looks a little bit like my mother, and someone who looks a lot like my father and a house that looks a lot like the house I grew up in,” says Pete Holmes, the co-creator and star of Crashing. The series, which returns to HBO this Sunday, is a semi-autobiographic look at Holmes own life, both on stage as a struggling comic in New York City and off.
Ahead of the show’s third season, we spoke with Holmes, his new co-star Madeline Wise, and co-creator Judd Apatow about the ins and outs of making a show based so heavily in real-life, and knowing what, and how much, to share on screen.
“For me, [it’s about] working from a place of talking to people about their real lives and their real feelings and trying to crowd fictional stories out of the material that comes out of those conversations,” says Apatow. “Even though the show isn’t true, there are moments that come from real events, but there is an emotional truth to it, hopefully. And that’s what I’d like to write about. Mainly because I have no imagination.”
“Actually, Judd does two things,” Holmes explains. “One is he makes what happened to me funnier — that’s what he does. Always. I’ll tell him what happened and he’ll be like, ‘Oh, let’s do this,’ then he changes it and he makes it actually funny and interesting. The other thing he does is… I pitched so many times Pete losing his erection while masturbating because after my wife left me like I couldn’t even keep it going. I wouldn’t pitch that over and over and he’d be like ‘No one wants to hear that! Everyone hates that! Stop saying that!’ He actually works both ways. If anyone’s keeping the show for revealing too much, it’s not me.”
“With Pete, some of these things are so troubling I just don’t want to hear it,” says Apatow. “Sometimes I just ate breakfast and I need a break. I know so much about Pete sometimes I just need him to lay off the gas.”
Like previous seasons, Crashing is set largely inside The Comedy Cellar, a haven for both rising and established standup acts since the early 1980s. Holmes himself has a lot of history there. So much so, in fact, that it that he can still feel uneasy there, even all these years later.
“Even though we’ve shot there, we’ve taken it over for days and days, we’ve shut the block down, I should feel like that’s a comfortable place for me. But whenever I go there, I still feel like I did when I was 26. [People] giving me sh*t, making fun of me, not being able to sit at the table. All that stuff.”
The table in question is known as ‘the comedians’ table,’ a sacred Comedy Cellar spot that’s reserved for the club’s inner circle, which factors in prominently to Crashing’s third season.
“That stuff wasn’t cute! It wasn’t nice! I mean, now it is kind of cute to go back and make fun of it, but at the time it was very important,” Holmes continues. “Now, I’m like, ‘Well, that’s silly.’ It’s all very silly. It seems like a joke to me, but at the time that you put your values and your identity in that world, it was actually kind of humiliating. Which is why we keep going into this humiliation pool for humor on Crashing.”
By setting the series in the world of contemporary standup, several comedians guest star in one-off and recurring roles, playing heightened — and often less flattering — versions of themselves. Series regulars like Artie Lange and Colin Quinn are back, while newcomer John Mulaney delivers a near-showstopping performance in the season three finale as an insufferable diva who thoroughly berates Pete.
“We talk to people about the take early on,” says Apatow about the show’s liberties it takes with its guest stars. “When I did Trainwreck and Lebron James was in it, very early on we said, ‘We think it’s funny that you’re cheap.’ So, we’ll call people and get into those ideas before we write them. But generally, people get a kick out of having something to play. Most people are a little nicer [in real life], which makes them less interesting.”
Beyond an opportunity to showcase caricatured portrayals of Holmes’ stand-up contemporaries, The Comedy Cellar once again becomes the setting where his character has to re-live past unpleasant moments from his own past.
“There is some catharsis there. There’s something about taking emotional and career and relationship humiliations, writing them, acting them out again, but then redeeming them in some way. It’s sort of like therapy that unbelievably they pay me to do. At the end of it, you sort of feel like, ‘Oh, that was healing something.'”
It’s a catharsis that extends into his character’s personal life, too. He cites a specific scene with co-star Madeline Wise, who plays his girlfriend, Kat. The scene in question involves the two have an unpleasant fight outside The Comedy Cellar, which (naturally) echoed an incident from Holmes’ own life. By putting that moment in the show, Holmes says the benefit of hindsight has helped give him perspective going forward.
“To do it [as] an outsider is a really good technique in your own life. Even when you’re in the throes of your emotions, just have a little giggle behind them and be like, ‘Wow, look at this! Look at Pete go! Look at Madeline go!’ There’s a nice way to be detached from your life that can be quite liberating.”
For Wise, she admits she was nervous joining the cast, given that it was a cast and crew that had spent two seasons working with one another. “Luckily, don’t tell Pete that I said this, but everyone, including Pete, was very nice on the show,” Wise said. “I just sort of like landed softly in a pillowy group of nice, funny people.”
“That’s not a fat joke,” she clarified to Holmes, who was sitting next to her, before adding “Okay, it was a little bit of a fat joke.”
Wise, whose character begins a whirlwind romance with Pete early on this season, speaks of her character with a distinct familiarity. “She’s been burned in past relationships. I think she recognizes in Pete that he’s sweet and kind. He was raised by a nice family… he’s safe. He’s not a scary proposition.”
Whereas Kat sees safety in Pete, his character’s attraction to her is based on the opposite.
“Obviously she’s shaking his tree a little bit,” says Holmes. “She’s very honest. He’s never met somebody like Kat, that’s showed him just how safe it is to be yourself. You can actually go through your life pretending to be who you think people want you to be, whether it’s your parents or the church, or even just your understanding of what a functioning member of society is.”
While Kat’s strength and honesty are appealing to Pete’s character, it predictably ends up causing problems with his much more traditional family. Particularly during a scene at a church when Pete’s mother, (Audrie Neenan), asks Kat what her beliefs are, and gets an answer she wasn’t expecting.
“Someone like me would lie,” says Holmes about that scene. “I would be, like, ‘Well, you know, we’re a Christian country, and I grew up here…’ Something vague like that. But she doesn’t understand or back anybody that doesn’t want to tell the truth.”
Kat, in that regard, functions as a character who both helps Pete’s character grow, and reflects the growth he’s undergone in both his life career. “When Kat talks about her spirituality, she’s really representing me now, and she’s speaking to my mother then who is with me then. And they say Westworld’s complicated! This is the HBO show that you obviously can’t follow!”
Though the two have some tumultuous moments, as most whirlwind romances do, Kat ends up representing a kind of career revelation for his character. “To succeed in show business, you either need to meet a Kat, or you need to have like an internal Kat that you make up and tells you, like, ‘You do look good in that jacket. You do belong on the stage. This is your home. They are scared of you. You are better than them.'”
“You should keep this to yourself,” Holmes goes on, “but in my experience, having friends and girlfriends that do believe in you more than you do is really, really important.”
Crashing season three premieres Sunday night on HBO.