2018 ATX Festival
How Crashing Slows Down the ‘Rise to Fame’ Montage
By Ashley Morton
Creator and star Pete Holmes discusses the show’s origins, and the importance of earning the moment.
“Funny is funny, that’s what I’ve always said,” series creator and star Pete Holmes, stated with a laugh at the start of the Crashing panel at Austin’s ATX Festival. The panel, hosted by Drunk History’s Derek Waters, was filled with good-natured jabs, off-topic comments — including a longer discussion about the phrase, “Don’t wonderkill it,” (you may need to look this up) — and a recounting of how Crashing came to be.
“My talk show had just been cancelled, but no one knew yet,” Holmes recalled. “I got very frustrated because I didn’t know what I was going to do. So I thought, ‘What could I do better than anybody?’ Well, I could tell my story: I grew up religious, my wife and I separated, and then I got kicked to the deep end of comedy.”
“We broke up, which was better than being left,” the comic said candidly. “When someone leaves you, you feel like a phone charger in a hotel. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I went to stay with T.J. Miller for like four days … Then I thought of the engine of the show: crashing on the couches of a different comedian each episode.”
Having recently met Apatow on his podcast, Holmes managed to get in touch and pitch his idea, translating it into a script in just two days. That turned out to be the easy part; when it came to actually meeting with HBO, Holmes confessed he wasn’t funny at all. “Judd teaches a comedy masterclass, and he uses my pitch meeting of what not to do,” Holmes revealed. “I got very heady with it: How tragedy is sandpaper and it refines you.” Still, Holmes was able to sell his idea, and the show was greenlit by the network.
For Holmes the show’s backbone is the sense of community within the stand-up world, a tribe that has helped Pete and other comedians overcome obstacles. “It’s sweet, one of their own is wounded, they want to try to cheer you up,” he elaborated. “We have certain dysfunctions but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other.”
A show about comics also requires the right casting. Holmes revealed the first script was re-written about 12 times because the first guest comic kept changing: “It was Hannibal Buress, then Bill Burr, then Zach Galifianakis. And then it became a fake guy, and then we held auditions.” That’s when Lange came in.
“He’s like a little tornado,” said Holmes. “Artie had his script and kept losing his place, wearing sunglasses indoors; he was such a mess but everything was hilarious. Judd and I joked Artie is the ghost of comedy future: There’s trouble you can get into. Artie improved that scene in the pizza parlor, and it’s crucial to the character. There’s real s**t you can get stuck in.”
Lange’s struggle with addiction is one of the key touchstones in the series, often creating emotional scenes while still maintaining humor. Holmes divulged working on the series had really been therapeutic for both of them in a way. “It’s dark and we respect that. It’s very real,” he added.
Another show storypoint is Pete’s religious beliefs. Holmes is happy to see more of “cultural appetite” for stories, and accordingly, Season 3 will have more interactions between Pete and people with more “fluid spirituality.” “Even though we won’t do it a big way, that’s kind of what the show is about,” he offered.
As for Pete’s eventual relocation from NYC to L.A., Holmes mentioned it’s been discussed but he feels they haven’t earned it yet. “Our show is usually what’s done as a montage [in other shows and films.] We wanted to slow down that part,” he explained. “There are some things you can’t rush. There’s no shortcut to this, to love, to family, and that real dig-deep stuff.”
Seasons 1 and 2 of Crashing are available now on HBO.