HBO’s Crashing returns for season 3 on January 20, and we spoke to stars Pete Holmes and Madeline Wise about their characters and the show’s history. Loosely based on the career of its creator, comedian Pete Homes, HBO’s Crashing follows a somewhat fictionalized version of himself, a would-be pastor who ultimately turned to a career in stand-up comedy following the dissolution of his marriage.
During a press day at the HBO building in New York City, we caught up with Holmes and a new addition to the cast for season 3, Madeline Wise. During a roundtable interview, they revealed insights into their characters and Holmes discussed the unique pressures that come from building a TV show based on his own life. He also shares the one plotline Executive Producer Judd Apatow simply would not allow; as he puts it, “If anyone’s keeping the show from revealing too much, it’s not me.”
The third season of Crashing debuted January 20 on HBO.
How would you describe Pete, the character, in Season 3, and how does that compare with your own life at that point in your career?
Pete Holmes: It’s interesting. Kat, as is the case with Leif, as well, when Kat talks about her spirituality, she represents mine now, and she’s speaking to my mother back then, who is with me then… And they say Westworld‘s complicated! This is the show HBO audiences can’t follow! Listen, when Pete meets Kat, she’s obviously shaking his tree a little bit. She’s very honest. Pete, at this point, might not believe what he’s always said he believes, but he’s never met somebody like Kat, who shows him how safe it is to be your true self. You can go through your whole life pretending to be who you think people want you to be, whether it’s your parents or the church, or even just your own understanding of what a functioning member of society is. And then you meet somebody like Kat, who is powerful, honest, and strong, and who doesn’t understand anybody who doesn’t want to hear the truth. I think she’s very good for Pete’s religious growth, but there’s something interesting going on in show business. To succeed in show business, you either need to meet a Kat, or you need to have an internal Kat that you make up inside of you, who tells you, “you do look good in that jacket!” or “You do belong on that stage! You should keep it to yourself if it is inside of you, but in my experience, having friends and girlfriends who believe in you more than you do is really important.
Location shooting is such a big part of the show, one episode is set entirely in New York City’s famous Comedy Cellar. The show is based on your experiences, so can you talk about essentially recreating events from your career at the places they occurred?
Pete Holmes: Zak, that is a generous question because you’re considering what it might be like for me, so you’re not a sociopath.
That’s what I keep telling everybody!
Pete Holmes: (Laughs) Well, it is super surreal. It’s super surreal to cast someone who looks a little bit like my mother, and someone who looks a lot like my father, in a house that looks a lot like the house I grew up in, with an oil tank that says “Tanks A Lot,” which is the name of my dad’s company… But it’s even more surreal when you’re at the actual Comedy Cellar. To this day, when I go there, my feelings, even though we’ve shot there, taken it over for days and days, watching disappointed ticket-holders walk around the corner to The Village Underground… We shut the block down, so I should feel like it’s a comfortable place for me. But whenever I go there, I still feel sort of like I did when I was 26. My memories of being at the Comedy Cellar are of Bill Burr, who is a friend of mine now, giving me s*** and making fun of me, and not being able to sit at the table (as seen in an episode this season), and that wasn’t cute, it wasn’t nice… Now it’s kind of cute to go back and make fun of it and make light of it, but at the time, it was very important. Now, my perspective is different. It’s all silly, it seems like a joke to me. But at the time, if you put your values and your identity in that world, it was kind of humiliating, which is why we keep going into that humiliation pool for humor on Crashing. When I go there, to the Comedy Cellar, and shoot scenes, and have these triumphs, because season 3 certainly has more triumphs than any other season, there’s some catharsis there. There is some healing. There’s something about taking emotional and career and relational humiliations, writing them down, acting them out again, but then redeeming them in some way, it’s sort of like therapy that they pay me to do! At the end of it, I do sort of feel like, that was healing! Sometimes, Kat and I will have a fight that is very similar to a fight I had in real life, but I get to do it from a sort of, outsider perspective. I think that’s a good technique in real life. Even when you’re in the throes of your emotions, just have a little giggle behind it, like, “Wow, look at Pete go!” You know what I mean? There’s a nice way to be detached from your life that can be quite liberating, and doing this show really helped me get in touch with that.
Madeline Wise: I’m so glad that my only associations with being in the Comedy Cellar were just, like, glory. I went back and it was like home. I was like, I feel confident, I don’t feel nervous. I was actually over-confident. I went to go see a show and I walked up to the door guy, and I was like, “Hi, I don’t have a ticket.” And he was like, “The line is so long. You’ll never get in.” And I said, “Oh, no, I will.” It was so insane. I got in.
What’s it like coming into a show, not only in its third season, but also one that’s so personal to the people involved? Especially as a character who has such an important impact on Pete’s life over this stretch of episodes?
Madeline Wise: I was nervous, admittedly. It’s the third season… I was nervous, because it’s an existing group of people who have all been working together. Also, as you mentioned, it’s based on Pete’s life, but luckily, everyone, including Pete, was very nice on the show. It was just a lovely group of welcoming, warm, funny people. I felt like I landed softly in a pillowy group of nice, funny people.
Pete Holmes: Is that a fat joke?
Madeline Wise: It’s not a fat joke! It’s a little bit of a fat joke.
Pete Holmes: As the constant on Crashing, I feel like we don’t have that many recurring people. It’s weird. I mean, there’s Artie (Lang) and there’s Jamie (Lee) and Lief (played by George Basil), and Lauren (Lapkus), but they’re not in every single episode. So certainly, when you came in and shot for three days, you were as “in” as Dave Attell or somebody who has been on the show a lot. That’s not to say they’re not important, but you can come to the Cellar whenever you want!
Madeline’s character, Kat, is very different from Pete’s previous partners on the show. What is Kat’s interest in Pete? How does she fit in the show?
Pete Holmes: Tell us your story!
Madeline Wise: I feel like just telling my character’s story isn’t totally an answer to the question…
Pete Holmes: How dare you…
Madeline Wise: (Laughs) I’m so sorry to embarrass you in front of our friends! I think Kat’s interest in Pete is that she’s been burned in past relationships. Kat is probably a person who…
Pete Holmes: She’s been engaged at least twice.
Madeline Wise: But both times with people who she knew for, like, 36 hours. I think she recognizes in Pete that he’s a sweet, kind… He was raised by a nice family. He’s safe. He’s not a scary proposition.
Pete Holmes: This is still what I offer!
Madeline Wise: You’re a nice, sturdy, safe guy!
This show is the most expensive Tinder profile ever, Pete!
Madeline Wise: (laughs) I think Kat sees in him that he’s not going to destroy her life… Or will he?
Pete Holmes: You didn’t expect me to come at you covertly. I think you’re used to knock-down-drag-out fights and tattoo boys and all that stuff. You didn’t expect the sneaky softness of the WASP-y boy. It’s so much more gross, the way my people are passive-aggressive.
Madeline Wise: Quietly ghosting into the wall…
Pete Holmes: So many relationships, what I would do is slowly build a case against the person, not giving them any chance. I don’t do it anymore!
Madeline Wise: That’s good.
Pete Holmes: But not giving them any chance to redeem themselves or change. I’d go, “That’s who they are,” and I’d just keep a tally of the things they do that I don’t like, until it reaches a point that I’m like, “Goodbye!”
Madeline Wise: Here’s a list of the last two years of the things you’ve done that bothered me.
Pete Holmes: That’s right.
We talked about the autobiographical nature of the show, and how this season has more of a rising action. But I want to go back to when you started putting this show together. You came off of doing a potential sketch show with Comedy Central that just wasn’t of interest…
Pete Holmes: That’s right. To them! It wasn’t of interest to them!
In putting yourself out there in your writing, especially sharing it with Judd, one-on-one, that must be an incredibly raw nerve to expose. It’s paying off now, but at the time, what was the… Not just the expectations, but the fear of, “oh my God, what if everyone thinks I’m a jerk?!”
Pete Holmes: That’s funny. I actually think there’s so much catharsis in doing it, there’s so much healing in doing it. I really enjoy finding the weirdest little kernels in my subconscious and sharing them. Actually, Judd does two things: one, he makes what happened to me funnier. That’s what he does. I’ll tell him what happened, and then he changes it and makes it actually funny and interesting. The other thing her does is… I pitched, so many times, Pete losing his erection while masturbating. Because after my wife left me, I couldn’t even keep it up for myself!
Madeline Wise: Oh my God, that’s so…
Pete Holmes: I don’t care! I mean, I know it’s a little bit weird, I suppose, but I would pitch that over and over, and Judd would be like, “No one wants to hear that! Every one hates that! Stop saying that!” He works in both ways. If anyone’s keeping the show from revealing too much, it’s not me.
Do you ever take moments from your own life to use in the show that might have actually happened, but were maybe too over the top or unbelievable that you’d have trouble working them into the show?
Pete Holmes: That’s a good question. I think, as of yet, it hasn’t happened. Somebody in our writer’s room really did get asked for by a big name comedian to open for them, and then when they got there, they realized it was the wrong person. That really did happen. I really did bring a girlfriend to a comedy show and she heckled. That really happened. As of yet, the only stuff that Judd keeps out of the show, and I can say this with a lot of certainty, is stuff that everyone in this room wouldn’t want in the show. That’s why he’s the hitmaker and I’m just the guy trying to impress him.