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A Talk with Pete Holmes

The Pete Holmes Show: “We’re Not Here to Tell You How Much the World Sucks”

The one thing late-night TV needed was another tall comedian on TBS, so Conan O’Brien has called upon podcaster excellente Pete Holmes (You Made it Weird) to bring his brand of thoughtful, positive, yet intensely silly comedy to the airwaves following his own show, in the half-hour The Pete Holmes Show, which kicks off a four-nights-a-week schedule October 28th. DVDTalk’s Francis Rizzo III had a chance to sit down with Holmes, his executive producer Nick Bernstein and supervising producer Oren Brimer at the New York ComicCon to talk about how his show will make your life better, why podcasting is like a romantic relationship and what it’s like to see a two-story image of himself having sex with the sky.

NY Comic Con

Q: How will it go bringing your podcast style to television?
Pete Holmes: Yeah, it’s not gonna work. (Laughs.) One of the reasons I’m going to keep doing the podcast is because it will be its own thing. What we’re going to see in terms of the show is a transfer of the sensibility. There are the things I’m interested in, comic books, video games, sex, God, comedy. All that sort of stuff is gonna be represented on show. The interview itself...the show’s gonna have a large online presence, like Conan does, and we will, like The Daily Show does, overshoot our interviews and have them available online. We’ve already been doing that a little bit with remotes, because we want the show to be 22 fast-paced minutes of comedy. So if we go someplace that’s not exactly funny, but is very interesting, which I think the podcast often is, sometimes not so funny but interesting, we might just put that online so people can enjoy it that way. But season two, four hour blocks. That’s what I want, absolutely.

Q: Two years ago you were writing on two sitcoms that were cancelled, and now you have a two-story banner of you at Comic Con. That’s got to be a bit weird.
PH: I should send that to my old bosses. It is weird going from Outsourced and I Hate My Teenage Daughter. Those were two kind-of “punchline” shows, that were given a hard time. People ask me what I learned from that experience. What I learned is that it takes a room full of geniuses to write a show that no one likes. You know what I mean? Some of the funniest people I’ve ever met or worked with were on those TV shows. Unfortunately they didn’t work, but I will say it feels good to be here at Comic Con, something I would have wanted to come to anyway and have an absurd photo of me f*****g the sky hanging in the lobby or whatever you call that area. So it feels good is the answer.

Q: What’s it like working with TBS?
PH: Yeah, it’s kind of like being the king of some sort of candy factory. When we have an idea like we did Good Will Batman, where we put Batman in Good Will Hunting, I woke up one morning and thought of that. Back in the day...Oren and I have been working together about six years...if we wanted to do that it would have been like months and months of process. Now when we have an idea, we can kind of put it through a network, with a fair budget and get something made faster. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to make more of the things I’m thinking of and get that volume out there. Oren Brimer: And on Good Will Batman, he came up with the idea on a Wednesday, and the following Wednesday we put it online. So that quick turnaround is something we really appreciate. We can think of something and we have the resources to make it quicker than we’ve been. But we’re still making Batman Begins sketches.

Q: What is the writing process like?
PH: Right now we have four writers. It’s a small staff and Oren and I are kind of writers ourselves, so that’s six. The name of the game right now is trying to teach people to write for you, cause I’m trying to make the show, of course, similar to my sensibilities. People came in from other writing jobs and other work and show them “Oh I would say this,” or “I wouldn’t say that” or “My Batman wouldn’t say this” or “My Batman would say that.” So you sound like a lunatic. you start referring to yourself in the third person, like “Pete would never say that, That’s too discouraging for Pete.” So we’re trying to teach people the tone. The thing about the tone, I think we’re going to have a bit of an edge to us, but at the same time, we’re very positive. There’s a bit of a happiness and a silliness to it.

Like we were just on the floor here at Comic Con and I think the natural choice for a comedian is to kind of do nerd humor and be like “Look at these idiots. Do you have a girlfriend? What do you do?What do your parents think?” and just here today the vibe of our show is like, this is the greatest, this is like, we volunteered to do this. I feel like I know everybody, cause I see Deadpool. I don’t know who it really is, but I’m excited to see Deadpool, and he's excited to see Superman and do a photo together. And then you have like vaguely erotic women everywhere. It’s really...we’re not forcing it. I am a positive person. We’re not going to be saccharine and stupid and false. We’re going to be authentic and real and hopefully interesting. But it’s going to be in that sort-of Conan way, not at anyone’s expense. We’re not here to tell you how much the world sucks or how s****y things are. You may have mixed feelings about [Ben] Affleck being Batman, but we didn’t go after Affleck. We just put Batman in Good Willing Hunting. That’s the sort of mentality we have. If you want someone to slam Affleck, you can watch any other show. (Laughs.)

We have a no-lying rule. I don’t lie in my stand-up. It’s kind of weird. It’s a little bit obsessive for me. Unless it’s obvious. If it’s obvious that I’m lying, or I’m joking, I’ll make that clear. But I’ve never told a story that didn’t happen or just fabricated something that would be hilarious. Two words for the show are authentic and transparent. We want it to be real, and at the beginning, when people are watching it, we are just figuring it out, and kind of flailing a little bit, we want you to see that. We want you to feel like you were involved in something from its inception, and have all of that be genuine. So when the writers are writing for me, they have to learn a lot about me, because that’s what we’re trying to teach them and the audience.

Q: Where would you be today if it wasn’t for the opportunity that podcasting has provided?
PH: I think I’d just be selling goldfish in a bag at a carnival. It’s a remarkable thing. What people respond to is intimacy and regularity. Podcasts are just the newest way to become a regular person in someone’s life. When you’re just a stand-up, if you’re a success, you might show up on TV three times, four times, you know what I mean? And that is not someone you can build this parasocial relationship with. It is one-sided, but it’s a type of relationship. The reason people love Conan or [Jimmy] Fallon or [Jimmy] Kimmel…they show up in your life every day. The reason why people love Scott [Aukerman] or [Marc] Maron, is because they show up in their lives two, three times a week. So if it hadn’t been a podcast, and my advice for comedians or any other kind of artists, is you have to set a standard, this is how much I’m going to be in your life. And just like a romantic relationship, that helps it grow between an artist and his fans. you go, “I’m going to be in your life Monday and Wednesday, for sometimes four hours, talking about weird mushroom trips. But whatever it is, it’s intimacy, you get know the people and they learn about you, and it’s regularity. To be honest, if it hadn’t been the podcast, it would have had to have been something like that, like door to door, or vaudeville.

Q: Who is the target audience of The Pete Holmes Show?
PH: Certainly the comic book, video game world, movie world is going to be hopefully fans of our show. But what’s weird is I’m not really going for any specific demographic as much as I’m just trying to be myself. There’s a great Bill Hicks quote, “No one can be you as well as you can be you.” So if you’re being yourself in whatever you’re doing, you’ll have supply and demand covered. So if I’m trying to pander to somebody or try and go after a certain market...we just did the Hip-Hop Awards on BET. And I went out there, and that’s not my market. It’s just exciting to be a fish out of water and not really play necessarily to what people expect. That being said, my interests will be represented. Which are things like movies, video games, stuff like that. So the target audience is people who are at least a little bit like me or who are at least interested in looking at me. (Laughs.)

OB: We talk a lot about a playhouse environment. Pete says it all the time that that’s what the show is going to be. So that’s very exciting. It’s a very inviting place. I think we all have a similar sensibility, people who like the podcast, people who like Pete’s comedy, the Batman stuff…

PH: I think that’s a really good answer. The target audience is people who don’t want to watch something before they go to bed that’s really cynical and ugly. I don’t have anything in mind when I say that. We’re not raging against a specific machine. I just want a show you can watch at night that leaves you with some sort of afterglow of “That was funny, I don’t feel bad for laughing at it. i feel relief, I feel better about myself, I feel better about the world.” I know those are lofty claims, like our show will make your life better, but I think good comedy can make you feel better at the end of day, or at least it should.

NY Comic Con

Pete Holmes looms large over Comic Con

Q: Will [podcast regular] Chelsea [Peretti] be on the show?
PH: I can’t really say...Comic Con exclusive! Chelsea will be on the show. Chelsea also came with me to pick out outfits for the show, and we filmed that. That was for the pilot and that’s something we’ll use on the show.

I’m such a friendly person, such a bubbly, effusive man, but some of my friend...I like that salty/sweet thing. So I’ll be a sweetheart, and I’ll have people on that like to break my balls and roast me and make fun of me. And people seem to enjoy that. So you have this kind of Golden Retriever of a man, and then you have Chelsea Peretti...it’s fun. It’s got that different flavor to it. So not only Chelsea, but like Bill Burr, these people who really like giving me a hard time. Pretty much all my friends.

Nick Bernstein: That’s the goal of the show. We want funny friends to hang out with us.

PH: Yeah, that’s the other thing. It’s not going to be celebrity driven. I’m not supposed to talk about the guests, but I will say that nobody doing the show thus far is promoting anything. So people are coming on because they want to come hang out, and because we want to tell a specific story or we want to bounce off each other, and I think that’s going to be another reason why the show stands out. It’s not celebrity-driven promotional stuff. The monologue isn’t going to set-up, punchline, pulled from the news sort of stuff we’ve seen before. It’s going to be more in line with my stand-up, it’s going to be a lot more personal, it could be about anything. I don’t about a Vermont man found a dead beaver in his garbage disposal, and then I have a one-liner. That’s fine, but there are plenty of shows that you can watch that do that very well. I would rather do a monologue about how I don’t want to be a fat dad, or, I don’t know,,,

NB: Edible Arrangements?

PH: Edible Arrangements, or binging on Oreos in my hotel room, which I did last night. You don’t give me a mini-bar and alcohol.

Q: What made you become a comedian?
PH: You know what’s silly? This is going to be a sentimental answer, but I’m kind of a sentimental guy. First of all, I loved Kick-Ass 2. I don’t know what people’s problem was. I didn’t read the comic, maybe it betrayed it in some way. i loved it. I really enjoyed it. And there was a line that Hit Girl says to Kick-Ass at the end, she says, “Take pain, and make something good,” or “Take fear, and make something good.” And...I get really worked up when I talk about comics,...I think that’s what comedy is. You have situations… I was just doing an interview and I was asked if I was “the funny kid” growing up, and I wasn’t. I think a good comedian was probably bullied a little bit. Probably felt, doughy and oblong and rhombus-shaped and strange and a little bit of an outsider and then learned the healing qualities of comedy. And that’s why I really believe in comedy. I feel it has a ministering quality, not in a religious way, just in that it has made my life better. So that coupled with an over-loving mother and a distant father, and being teased just enough, and then an obsession with Billy Cosby and Steve Martin and those guys, and just enough dysfunction and enough ambition, and you too can be a weird comedian.

Q: Are there any older late-night shows that influence you, like Playboy After Dark?
PH: Well Nick is our in-house late-night expert...

NB: Well I was reared on [late night]. When I was growing up and getting into comedy, it was Conan, but I love all of them. Now, Kimmel and Fallon and Conan are all killing it. Just this week, they all put out something incredible, with the hashtag thing and Paul McCartney doing something and Kanye [West] on Kimmel. This is an amazing time for late-night right now. Like Oren worked on The Daily Show. But I loved Jack Parr, and what he did. I loved his kind of interactions with guests, whether it was John Kennedy or Jonathan Winters, it was mindblowing, kind of what Pete will do with an interview on the podcast. It comes from that kind of conversation. You know, Johnny Carson, everyone can talk about for years on end, he’s always the gold standard. you can’t say late night without [David] Letterman. it’s cool to have Arsenio (Hall) back. Like even in the ‘80s and early ‘90s...I’m a little older than I look...he was the first guy to put on NWA and Mariah Carey, which is crazy. She was a number one pop hit, but that wasn’t happening in late-night then. Everyone at some point did something to break the mold, and we’re trying to do it in our own way. I was reared on late night, love late night, want to do our own show.

OB: I grew up more watching a lot of sketch, a lot of SNL, Monty Python. That sort of influenced my comedic sensibilities a little bit more than late night. It wasn’t until Daily Show that I started watching late night regularly and every night. I bring more of the sketch sensibility to the show, and I’m the segment director as well, so I direct all of our Batman sketches and well as all the other sketches we’re going to be doing on the show.

PH: It’s not an old show, but it’s been an absurd dream-come-true for me because Conan has always been a hero of mine, and that is the late-night show that I watched. Now I try not to watch too much, because I know [Bernstein is] watching, so he can tell us if someone else has done it, and I try not to pollute my creativity by watching other people’s stuff. Because I really would like our show to be different, but also have some familiarity to it, which I think it will have. But I will watch YouTube clips of Hugh Hefner talking to celebrities. They all seem really uncomfortable, which is why it’s great.

Q: Have you been in contact with any of the other late-night hosts?
PH: They’ve all been really great. Seth Meyers is getting a show. We just sat down and talked about how we were kind of freaking out. Which was great. Fallon is supportive and wonderful, and we love his show. Conan is the one who gave me the best advice. All the work that we do, all the prep that we do, including stuff like [interviews], and the stuff that the writers do, is to try to turn the show into a playground, so when we tape it, I can just go out there and play. So it’ll have that light feel. I don’t want it to be too polished. I don’t want it to be too rote or rehearsed. I like it to feel like live comedy and real. that’s the best advice I got from Conan. Anything else is him just shaking a fist and saying “I will crush you if you fail.” Kind of crazy.

Q: Will you be parodying any Batman movies outside of the Christopher Nolan trilogy?
PH: Yes. The only Batman that doesn’t need parodying is Adam West, but everybody else is fair game.

OB: And we’re parodying the X-Men movies now,

PH: Yeah, we specifically went after...and when I say went after, I hope, with everything we parody you can tell that we’re fans of it. We’re not just like “Batman’s stupid.” I love Batman to death. I just did an interview with Marvel and I couldn’t talk about Batman the whole time. It was so uncomfortable. I just had to allude to it. “Yeah, we did comic book guys movies…” So we did X-Men as well, and I think we’re gonna keep going in those worlds. We’re gonna do some video-game stuff as well. It’s going to be exciting.

OB: I think all of our parodies come with a healthy dose of respect for the world we’re parodying. I think that’s what we try to do with the Batman thing and all the other sketches that come from a movie world. Have fun within the world of the movie, don’t try to break the world. So we’re in the Nolan universe, but Batman’s the only thing that changed.

Q: Everyone wants to know when you’re going to take over Conan’s show and force him out.
PH: Yeah, I keep challenging Conan to a topless, oiled-up trident fight, but he won’t return my calls. I can't see him slowing down ever, and as a fan of the show, I wouldn’t want him to, but as soon as he shows any weakness, I will take him down.

NB: In all honesty, there couldn’t be a better big brother than the Conan group. They’ve just been so cool to us, they’ve never been able to produce another late-night show, and it’s pretty special the relationship we have with them.

PH: Yeah, sorry to be so sweet, but it’s true. Everybody’s been so great, and they’ve only been supportive. We use a lot of their resources and stuff. We’re the same suit size, so when he’s done, I just put it on. Similar hair, same height. That’s why they hired me.

Q: Will T.J. Miller be a part of the show?
PH: Yeah, I love T.J. and he’s about to be a much bigger star, he’s got a bunch of movies coming out. I think he’s in Transformers 4, I think that’s not a secret. So, the fact that one of my best friends is blowing up in the film world while I’m getting this opportunity to do the show is really fun, because he’s one of the sweetest guys. He’s down to do the show, he’s actually in the first sketch we ever shot together. T.J. will definitely be a big part of the show, as will some of the other people you know from the podcast, we’ve got Chelsea, Kumail [Nanjiani], John Mulaney.

Q: Any chance of bringing comic creators on the show as guests?
PH: Yeah, I’d love to get guests that people just don’t have. Get Rob Liefeld and talk about the strong lines in faces and small, small wrists. And no feet. And a lot of lines. Is he here? (Laughs.)

NB: We like to go after people you don’t always see on late night. So we went to see James Harden, the NBA player. And we sent Oren and Pete to Utah to talk to Olympic hopefuls.

PH: Yeah, we want it to be weird. We’re not trying to get some big celebrity promoting something. Which might be stupid for ratings. I don’t really care. I want it to have that feel.

NB: It’ll be fun. People will want to come hang out with us. We’ll have an open door.

PH: That’s right.If Ryan Gosling wants to come on, he can come on. No problem.

Q: Besides the monologue and guests, will there be other traditional late-night elements?
PH: Yeah, we’ll be doing in-studio bits, like a top-10 list is a classic in-studio bit. We won’t be doing that per se, but there will be bits with me in front of the audience getting a live response. Like on the podcast, we do Gamefly Games, which is just like a list of fake video games, and for the pilot we actually had them mocked-up, you know, like Grand Theft Auto: Canada. The subtitle is “Sure, you can borrow it.” The cover was just someone throwing someone the keys with a big smile. So we’d like to have things like that. I love being in front of an audience, and we will have that element as well. But with it being a half-hour, that’s all we have time for. A monologue, some sketches, one in-studio and an interview, and we’re out of there.

Q: Is there a chance of expanding the show down the line?
PH: I get the feeling that Nick would be open to that, but I was talking to Seth Meyers about how I was glad my show is half an hour, just because it’s already overwhelming, but I also have no idea what I’m talking about, and get the feeling that we might be open to that. But it’s a one-step-at-a-time thing. The original Tonight Show was 90 minutes and I believe it was live, is that true?

NB: Yeah.

PH: So that’s my goal. Live, 90 minutes, black and white.

NB: The thing that’s true about our show is that it’s a half-hour on the air, but so much of what we do will have longer cuts online.

PH: That’s right. We’re going to use every part of the buffalo. Like every time we do a Batman sketch, so much of it is improvised, and it always breaks my heart that you guys only see three, four minutes of it, when I was sweating my b***s off in the suit with black eye make-up dripping down, riffing, trying to make [Brimer] laugh, trying to make Matt, who plays Commissioner Gordon, laugh, and that stuff will have a home now. That’s probably one of the best features of having a show like this now.

OB: There will be the show, then there will be the online show, and as we all know, the line between television and internet is just blurring forever, and by the time we’ve been on, Lord willing, three, four years, people will care even less. So the show might be over, and we’ll see the TV part as being the best of, and if you like what you saw, you can go online and find it.

Q: Are there any ideas you’ve wanted to do that you haven’t been able to?
PH: Yeah, I’m happy to say that’s a wonderful problem that we’ve had. We have a certain sketch budget and it’s very generous. TBS has been really wonderful, but we have ideas everyday. Oren is…

NB: A genius.

PH: He’s a genius. He’s a wonderful gift in my life, and we can’t take a 5 a.m. cab ride to the airport without coming up with ideas. And I’m hungover, and just coming up with ideas. I’d love for that to be reported and for TBS to get that message and I think they know. We got ideas. We got a lot of stuff and this show is ready to go for the long run.

Q: F, marry, kill: Seth Meyers, Craig Ferguson, Dan Abrams.
PH: Say that again?

Q: F, marry, kill…
PH: Oh, f**k, marry, kill. We say f**k on this show.. (consults quietly with Bernstein) Oh, OK...I’m not embarrassed that I don’t know who Dan Abrams is. Well, I’m going to kill Dan Abrams. You’re just going to isolate that. Dan Abrams, I’m coming for you. Craig Ferguson, he feels more like a one-night-stand, he’s all over the place, he won’t stand still, probably good for a toss. And Seth, he’s got those soft eyes, I’d marry that man, no problem.

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