Pete Holmes: Believing in God Gave Me Hope as Comic
Image: Macall B. Polay / HBO

If Pete Holmes’s HBO series Crashing is his love letter to comedy, the church at least gets a tender PS.

Inspired by Holmes’s life and evangelical background, the show follows a nice Christian guy who’s trying to make it in standup after his divorce leaves him dumbstruck and homeless. Episode to episode, his character crashes with Sarah Silverman, Artie Lange, T. J. Miller, and other comics he meets while grappling with the brutal New York comedy scene and his quarter-life crisis.

Image: Macall B. Polay / HBO

Fans will not be surprised that Holmes’s series, complete with tracks from Joel Osteen sermons and Jars of Clay CDs, puts faith at the forefront. Even though he’s no longer an evangelical, he can’t resist talking about God. Religion constantly comes up in his popular podcast, You Made It Weird. On Crashing—which he produces with Judd Apatow—the TV version of Holmes makes for a likeably, laughably naïve protagonist; he stands by his clean comedy, owns up to being a “God guy,” and explains to his new buddies why he and his ex waited to have sex until marriage.

These days, Holmes, 38, draws inspiration from contemplative Catholic Richard Rohr, spiritualist Ram Dass, and pastor Rob Bell, now one of his best friends. The two go on tour together, and Bell prompted Holmes’s newest project: a book about God.

While his churchgoing days may be behind him, the Los Angeles comic considers himself “a Christ-leaning spiritual seeker” who finds new meaning in the Christian vocabulary and stories with which he was raised. CT online editor Kate Shellnutt talked to Holmes about his new show and the intersection between his faith and his comedy.

Have you gotten much feedback from the churchy crowd about Crashing?

When we were making the show, I was curious to see if people would pick up on all the—I guess it’s redundant to say “Christian Easter eggs,” but—Christian Easter eggs that we hide in the episodes. A lot of the redemption and grace in the story is all sort of inherently Christian.

I think the answer is “yes,” which is great. It would have been a letdown to me, personally, if I had put in so much of that stuff deliberately—and also subconsciously—and then not had it resonate with the group that I grew up in and still have such a warm spot for.

Evangelicals are used to not seeing such positive portrayals of themselves.

It was fun to try and make a character that, in my opinion, is very realistic. He’s a little bit naïve, and he still has some growing to do—but like a lot of people, he grew up with Christianity being the framework for his morality and his worldview, and he wasn’t insane at all. It was fun to show that.

Were there elements in your Christian upbringing and background that gave you an advantage or made you a better comedian and performer?

I think it gave me hope. I was operating under the assumption that all things would be brought to God at some point. Everything working together for some sort of good was something that I believed—and, frankly, I still believe, [though] not in the same simple way that I used to.

When you’re given some sort of framework for suffering with purpose—I’m trying to think of that Paul quote, actually … Isn’t there something like “all things coming together through Christ”? I wasn’t that sophisticated when I thought about it, but my optimism was definitely fueled by my faith, and my faith was fueled by my optimism.

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