Each week, you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this week is comedian Pete Holmes. Comedy fans are probably familiar with his wildly popular podcast, “You Made It Weird,” where he talks with other comedians about comedy, sex, and religion. What else is there to talk about, really?
He also hosted the very much missed “Pete Holmes Show” on TBS, and his latest project is the HBO series “Crashing.” It’s about a New York comic, conspicuously named Pete Holmes, who has to restart his life and forge a career after his wife leaves him.
Before taking on our listeners’ etiquette questions, Pete explains what sets his show apart from other stand-up TV series of the past and more.
On the different stand-up world “Crashing” puts on display
Pete Holmes: Comedians really are like a family. I think what most people think of when you think of stand-up is backstabbing or “every man for themselves” and pushing to get the one or two slots, and that just wasn’t my experience.
Like in real life — when my wife left me in real life — T.J. Miller and I were somewhat close, not super close. But then my wife leaves, and he had me come visit him in Pittsburgh, and I stayed with him for four or five days just because I was super bummed and didn’t really have any friends.
I don’t know if you know married guys like that, that the bridges kind of get blown up. I did it. It wasn’t like my wife was controlling me. I was like, “OK, I’ve got a warm body. We’ve got ‘Sopranos’ DVDs, and there’s some cheddar popcorn.” It’s the cover of a romance novel you don’t want to read.
[…] So, anyway, that was a long way to say that it’s a slight exaggeration of real things. And then, we made divorce a lot funnier and eventful because real divorce is… it is what you think it is. It’s blinds drawn and a lot of ice cream and gently weeping.
On how “Crashing” Executive Producer Judd Apatow keeps him in check when getting too cerebral about the show
Pete Holmes: Whenever I say anything even remotely philosophical about the show, [Judd Apatow] nudges me, and I have to be like, “And a lot of jokes about genitalia, you know? Don’t worry!” There’s scrotum humor and also some very smart humor, as well, but I like to think that there’s something that will tug at you to keep watching.
On what it was like to work in the stand-up scene as a person with a strong Christian background
Pete Holmes: It was actually kind of lovely. I really do have a romantic hindsight about it. People thought I was on drugs. They really thought I was. I don’t know what they meant…
I think they might’ve meant antidepressants or something, but no one believed that I was so — but I was. I was so earnest and so genuinely enthusiastic to be in New York. But then people really started to enjoy, I think, for the most part, having this Teletubby in the scene.
People trusted me with information and the keys to the club. They were like, “Hey, can you open up tomorrow?” Imagine having a boy scout around. It’s like, “Can you count the money?” And you’re like, “Damn skippy!” But it’s a, “Darn skippy!” And, yeah, it was refreshing when everyone else was trying to steal liquor from the side bar.
Confronting a joke thief
Brendan Francis Newnam: Our first question comes from Emmy in Los Angeles. Emmy writes: “I was at a party recently and I told my friend a joke. She laughed then repeated the joke to a bunch of other people without giving me any credit. If it was just this incident, I’d brush it off. But this person does this kind of thing all the time. Should I confront her?”
Pete Holmes: Yes. In real time. When she does it you should say, “Yeah, I told her that joke! Those laughs are mine!”
Rico Gagliano: How does that, how does that benefit you? Does that make you look very good to those people?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Seems like sour grapes.
Pete Holmes: Yes, sour grapes are delicious if you wanna have a tart wine. Have some sour grapes!
I will say that in High School I made quite a comedy career out of repeating my friend Tom’s jokes. Like there was a kid named — this is so stupid — but there was a kid in our class named Radhu, and my friend Tom goes, “Radhu, you love me.” And I just go, “Radhu, you love me!” And everyone laughed so hard, even Radhu.
Rico Gagliano: What did Tom do?
Pete Holmes: Well Tom’s a dear friend, but he still gives me grief about stealing his routine.
Rico Gagliano: Which according to your etiquette is a good thing to do, like you should get grief for that.
Pete Holmes: I’m basing this on Tom. Even if you didn’t write the joke, you’re the curator of the joke. You found it. You memorized it. Who knows what flare you gave it, personal flare, while telling it. That is a huge offense! Are you gonna wear my pants next?! Fail! Where’s the button we push when it’s like, fail [makes horn noise]!
But you knew that. I told you what you already knew in your heart.
Washing machines aren’t apartments for laundry
Rico Gagliano: Here’s something. Oh, this next one was left on our hotline. We have a hotline like a superhero. We will let this woman introduce herself:
Mari: Hi, my name is Mari, I’m from Rochester, Minnesota. I live in an apartment complex of about 500 units and we all share a common laundry facility. There are times when the same clothes will be sitting in the same machines taking up space. When I need to do my family’s laundry, there aren’t enough machines.
So, is it wrong for me to take someone else’s laundry out of the machine and put it on the folding table so that I can use the washer or dryer? Or should I just let it sit there and Minnesota nice, maybe leave a passive aggressive note? Thanks!
Pete Holmes: Mari, again, you know. You know that answer, Mar. Of course you take it out. I’m not even putting it on the folding table, I’m putting it on top of the machine!
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that’s true. Or on the floor.
Pete Holmes: And I hope it’s your delicates. I hope it’s lacy things you’re embarrassed that you ever wore, some sort of role play outfit that you had to wash. I’m gonna take the lint off the filter and put it on top of your laundry. That’s not passive aggressive, that’s aggressive aggressive.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. Minnesota nice? That’s California–
Pete Holmes: That’s California mean.
Rico Gagliano: Let’s for a second, though, consider the person whose laundry this is. Perhaps they got an emergency call, perhaps they got involved in some problem family issue.
Pete Holmes: I appreciate that but these aren’t apartments for laundry, they’re washing machines. If you want to have your clothes live in there, that’s what the quarters are, you’re renting this for a brief period and if you wanna stay in there you owe us a thousand dollars a month.
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, you owe a lot more quarters.
Small town non-believer
Brendan Francis Newnam: We have another question. This one comes from Kelly in Dubuque, Iowa. Kelly writes, “I live in a small town in a rural state…” You don’t say? She’s from Dubuque, Iowa. “Sometimes folks will make off-hand remarks that indicate they assume I subscribe to certain religious beliefs. What’s the best way to let them know I’m not actually busy Sunday morning?” Euphemism. “Should I even try to correct them?”
Pete Holmes: She’s intimating that people are assuming she goes to church? Is that the thing?
Brendan Francis Newnam: People, when they encounter her, assume that she’s religious, yeah.
Pete Holmes: Because she’s from this small town?
Rico Gagliano: Yeah.
Pete Holmes: If you’re never gonna see them again, maybe you could just let it slide. But I think it’s one of those situations like, “On what date do you tell someone you’re divorced?” It’s the second date [laughs].
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, yeah. You have multiple run-ins.
Pete Holmes: Yeah. If you see this person again, they’re like, “Well, you love the Lord.” Just be like, “Wait a minute now. I’m a satan person.” You know what I mean? Or whatever you’re into.
Because you don’t wanna be that person. You know, my mom was that person. I remember we went to a store and remember the wants ads? This is pre-internet, there was a magazine called the want ads. I was trying to buy a used television and I go, “Hi, do you have the want ads?” And the guy behind the counter goes, “Are you kidding? It’s the Bible.” Like meaning he loves it. My mother, religious, goes, “The Bible’s the Bible.” You know what I mean?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.
Pete Holmes: Maybe if we knew this guy and we had a rapport. This was the first and only time we went to this store and my mom just took a moment to be like, [slaps his wrist] right on his wrist, it’s like, relax.
So if somebody is like, making an assumption about you because you’re from a certain area– people assume I’m a Red Sox fan all the time. Because I’m from Boston, but I’ll let it go. Then maybe second time, and they’re like, “Well, maybe we’ll go to a game sometime.” I’ll be like, “Jerry, I got some bad news. I don’t care about your wooden ball game. I don’t care about that wooden ball match that you have on the green grass. I’d rather do anything.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, “Jerry, I’m busy Sunday morning by the way.”
Pete Holmes: Yeah, “I’ll be at church.”
Rico Gagliano: I think you’ve got plenty of answer there, Kelly.
Pete Holmes: Yeah, there you go, Kel.
Let the audience handle the heckler
Rico Gagliano: Here is something from Bob in Chicago. Bob writes: “Is there any good way,” Oh this is good, “as an audience member to help deal with an obnoxious heckler who’s interrupting a perfectly funny stand-up comedian and messing with my enjoyment of the set?”
Pete Holmes: Sure is. Good question.
Rico Gagliano: What is it?
Pete Holmes: What’s his, this guy’s name is-?
Rico Gagliano: That’s Bob in Chicago.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Bob.
Pete Holmes: Bob. Bob in Chicago.
Rico Gagliano: Good people, Bob.
Pete Holmes: Good people in Chicago, encased meats. Bobby, I think that’s a great question. You need to wait until it’s like, remember the terror colors?
Rico Gagliano: What?
Pete Holmes: The terror level?
Rico Gagliano: Oh yeah, threat level yellow.
Pete Holmes: The threat level. You need to wait until we’re like an orange before an audience, I think, can step in. If it’s at that point where the comedian has to be really mean, that’s probably what the comedian’s gonna do. If someone in the audience — and I’ve had this happen — where the whole audience will boo a person, then you’re like, “Look, you’re heckling each other now.” The comedian get’s out with no blood on his hands, so to speak.
Rico Gagliano: Ah, so in the best case scenario, the audience should uprise.
Pete Holmes: It’s absolutely a welcome addition.
Brendan Francis Newnam: What? Have someone else do your dirty work?
Pete Holmes: Yeah, but you don’t understand, I’ve done this. I’ve destroyed a heckler and then I look at my set list, I’m like, the next bit I’m gonna do is called “I’ve never been angry.” You know what I mean? Like you-
Brendan Francis Newnam: You disrupt your flow.
Pete Holmes: It’s like a dad yelling at the kids on the way to Disneyland, it’s like, it’s so much better if maybe my daughter tells my son to cool out so I don’t have to turn around and go, “Shut up! Shut up or we’re not going!” That ruins Disneyland.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]