When The Pete Holmes Show debuts tonight, it will have the great burden of facing off against the back half hour of The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. To compete against these late night institutions, the Holmes show is set to break with the staid blueprint that most talk shows follow, purportedly putting out a show that hews closer to the loose persona of its host.
That means more sketch comedy - familiar terrain for Holmes, who has established himself with his numerous Batman parody videos, a monologue that doesn't quite resemble what Holmes calls the "ripped from the headlines setup/punch" style of his competitors, and a non-existent reliance on promotional celebrity interviews.
We had a chance to talk to Pete Holmes about why he wanted to bend the late night formula, the influence of recent alt-late night shows like Totally Biased and Comedy Bang! Bang!, the similarities between his style and his lead-in/producer Conan O'Brien, and being edgy without being ugly.
Here's Holmes on making The Pete Holmes Show different than his competitors.
"I think that we are going to, just by virtue of being authentic and true to me, it's just going to be a different show. This is the show that I want to see and it's being put into the late night format because I love late night, but it's going to change because there isn't necessarily a need for another [show that is] exactly the same thing."
Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of alt-late night talk shows from the likes of Eric Andre, Scott Aukerman, and W. Kamau Bell. We asked Holmes about those shows and if they have greased the path for a less formulaic Pete Holmes Show.
"With all of those shows that you just mentioned, something that we're taking from them - and just kind of organically taking from them, it wasn't because we saw it on theirs, it's just something that we're also doing that's similar - is, we're not having it be as celebrity driven. Comedy Bang! Bang! will have people on that are just our comedy peers and people that we know that will be hilarious, not necessarily a movie star plugging a movie. And that's something that we're going to be doing, most of our guests aren't... actually, all of our guests aren't promoting anything. They're just coming on because they are funny people that I know, that I want to do a bit or a story or have a conversation with that I know will be engaging in a way that you can't manufacture."
Naturally, Holmes will eventually run out of friends to have on the show, so we asked if he was concerned about the amount of time it would take to develop a rapport with guests that he is less familiar with, spurring a level of comfort that allows guests to trust a host as they lead them down a sometimes wild comedic path.
"Yeah, we're trying to do it as fast as possible. We're trying to get people up to a podcast level of intimacy, intimate knowledge of me. And we have different ways of doing that. We have the twitter campaign of #MeetPete. Allison Williams from Girls just came on and she did a segment with me where she told me everything that she knew about me based on the podcast. Just fun and interesting ways of kinda letting people in as fast as possible. Because once people do know you, you're right, you can get away with things faster. I've even experienced that as a stand-up: if they know who you are, the show is much better. If they don't know who you are, you have to spend all of this time being like, this is who I am, this is what I'm about. So we're trying to get that over with as fast as possible so we can get to that intimate place."
Like a lot of top comics, Holmes hosts a podcast: You Made it Weird on Nerdist.com. We asked how that show has influenced the feel of The Pete Holmes Show?
"Entirely. We don't have the same format or the same amount of time to do a television version of the podcast, but the sensibility is one for one. It's just, that show has helped me understand my comic voice so much more. It's helped me understand what I want to talk to people about so much more. And that's the sort of stuff that we'll be representing on the show."
Here's Holmes on his producer and late-night mentor Conan O'Brien's influence on The Pete Holmes Show and on the difference between being edgy and ugly.
"I think that the main reason why I'm doing this show is that Conan and I have very similar comedic philosophies. We believe in doing comedy that isn't against anyone. And now I'll just speak about myself and not Conan: I really like doing stuff that isn't just leaning on that old comic trope of, everything sucks and this is why this sucks, and this sucks and this could be better, and ho hum and sarcasm and negativity. I don't really like doing that, I like kinda trying to find - if it's authentic - a positive spin and a reason to be silly and a reason to be fun and a reason to have fun.
Conan certainly has that in common with me. That's not to say that the show is going to be boring, in fact, the more we do it, the more we realize that we're going to be the edgiest show. Like, we're so much edgier than, maybe they even anticipated we would be. Because there is a difference between edgy and interesting and ugly.
For me, swearing or talking about sex isn't ugly. It just might be classified as edgy, so, there's a way to be clean or positive, even if you are being dirty and negative. I know that doesn't make any sense, but it's about an undercurrent. It's about an intention and sort of, like, an overall sensibility."
Holmes' sincerity and talent are evident, but as he tries to build a show that is less like a lot of the established shows that he is up against, questions about his instincts will be present until The Pete Holmes Show can demonstrate that audiences are willing to embrace something that is familiar, yet different. Will he succeed in that endeavor? We'll be watching to find out.
The Pete Holmes Show premieres tonight on TBS @12AM ET.