Published Aug 14, 2017Artie Lange walks into the main hall at the Bell House in Brooklyn and, immediately, all eyes are on him.
His friend and collaborator Pete Holmes is celebrating the first season home entertainment release of his HBO show Crashing with a night of standup, and the network has organized a meet-and-greet event. No one knows if Holmes' co-star Lange, a true comedy rebel, will take part at all, but sure enough, he strolls in just after the schedule says he should.
"I knew Pete for about four seconds when I knew I would like working with him, because if I wasn't a comedian I would probably be running some sort of con on him," Lange tells Exclaim! backstage.
Sitting across from him on a couch, Holmes laughs. "He keeps calling me 'Mark,'" he says. "'The Mark.' I don't understand."
Created by Holmes and co-produced and often directed by Judd Apatow, Crashing is a semi-autobiographical sitcom about an aspiring comedian named Pete who's so obsessed with making it as a standup, he neglects his put-upon wife who cheats on him, leaving him homeless, pitiful, and at the mercy of more established comedians like T.J. Miller, Sarah Silverman and Lange.
"I play a very naïve character based on myself, I would say when I was 28," Holmes explains. "Then I meet Artie and I'm a guy who wants to get into comedy and Artie's a guy who's obviously in comedy and warns me about it, like the ghost of Christmas future. But then we kind of rub off on each other."
Before Lange auditioned for his part, he'd never met Holmes.
"Somehow I would hear tell of Artie like the Tasmanian Devil," Holmes says, referring to Lange's wildly unpredictable, cautionary reputation. "Like a tornado had gone through a Del Taco, I'd see wrappers and chicken blood on the floor and I knew he had been there. But I never met him."
"I should clean up that blood," Lange chimes in.
"He came into the audition and — you still do this," Holmes continues — "you'll take the staple out of your script. He has it loose-leaf, so he looks like a frantic secretary in the '50s."
"I have to disorganize something to work it out," Lange explains.
"He's shuffling and looking for the words and he wasn't even really auditioning. The audition was vague; it wasn't like, 'This is for the part' or 'This is for the guest of the first episode.' It was more like, 'Let's see how it feels. Forget the script, just put it aside and let's play around.' And he had everyone dying. No one could touch him. And Judd and I just looked at each other and we were like 'Well, when it falls in your lap, get a lap dance.'"
Lange in turn is profoundly proud of Holmes. The veteran comic has seen a lot of people come and go but senses something unique about Holmes' drive to make things happen.
"It's great to see somebody, first of all, having this kind of break in show business who's not — and I always meant to tell Pete this — he's not squandering it," Lange says. "Like, it's one thing for Judd Apatow to pick you to do something, but I know so many comics who would not do the work that you have to do — and might not have the talent to do it.
"But Pete really is not mailing this in. It's great for other comics to see too — that he's not taking this for granted. He's really kicking ass with it. It's fun to be next to that. I need more of that work ethic and hopefully that will rub off on me. And liking him personally helps in performing because for me comedy and stuff like this has to be done with someone you like."
Holmes suggests Crashing is centered around a sweet, sheltered character that you can't help but root for. His "Pete" is on something of an undetermined mission to "make it," encountering all sorts of people who are almost mythical to him, and processing the fact that they actually exist.
"Y'know, kind of like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings," Holmes says, only half-joking. "It's like a wacky adventure. I know it's just comedy in New York, but it really is this guy wandering around and going, 'Wow!'"
Like the aforementioned epic journeys, much of the first season of Crashing centres on faith. Pete and his wife are devout Christians, and he's driven by a certain self-propelling belief in his prospects as a comedian who can win his partner back if he just keeps working at it. And yet by the end of the first season (season two is currently in production), everything around Pete is crumbling.
"This is going to sound cliché, but that's what faith is," Holmes argues. "I think the forgetting and the remembering is what gives something like faith energy — that's what gives it the back and forth, its electricity. So, somebody falling apart is actually part of the whole thing being together. Pete has faith in himself and he has faith in his comedy career. He also has faith in marriage.
"Talking about my real self, I got married and I went into comedy the same week basically; I thought both were my lifelong partners and one ended up not working out," Holmes continues. "The show is saying that the down times and the up time — we need both. We can't have winning without losing. There's no polarity to that and there's no charge to that. So by Pete losing a little bit of his 'faith' — meaning he gets a little less moral or traditionally 'holy' — I think he's learning far more profound things. It's about an inner transformation not about whether or not you say 'fuck' or smoke a cigarette or get a lap dance."
Though it might surprise some who know him best as a former member of Howard Stern's morning crew or for headlines about his troubling, near-tragic addictions, Lange believes that comedy, with all of its off-colour content, offers a true path to social and cultural sensitivity.
"The town I grew up in in north Jersey is eight miles from this progressive, unbelievable place, New York City, but it has the most closed-minded people about gays, racial stuff. And I'm proud that I became more enlightened than my friends by going into show business. There's this great city right there, you can see it. And you do meet a lot of interesting people that are more enlightened than you are in the world.
"Most people who don't take the leap into a creative world never even try to answer those questions," Lange says, referring to the spiritual queries about faith and existence that often come up on Crashing. "They just let that all build up and they become, y'know, my uncle Tony. And I'm trying not to do that."
Season one of Crashing is now available on Blu-ray/DVD now.
Listen to the entire Pete Holmes and Artie Lange interview on Kreative Kontrol here or below: