The third season of comedian Pete Holmes’ HBO comedy “Crashing” premiered Sunday, Jan. 20. Those viewers unfamiliar with Holmes may want to watch some of his previous stand-up specials before delving into his series about the life of a still-aspiring comedian inspired by his own life. Holmes’ most recent HBO special, “Dirty Clean,” does not quite live up to his first special with the network, “Faces and Sounds,” but it continues to illuminate Holmes’ captivating, familiar persona: lovable, goofy and quick to laugh at himself.
Filmed at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore., “Dirty Clean” covers some of Holmes’ favorite topics from his family to the existence of the afterlife, punctuated by standard bits about traffic and the debate over dogs and cats.
Holmes is arguably one of the most intellectually curious comedians working today. While he is known for his stand-up career, Holmes has been hosting a long-form podcast called “You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes” since 2011, with an archive over 400 episodes deep. For every installment, Holmes interviews someone, usually another comedian like close friend John Mulaney (COL ’04) or Kumail Nanjiani, about genuinely anything that comes up, in addition to standards like religion. While the show technically fulfills the interview format, it usually devolves into fascinating yet meandering conversations.
Recurring topics on the podcast also show up in his new special. Seemingly totally enamored by and in awe of life, Holmes and his guest reveal their core beliefs, no matter how weird, at some point over the unedited two hours that Holmes has them on mic.
This same energy finds its way onto Holmes’ new special. Frequent listeners of the podcast may find themselves suffering from too long of a look behind behind the curtain. Holmes often discusses the inner workings of his comedic philosophy, making viewers of his stand-up crippingly aware of the process and creating a slight inability to live in the moment of each joke. Maybe after listening to so many hours of Holmes in a conversational setting, it is an odd transition to watch his stand-up again.
The perpetual self-awareness exhibited on his podcast can lead to funny moments in his specials, like naming his first with HBO “Faces and Sounds,” which is how he describes his comedy or his acknowledgement of his large and overbearingly happy persona. “Dirty Clean,” though, seems to have less of the genuine quality found in his first special, with Holmes seeming a little less energetic and warm.
Moreover, fans who watched Holmes’ “Faces and Sounds” would probably find themselves quoting the most memorable jokes, even if they can not possibly live up to his delivery. “Dirty Clean” offers fewer gems that stick with the viewers long after watching.
While Holmes sticks to his trademark delivery that frequently employs funny voices and twisted expressions to complement anecdotes, the comedy hits just slightly less powerfully than in his previous special for HBO.
Holmes’ persistent positivity, though, is always a refreshing departure from the mainstream comedy scene. He proudly declares himself pro-marriage, pro-baby, pro-traffic and pro-laughing whenever possible. Recently married and a new father — and happy about it — Holmes finds himself frequently going against the grain of the traditional hard archetype of a comedian. Holmes would rather take a long, slow drive on a freeway listening to a podcast than give in to the high-speed anxiety of Waze.
Despite his incomparable ability to find a positive spin on almost every topic, Holmes still maintains enough edge to seem like a full-fledged person. Some of his most interesting material comes from confronting people on their beliefs. Holmes is now more fascinated by religion and spirituality than a practitioner of it. In “Dirty Clean,” he gets his audience to show by a raise of hands their beliefs on the afterlife before boldly claiming that they are all right. Any answer is believable when the standard for ridiculousness is the existence of life in the first place.
Even in his more standard material like his proposal, his new baby or even his dogs versus cats debate, Holmes finds an angle that feels distinctly him, showing his vulnerability and balancing the line between self-deprecation and ego.
For fans of Pete Holmes, “Dirty Clean” offers more of the same Pete whom we love, even if the jokes do not quite meet the high bar of his previous special.