The weird and wonderful ministry of Pete Holmes

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A promotional photo for The Pete Holmes Show (via TBSNewsroom.com).

This is the third in a series of posts where I discuss the things that inspire me. The first post talked about an article by Esquire contributor Chris Jones, and the second looked at a scene in the TV show Breaking Bad.

Today’s post is about Pete Holmes, a comedian from Lexington, Massachusetts.

First, two quotes:

I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are – even if we tell it only to ourselves – because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.

– Frederick Buechner, American writer and theologian, in his book Telling Secrets

This is who I am: I overthink and I ruminate. I’m obsessive. But what I really want is relief. Most people are the same. We’re all carrying around some shit. When you hear the things that people have gone through and realize you’ve gone through the same, it provides an amazing amount of relief. It gives us hope. And I think that’s what we’re supposed to get from each other. The hope that, maybe, just maybe, we’re going to be okay.

– Marc Maron, comedian and host of the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, in his book, Attempting Normal

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Holmes shares a lot about his life on You Made It Weird – his Christian upbringing, his father’s alcoholism, his relationship with his mother, his divorce, his physical health, his counselling sessions, and more.

If you aren’t already familiar with Pete Holmes, there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing a lot about him soon. The 34-year-old stand-up comedian has a new late night talk show premiering this coming Monday, Oct. 28. The Pete Holmes Show will air on TBS after Conan O’Brien’s show.

I first got to know Holmes’ work via You Made It Weird, the podcast he hosts. (Incidentally, today is the second anniversary of the show’s Oct. 25, 2011 debut.)

My friend, Chad, told me about You Made It Weird this past June, and I’ve been listening to it constantly over the last five months. It has been a big inspiration to me as I work toward improving my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that the podcast is changing my life. I’m always left with something to think about after I listen to it.

Each episode, Holmes interviews someone – usually a comedian. The conversations last roughly two hours and are wide-ranging, though the topics explored typically fall into three categories: comedy, sexuality and religion. The guests share their thoughts on each topic, and so does Holmes. So, while you’re invited in to the guest’s story, you also get to hear Holmes’ story, too.

Do you believe in God? Is there an afterlife? What were you raised to believe? How have those beliefs changed over the years?

Are you currently in a relationship? What do you like about the person you’re with? What makes the relationship work?

Have you, or has someone you know, ever had a near-death experience or dealt with a potentially life-threatening illness or accident?

What do you eat? What kind of physical activity do you do? What books do you read and what movies do you watch?

What do you do, or what have you done in the past, that you feel guilty or ashamed about? When are you at your best? What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Those are just a few of the questions the podcast explores.

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Holmes has released two albums of stand up material: “Impregnated with Wonder” (2011) and “Nice Try, the Devil” (2013).

There are three main reasons why I enjoy You Made It Weird.

The first is that it’s incredibly funny. Holmes is a gifted comedian, and so are his guests. (Although, he does interview the occasional non-comedian, such as pastor/author Rob Bell and musician Sara Watkins.) The humour isn’t always for everyone – depending on the episode, you may find some of it quite crude – but overall, it’s entertaining to listen to, and when I listen to it, I always get the stress relief that laughter supplies.

I also enjoy the podcast because I identify with Holmes. And that’s the last time I’m going to refer to him as “Holmes” here, because as corny as it sounds, I feel like I know the guy and can just call him Pete.

I identify with him on many levels: He’s lost a fair amount of weight over the years and he’s interested in what it looks like to live a healthy life.

But also, I feel like we have similar backgrounds. Like me, Pete grew up in a Christian household and received his post-secondary education at a Christian liberal arts institution.

His beliefs have changed significantly over the years, as he described during the Nov. 9, 2012 episode when guest Chelsea Peretti asked him if he believes in God.

“I believe that there is something,” he said. “I think God is a word for something we can’t describe … I don’t believe in the God I used to believe in. [Growing up] I really believed in the lifeguard God that was watching and monitoring my thoughts. Like, if I [thought], ‘I want to fuck that girl,’ I believed in a God that was slapping me on the wrist with a yardstick. I don’t believe in that anymore, but I do believe that there is something. I absolutely do.”

The way Pete talks about the Christian worldview he grew up with, and is continually working through, is compelling to me. (It’s also entertaining to hear him start singing hymns occasionally, or to all of a sudden hear him reference a passage in the Bible. He knows his stuff.)

Pete planned on becoming a pastor before deciding to pursue stand-up comedy, and he calls the podcast his “filthy ministry.”

“This is my filthy ministry – it’s true,” he said during his conversation with Peretti. “All the butt-fucking jokes and all the jerk-off topics and all that sort of stuff [aside], at the end of the day, this [show] feels more like what I want church to be than what church [has been for] me.”

“Here we are, just a couple of people – and it’s different every episode – trying to figure it out from the ground up,” he continued. “That feels like some good, godly work. Even though my mom would be upset by the things I say on the show [and the people at] my [former] church would be upset by the things I say on the show, this does feel like a … ministry.”

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In addition to being a comedian and podcast host, Holmes is the voice of the e*trade baby and portrays Batman in “Badman,” a series of short videos created by College Humor that lampoon Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films. (Photo by kevintporter, via Wikipedia.)

I can relate

The third reason I enjoy You Made It Weird is that the conversations are real. It’s refreshing to hear Pete and his guests talk about, in an honest way, topics that I’ve often thought about or struggled with. Knowing there are people out there who are going through the same things that I’m going through has made me feel less alone. It’s also inspired me to be more honest in the conversations I have with the people I trust.

In short: Every week on You Made It Weird, you’re getting exactly what Marc Maron and Frederick Buechner write about in the passages I quoted at the beginning of this post. Pete may call the topics he discusses “weird,” but they’re weird not because they’re deviant or freakish. They’re weird because they are the things we don’t always talk about as a result of the guilt or shame we feel, or the feeling we have that people won’t like us if they see who we really are.

And by discussing them, Pete feels less alone, and listeners feel less alone, too.

He talked about this with his friend and fellow comedian, Chris Thayer, during the May 18, 2012 episode.

“I’ll say something [during my stand-up act] that I’ve done, or more importantly that I thought, and I felt bad about, and they laugh, and that’s what [You Made It Weird] is [about],” Pete said. “We talk about all these weird things on the show, and I hope the listeners go, ‘I do that too, I feel that way too,’ and I hope we’re validating them, and then them liking the show or listening to the show, is a way of being like, ‘We like you too [Pete]. You’re not a freak.’”

Then he shares this penetrating insight:

“‘Cause I think there’s a weird part of all humans: Somewhere inside of you is this idiot, this idiot child that thinks love is going to be taken away from you swiftly, and you don’t deserve anything – you don’t deserve friends, heat, comfort, food, sex, and it’s going to be taken from you when it’s revealed what a fuckin’ weirdo you are, what a fucking freak you are.”

“If people knew [the real] you, they could not love you,” Thayer responded.

“Yeah,” Pete said. “But instead, what I think we’re learning through stand-up hopefully, and through things like this show, is we’re opening all the windows and being like, ‘Here – take a look around.’”

Thayer: “We’re all just freaks trying to get by.”

Pete: “I know you’re joking, but–”

Thayer: “No, I am serious though, too.”

Pete responded to that by telling Thayer what he sees as the show’s mission statement.

“If there’s a mission statement lately on the show, [it’s], ‘I’m a nice, good person.’ That’s Part A,” Pete said. “Part B is: I’ve done some fucked up stuff. It’s usually victimless, you know what I mean? I’m not hurting people, but I’m doing some weird shit that I want to talk about, and … for better or worse, I’d like my fellow man to go, ‘I’ve done that too,’ or, ‘That’s not that weird,’ or, ‘I love you anyway.’”

During the aforementioned conversation with Peretti, which happened on the podcast’s 100th episode, Pete reflected on the impact the show has had on listeners and himself.

People have told him that they lost significant amounts of weight because of things they heard on the show, or it inspired them to go back to school, or it gave them the courage to get out of a dysfunctional relationship.

“People come up to me and they’re like, ‘This show has changed my life, and it’s made me better,’ and all that sort of stuff, and I’m like, me fuckin’ too,” Pete said. “I need help more than anybody I know. So anybody that’s like, ‘It’s helped me,’ it’s probably helped me even more.”

“That stuff I think is the most important work that I’ve done,” he continued, “and I’m grateful to have the show.”

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A photo from Holmes’ stand-up special, “Nice Try, the Devil.”

Suggested listening

A new episode of You Made It Weird is available for free download each week via Nerdist.com and iTunes.

If you’re wondering where to start, here are two of my favourite moments/stories from the show:

“Sun’s coming up. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.” From the Aug. 7, 2013 interview with comedian and daytime TV show host Kirk Fox: If you can’t listen to the entire episode, listen to the 10-minute section that starts at 1:08:44 and ends at 1:18:15. Fox tells Pete the incredible story of how his parents met, how his father became a spiritual leader to hundreds of people in California, and the poignant moment his parents shared right before his father died. I had tears in my eyes listening to this on my way to work one morning two months ago.

“Hey guys, what’s going on?” From the Sept. 4, 2013 interview with comedian and actor Nick Swardson: Again, if you can’t listen to the entire episode, fast-forward to 1:46:00, when Pete asks Swardson if he believes in an afterlife. Then keep listening for the two minutes from 1:47:30 to 1:49:30, when Swardson talks about the supernatural experience his one-year-old nephew and 69-year-old father shared in the hospital before his father died. It will give you chills.

The Oct. 27, 2011 episode with TJ Miller, the Jan. 18, 2012 episode with Marc Maron, the Nov. 9, 2012 episode with Chelsea Peretti, the May 17, 2013 episode with Rob Bell, the Aug. 21, 2013 episode with Whitney Cummings and the Aug. 28, 2013 episode with Chris Gethard are a few more of my favourite episodes.

Definitely check it out.


Pete talks about Google and not knowing on Conan (March 21, 2011).


Pete talks about magic on Conan (November 2011).

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6 Responses to The weird and wonderful ministry of Pete Holmes

  1. zjpeters says:

    Great post Aaron! I will definitely have to check this podcast out.

  2. Daniel says:

    Pete looks like Zach Braff.

  3. Krista says:

    Hmmm…I posted a long comment and then it somehow vanished. Anyway, great post. Love YMIW and ole Petey Pants. Definitely listen to those eps that I tweeted you about. SO GOOD. Especially Sara Schaefer. I just love her.

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