It was inevitable that Crashing — which centers on (a semi-autobiographical) Pete Holmes working his way up the ladder in the New York stand-up circuit — would touch on real-world sexism and sexual harassment in the larger stand-up comedy community, as it did last night in “MC, Middle, Headliner.” But the heavier-than-typical (for the show) subject matter didn’t make it a chore. Instead, according to Holmes (who, of course, co-created, writes, and stars in the show), he and the other writers and producers viewed this as an opportunity to “try and say something,” with Holmes telling UPROXX that it is the episode that they are “most proud of.” And they should be, because despite the challenge of the task, they managed to stay within the guardrails of the show while simultaneously avoiding “very special episode territory” and adding a very relevant story to an on-going conversation in the comedy world (and the larger world). One that, occasionally, needs to be refreshed with the notion that this is more than a Louis C.K. problem.
When I spoke with Holmes (and his Crashing co-star Madeline Wise) last month, I asked him about how much he leaned on female comics and colleagues when vetting the subject matter. And while it sounds like it was a very inclusive, team-lift kind of process that strived to take multiple voices into account, Jamie Lee stands out. A stand-up comic and best selling author who works on the show as a writer and who plays Pete’s stand-up colleague/rival/ former girlfriend, Lee steals the episode, pushing back on comedy world shithead avatar Jason Webber’s obvious jealousy and toxicity, shouting him down in a parking lot after he’s spoiling for a fight following a failed set and attempt to pressure a waitress into going home with him. Behind the scenes, it’s clear that she made a massive contribution to the construction of the episode, with Holmes signaling her out. We spoke with Lee and delved into the episode, the frustration of dealing with Louis C.K. questions, and the art of creating an effective argument on screen.
When was this episode conceived and shot?
Usually our writing period is February, March, April, and that’s in LA. And then we go to New York and we sort of finish up the scripts there, and then we start shooting in June. There were several iterations of this script, I feel like, in the writers’ room. It sort of started just as an idea of, “Oh, it’d be cool to do a road trip with Pete and Dov Davidoff’s character, and what would that look like?” You know, if Pete was in this place of trying to get his career to take off, and he’s been hanging out with someone who has this toxic attitude and almost makes fun of success from a place of weakness within himself… So it sort of started there, and then I believe Judd and I were like, “Oh, well, wouldn’t it be interesting if Ali showed up?” Because then, not only are we dealing with the Dov Davidoff character’s energy, but we would also be dealing with Pete and his ex-girlfriend, and what that would mean for his current relationship. So, we just felt like it layered the episode a little bit for us. Then we realized, as we were arcing out the episode, that we hadn’t really gotten that deep with Dov Davidoff’s character and that it could be interesting to have him be this representation of, essentially, the conversations being had in the comedy community right now. And so it just seemed like an organic fit to have that happen.
Dov’s last line as Jason Webber when he says that he’ll be right back in the game [after his incident with the waitress at the club] — that takes on a different meaning post-Louis C.K. “comeback” because it’s essentially been proven true. Does that strike at you when you’re watching things unfold in comedy culture after the episode’s already in the can? Like, “Oh, gosh, I wish we could add this?”
This sounds so trite, but there is something about making any art where you can’t control — especially in production — when something comes out. I honestly don’t remember when Louis C.K., quote, unquote, made his comeback. I know it was not long ago.
End of August.
Yeah. We definitely filmed this before then. But those conversations around the #MeToo movement and Louis and Bill Cosby… those were things that were already sort of setting into the dialog, the comedy community dialog. So, I don’t know that there’s anything I would want to add. It’s hard for me to say. I mean, would I want an episode that directly targets Louis specifically? I don’t think so, because I think that the issue has permeated on a larger scale, and I think that maybe when you sort of have an episode that a little more broadly addresses these issues, it’s up to the viewer to sort of fill in the blanks and contextualize it, if that makes sense.
It does. And I agree. I think it’s more effective when done the way you guys did it, because I think as stories have come out, and not necessarily with names behind them, but there’s a sense that, yeah, this is a bigger problem than just one comedian, or two comedians. And I think that the episode, rather than taking a Law & Order “ripped from the headlines approach…” it makes it clear that this could be going on in any comedy club in America.
Yeah, I appreciate you saying that, because I feel like it’s so pervasive and it’s been going on for so long. It is fully disturbing that it’s just now coming to the fore, because it’s just been doubling for so long, and women, in particular, have been dealing with it, not just in comedy but in every professional field for so long that I think it just feels like the way that we tackled the episode will continue to create a discussion. Because it’s targeted but it’s also more evergreen at the same time.