What makes Pete different from most of the New York stand-ups he works alongside is that he’s a devout Christian—as straight-laced a twenty-something as one might find doing open mics in the Village at one in the morning. The show follows him in the wake of the revelation that his wife, whom he married right out of college, has been having a months-long affair and wants a divorce. Over eight episodes he’s wrestled with the dissolution of his marriage, his ex-wife’s valid complaints about his lack of emotional maturity, and the growing realization that his pursuit of a comedy career is the kind of pride-swallowing siege that requires as strong a faith in the unknown as any religion.
After all, Pete’s stand-up career is mostly unpaid and consists of him “barking” (passing out flyers on a street corner) in exchange for stage time. Any friend he makes in the comedy world is either a potential rival (if they’re of similar status to him) or a peerless celebrity he can only idolize. Throughout the first season of Crashing, Pete would talk to other comedians about the role stand-up plays in their lives, with stars like Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, and T.J. Miller (all playing themselves) comparing it to a sort of belief system, a code with various unwritten rules that has to be followed but has no guarantee of success.
Embedded in that is the strange hospitality they all offer, letting Pete crash on their couches as he bounces around New York (Silverman maintains an apartment that’s seemingly permanently occupied by struggling comedians). Though they’re all baffled by Pete in some way, it’s only because of his cheerful demeanor and general disinterest in “working blue.” As a stand-up interested in performing “clean” comedy, Pete’s a comparative rarity. But as a young guy trying to navigate New York without any job or prospects, and with a burning desire to get up on stage and tell jokes to largely empty rooms, he’s just another in a long line of aspirants.
Holmes (who created the show and produces it with Judd Apatow) is now an extremely successful stand-up, of course, but the New York comedy world he plugged away in years ago (alongside contemporaries like John Mulaney, Kumail Nanjiani, and Hannibal Buress) hasn’t changed much. It’s a confusing slog of a career that remains very difficult to break into, no matter who you know. Whereas most shows would likely depict Pete’s ascent as rapid and continuous, simply to move the story along, Holmes seems devoted to giving it a proper shot of realism.
In the pilot episode, after learning that his wife has cheated on him, Pete takes the stage at a club and launches into the story of finding her in bed with another man, perhaps hoping to tap into the sort of raw, exposed, confessional comedy that serves many stand-up stars. Instead, he bombs horribly, unable to translate the material into proper jokes and drawing awkward stares as he haltingly recounts the recent trauma of his personal life. Later, when Pete’s Christian parents visit him in the city, they watch him perform. His mother lambasts him for sticking to strictly observational comedy, saying he has no unique voice in his material, and admiring his (far filthier) contemporaries for baring their souls onstage.