Pete Holmes on How Conan, Batman Inspired His New Show (Q&A)

The podcast king wants his TBS show's sketches and personal interviews to stand out from the late-night crowd, telling THR "if people watch our show and go, 'It's just another late-night show,' then we've messed up."
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Pete Holmes

Comedian Pete Holmes is known for playing Batman in a series of CollegeHumor videos, voicing the e-Trade baby and hosting his podcast You Made It Weird, which features in-depth and surprisingly personal interviews with stars.

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On Monday, Holmes debuts The Pete Holmes Show on TBS at midnight ET. Holmes says the show, which is being produced by Conan O'Brien, will be a bit different than other late-night talk shows. It'll be sketch-heavy and feature an opening monologue based on Holmes' personal thoughts rather than the latest headlines. The interview format will also be a bit different, featuring just one guest who won't be there to promote a project.

"I want people to watch our show and go, 'Something's happening,' " Holmes tells The Hollywood Reporter. "If people watch our show and go, 'It's just another late-night show,' then we've messed up."

On his podcast, Holmes is able to get away with asking intensely personal questions, partially because of his disarming charm and partially because of the rapport he builds with the guests over the course of conversations that span two-plus hours. (Memorably, he once asked Jon Hamm if he regretted being in a relationship now that he was a sex symbol.) Holmes says that while there's no substitute for an hours-long conversation, he's hoping to retain some of that personal touch in the shorter interviews on his show.

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Find THR's full conversation with Holmes below, where he reveals the best advice O'Brien gave him about working in late night and what's behind his string of comic book-inspired sketch videos.

What does the TBS show mean for your podcast, You Made It Weird?

The plan is to keep doing the podcast. There's no substitution for three-hour conversations, where there's no concern for time or content. The plan is to do it once a week, and so far that's been OK.

What is the format of the show? Will there be a monologue, for instance?

The opening will usually be a sketch, something along the lines of the Batman videos or something else we've created for the show. The monologue will be much more like my stand-up, as opposed to a setup and punchline pulled from the headlines. So many shows do that so well that I just don't feel like we're going to try to do that. The monologues are going to be more informal, more personal. Instead of changing the topic from joke to joke, we're going to stay on one topic for three to five minutes.

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Your podcast interviews are quite in-depth. What will the interviews be like in this shorter format?

None of our guests are promoting anything. They are all funny people that I know and are in my life. Some of them are new to me, but for the most part it's not celebrity-driven. People like Kumail [Nanjiani], our first guest -- Kumail isn't a huge celebrity, but he is without a doubt one of the funniest people in the country.

In your podcast you are able to ask almost anything you want. How does that change when the conversation happens in front of a studio audience?

I'm waiting to see until after we've gotten off the ground how well we can train a studio audience to tolerate a more serious discussion. That remains to be seen. The live podcasts are a little different than the one-on-one. But I remember when Anthony Jeselnik was on the second live one he did with me, we ended up having a really serious conversation and that was probably in front of 300, 400 people. If we go long, that will be available online. Our show is only half an hour, but I anticipate letting it be as long as people want it to be. You can watch the long cut of the sketch, you can watch the blooper reel, and you can watch a longer interview.

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Who are your late-night idols?

It's kind of obvious, but the truth is Conan has always been a hero of mine. I've always looked at him for a barometer of comedy and the stick I've always measured my own career by. Certainly [David] Letterman. I went and saw Letterman when I was 15 and that had a profound impact on me. l love Jon Stewart. A lot of our guys on the pilot are from The Daily Show. And I used to do warm-up for The Daily Show. Because we were doing so much sketch, Chappelle Show and Key and Peele and Kroll Show.  

What advice has Conan given you?

The best thing he said was it's all of our jobs to make the shoot day feel like a playground, so the host can go out and play, and not worry about this and that.

You have released some hilarious Batman and X-Men sketches. Are you a comic book fan?

I'm not the hugest comic book person, but I do love superheroes. I love alpha males. We're doing a bunch of James Bond sketches. Anytime you can take somebody like Batman or James Bond or Wolverine, who's just so alpha and has everything figured out, it's really fun to introduce humanity there.

How would you sum up your hopes for the show?

I want people to watch our show and go, "Something's happening." If people watch our show and go, "It's just another late-night show," then we've messed up.

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Twitter: @AaronCouch