The Judd Apatow/Pete Holmes comedy, “Crashing,” wrapped with Pete heading off on a national college tour after being pummeled by the city’s alt scene, and his then-girlfriend. Come season 3, he’ll be back to frequenting the city’s storied venues.
“I don’t want to say he’s a jerk, but he’s more cocky now,” Holmes says during a quick break while filming at The Comedy Cellar. “He comes back thinking the city owes him something.”
After a finale that suggested Pete’s journey could expand away from the central NYC comedy scene he’s struggled to break into for two seasons, Holmes reassures us that the series is staying firmly put.
“Removing the show from New York now, I don’t think would be a good idea. It’s not too much of a spoiler, but we pick up the season at the end of the college tour because it’s more interesting to us what happened to my character emotionally from succeeding on the tour,” he explains.
Whatever does happen lands him back inside the famed Macdougal Street Cellar this season where he’ll be celebrating a friend’s big feat (and not performing, yet).
On a weekday afternoon last month, Holmes, Jamie Lee (Ali) and other returning castmates gather to shoot an Apatow-directed episode set to air midway through the season, which doesn’t yet have a release date. Nearly 50 cast and crew members are stationed in the club’s lower level, huddling around a handful of cameras displaying the scene unfolding in the Olive Tree Cafe above them.
It goes down like this: Pete and Ali are at the bar with their new dates (awkward?) and some friends; Colin Quinn is tossing out one-liners from the venue’s legendary comedians’ table; and Emo Philips (the “godfather of alt-comedy”) strolls in out of nowhere and heads downstairs for a stand-up set.
Being in the venue stirs up memories for Apatow — who was inspired to return to stand-up after filming “Trainwreck” at the Cellar — Holmes — who spent many days trembling at the thought of performing there — and Quinn — who’s been occupying the famed corner table for decades.
“This is my home”
“This is my second home. No. This is my home, everywhere else is my second home,” Quinn says, leaning back in the Cellar’s teeny wooden basement benches.
Quinn, who conveniently lives on Macdougal Street, has been frequenting the venue since its opening in the early ’80s. The “Saturday Night Live” alum was around when the venue had what he calls a “different energy” as rising comics like Chris Rock, Ray Romano and Louis C.K. took to the stage nightly.
“My friends, the guys we came up with, were a bit more vicious,” he says about the table where comics sound off about the performer’s set. Quinn himself was booed off the stage during his first Cellar set. “Sometimes you walk in and it’ll be quiet, or people will be yelling ‘Shut up, beat it.’ It depends who’s there.”
A hands-on Apatow looks to recreate that energy in the episode, straying from the set script. He stops and repeats scenes upward of five times in a row to try on different one-liners from Quinn, who notes filming there feels just like any other Tuesday night at the club (plus cameras).
“Sometimes it’s very hard to script comedians talking to each other. It gets stiff and weird,” Apatow says. “There are certain moments where I give up on writing it . . . These are spaces where it should be whatever it is. These are people playing themselves. It feels fake sometimes when you try to write it for them.”
“It’s like ‘Black Mirror’ — if it was wonderful.”
Holmes, whose character first introduced us to the Cellar’s comedians’ table in the series’ premiere season, welcomes the authentic vibe, even if it still gives him the chills.
The table portrayed on “Louie” and in the 2002 Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams documentary, “Comedian,” among several other projects, was one a struggling Holmes once found daunting. In 2016 he told Vulture he’d always sit at a table adjacent to the comedians’ spot, aka the ‘kids’ table.”
“Just yesterday we were shooting and I looked up the stairs that you come down to go onstage, those stairs were and kind of remain intimidating to me,” Holmes says, offsetting an espresso shot with a green smoothie for an energy boost through the daylong shoot.
Joining Apatow for an impromptu performance at The Village Underground the night prior (and being the lead in a successful HBO series) hasn’t jaded the comic.
“I still don’t feel like I’ve won, or killed the beast or anything,” he says. “I do have a lot of moments of gratitude, especially as we try to recreate these scenes that happened in the Cellar in real life.
“I don’t have a lot of moments of ‘Simply the best!’ (he channels Tina Turner). I still feel reverence because this is the club from the doc ‘Comedian,’ which changed my life and Colin’s in that movie; it’s freaking me out a little bit. It’s very surreal. It’s like ‘Black Mirror’ — if it was wonderful.”
“Crashing” is expected to return to HBO in 2019.