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Jamie Lee’s ‘Crashing’ role reminds her of ‘harrowing’ stand-up journey

The “Girl Code” comedian relates to her HBO character’s journey to stand-up stardom.

"Crashing" actress Jamie Lee appears as the HBO series' new female stand-up lead in season 2. Photo Credit: HBO / Peter Kramer

Pete Holmes is still in need of his own personal stand-up mentor in the second season of Judd Apatow’s “Crashing,” only this time around, he’s learning the ropes from female comedian Jamie Lee.

Lee’s character Ali, far more experienced handling the gritty booking scene in New York City than Pete, turns up as the series’ first female stand-up lead. Farther along on her journey to stardom, Ali takes Pete away from the comfort of hawking outside Greenwich Village’s Boston Comedy Club to introduce him to the alt-scene at venues like the legendary Rififi. (Both iconic, now-shuttered clubs are brought back to life in the series thanks to a little on-set magic at a studio space in Greenpoint.)

“Pete’s struggle [to make it as a comedian] is really accurate. Anyone who’s really serious about comedy, they follow that path of moving to a big city and working as hard as possible until you get some traction,” Lee says.

Pete’s late nights handing out flyers on the streets for limited stage time is a path that mirrors Lee’s own start in the industry. The comedian spent eight years bouncing between bars and clubs in the city before landing writing credits on “The Pete Holmes Show” and unveiling her wit on “Chelsea Lately,” “Girl Code” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”

“I did A LOT of open mics,” Lee recalls of her time performing at Comic Strip Live, UCB Chelsea and Pianos NYC. “Then, I started to get booked on shows, because your peers in the industry also book shows as well. That’s how everybody gets stage time, you all help each other.”

Calling the hustle to the stage a “harrowing journey” for her character, Pete and stand-up comedians in general, Lee explains how she landed her latest role and delves deeper into how it relates to her own career progression.

New episodes of “Crashing” air Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

You have several writing credits, including on “Crashing,” so what attracted you to branch out into the acting realm to play Ali?

I think it was really fun to delve back into my past and uncover those feelings of starting out in stand-up. That’s part of her character that I really identify with. She’s grinding it out and working hard to get good at stand-up. She’s a little further along than Pete, so she’s able to take what she’s learned about hustling and teach it to him.

I had to audition for Ali. I just went in and auditioned like everyone else and I actually was worried that because I was a writer on the show it would be a disadvantage. So, when I found out I got it it was really satisfying to know it’s because I went through the channels everyone else did and it worked out.

In the first episode, we get a reference to the 2007 Vanity Fair article by Christopher Hitchens that explained “why women aren’t funny.” Have you come across this in your own experience in the industry?

When you’re first starting out, you’re just so focused on getting good that you don’t have time to think about these larger questions. At least when I was starting out … the climate was different back then. Now we’re in a post-“Me Too” world.

At the time, I was like, “I definitely feel things, but I’m going to push my feelings down because right now I have to focus on the task at hand which is accomplishing stand-up.” Now, looking back, I’m able to pick out all of these little moments, “oh, that was weird. That was inappropriate. That was wrong. That made me feel bad.” There were so many of those that I realize now that was what it was. I wasn’t feeling it in the moment because I didn’t know any different. I didn’t think of myself as a woman in comedy, just as a person trying to do stand-up. I think it’s important and special to be able to shed a light on that right away in the first episode.

Is this something you think has changed within the comedy industry?

I do think it’s changing. I don’t think it’s completely solved. I think things are moving in a positive direction. To help accelerate it, it’s about everyone listening to each other. Men just need to listen. That’s what I’ll say.

Given the similarities between you and your character, how much of what makes Ali, Ali comes from you and not the script?

I would say about 60 percent [of the stand-up is me]. We shot a lot and then it got cut down. I took some of mine and twisted it to make it a little more Ali and then in later episodes there were writers involved in the stand-up process. In another episode, we brought in a team of new writers, I can’t say why because I don’t want to give it away, but that was more of a collaborative effort.

Pete and Ali have a one-night stand experience this season that can really only be described as horrifying for casual daters. Have you ever had a date you can’t shake?

I’ve definitely had experiences that were horrible, but I’ve never had any guys that just wouldn’t leave like Pete. If anything, after a one-night stand, I always thought the sad part was that people do want to leave. Pete’s character, the way he executed the scene, making himself super comfortable and staying there while I was at work, that was a bit much. I think the fact that he didn’t want to leave though, was sweet, and in my real life, I would have appreciated it.

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