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HBO's 'Crashing': Pete Holmes compares Boston Comedy Club set to NYC venue

Stepping onto the set of HBO’s “Crashing," you’ll find yourself standing in the center of what looks and feels like The Boston Comedy Club, but is actually just a really, really good replica.

The Judd Apatow-produced series, now filming its second season at Cine Magic East River Studios in Greenpoint, has found its niche breathing new life into the city’s shuttered comedy venues, most notably The Boston. Formerly at 82 W. 3rd St., the venue shut its doors in 2005 but remains a regular spot for the series’ frontman, Pete Holmes, thanks to a little on-set magic.

“It’s so crazy to see this place where we are now, The Boston. Even now it creeps me out. This place was so scary and it still is,” Holmes says, leaning into a worn leather seat cushion held together by strips of duct tape. The comedian chatted about his memories of The Boston inside the club stand-in on Stage A Tuesday in between filming the new season’s fifth episode, which resurrects another closed NYC favorite, Rififi.

From burned-out candles to dim mood lighting and tables lined with Yankees and Red Sox baseball cards, the on-set recreation of The Boston doesn’t skimp on the details, leaving Holmes to refer to the experience as otherworldly.

“Being here for the first time, I felt like I had seen a ghost, and now it is more pleasant,” Holmes says. “I’m a little bit more comfortable [now], especially more than in the first season.”

Holmes got his start in the city as a struggling comedian “barking,” or handing out club flyers without pay, at the former West Village club a decade ago. The series’ plot, loosely based on Holmes’ 2007 divorce and journey to stand-up stardom, sees his self-named character standing on street corners with yellow flyers in the hopes of bringing in enough customers to score his own set. "Barking" is a struggle Holmes says most New York comedians have endured.

Oren Brimer, who produces and directs the show alongside Holmes and Apatow, says he’s seen other comics experience the same wave of nostalgia when they see the set. “It’s that sort of ‘I’m seeing a ghost’ thing," he says. "A ghost I’m scared of but also have fond memories of.”

Perhaps it’s the little details -- like the strategically placed staples in the walls or the drink menus leading us to believe we can still order a $14 Boston Club Punch -- that help the replica feel spot-on.

Holmes says comedians, including Dave Chappelle, have reached out to him after seeing the recreation on TV.

“When the show aired [Chappelle] got in touch with me and was like, ‘I can’t believe you built The Boston!’ So, that was a huge thrill, obviously,” Holmes says, adding that Chappelle has not yet had the chance to see the set in person. “I think he would get a kick outta seeing it because he used to sit up here and smoke,” he adds, motioning toward the small stage only a few feet away.

Holmes and Brimer talked us through a just how realistic a few key parts of onset recreation are.

An intimidating stage

Twelve inches off the ground at best, the
Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn

Twelve inches off the ground at best, the stage is front-and-center, surrounded by narrow bar tables and adorned with a fireplace and single tall, thin mic stand. What Holmes remembers most about the stage is the mantel. He says the height of the fireplace in the replica is at "perfect" height compared to the original. "That's where we used to put our arms when we'd lean, because it would be going so badly," he says. "Part of the game was to look comfortable, so you'd just kind of lean back." Not present in the replica: A crowd of chatty comedians seated along the room's elevated back booths. "Where I'm sitting right now is where the more established comedians would come and talk at full volume while you were on stage."

Memory-packed flyers

Stacks of flyers are piled up on a
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay

Stacks of flyers are piled up on a ledge in the club's fake entrance. (No, they don't say Pete on the back). Holmes says they're essential to the NYC comedy scene and a part of the reason the show was shot on location. "Some people ask why we did this show in New York and I'm like, we literally could not have done it anywhere else," he says."[Flyering is] to me, very distinctly New York. There isn't a city that I know of that has 15 clubs that are flyering and also, on top of that, 15 music venues and on top of that, people handing out CDs. There's just such a hustle to the city and that always felt like a good metaphor for the artistic pursuit, that New York and comedy or art or show business doesn't need or want you. If you quit, it just keeps going."

The wall of imposters

Autographed portraits of comedians hung on the walls
Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn

Autographed portraits of comedians hung on the walls of the real Boston, so the replica followed suit. A trained eye will note the photos on the set's walls aren't all accurate. Several framed photographs are of set crew members. "That's [all set designer] Amy Williams. Sometimes, you can't do other people's names because you have to get each one cleared," Brimer says. His photograph can be spotted several times on the wall. "This is a lot of our crew and staff ... It's fun for us to watch the episodes. This is our wall of presidents."

The Boston's spot-on structure

Holmes, standing 6-feet-6-inches tall, towers above The Boston's
Photo Credit: Peter Kramer

Holmes, standing 6-feet-6-inches tall, towers above The Boston's low tables. So, it's not surprising that he remembers something as specific as the ceiling's beam structure. "The beams are not aligned correctly, and I'm really glad that they got that correct," he says.


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