Once again, my choice for Person of the Year revolves around someone from the world of comedy, but as this year’s choice would say, comedy is a ministry, and it can have a tremendous impact on how we view the world.
Pete Holmes is an American stand-up comedian, and a very funny one at that. His album, Impregnated with Wonder, is filled with brilliant observations and manages to combine a whimsical sense of fun with real human honesty. He’s appeared on various talk shows and Comedy Central specials, and this year recorded some pilot episodes of a talk show that would follow Conan O’Brien’s show on TBS (this hasn’t aired yet, and is still waiting for confirmation over whether it’s been picked up, but is still an impressive achievement) but the real reason he’s my Person of the Year is for his podcast on the Nerdist network, You Made It Weird.
“I’m thinking about getting off of Facebook and Twitter, all of that, and just signing up for a service that every 30 minutes texts me the phrase ‘You’re Not Alone’.”
You Made It Weird started out with a very loose interview format that revolved around “weird things” Holmes knew about the guests, who tended to be other comedians from the LA comedy scene, but evolved very quickly into a more wide ranging discussion that tended to focus on three areas: comedy, sex and God. The guests interviewed Holmes as much as he interviewed them and his honesty about various aspects of his life, from his youth as an evangelical Christian to his experiments with becoming a “fuck person”, via his divorce from his wife, is both rare and infectious.
We live in an age when everything we do is shared on the Internet, which creates an odd mix of openness and image management in most people. Holmes bypasses this by moving beyond the 140-character limit and getting into deeper conversations that last long enough to find recurring themes and patterns in people’s lives (the average episode length is about 90 minutes and longer episodes get up to 2 and a half hours). He is remarkably unguarded in how he presents his thoughts, and this in turn encourages his guests to be the same.
“This is a weird little part of your life, isn’t it? Feels like we’re snowed in together. There’s only one bathroom and there’s so many of us! ‘What do we do? Put on a show! Beats getting to know each other, right?’ It sure does.”
Holmes’ approach to religion and spirituality follows the same approach as his discussions of his personal life – honest and infinitely curious. His guests span from the strongly atheist to the deeply spiritual (his talk with Duncan Trussell gets into some truly esoteric areas) and Holmes himself claims that he can believe everything from a godless universe to one where every action has meaning and purpose. There’s a very open-minded, non-judgemental approach to talking about faith, and a profound acceptance that not really knowing the truth is inevitable, but thinking about these ideas is important.
The ultimate strength of You Made It Weird, and by extension Holmes’ comedy, is that you are listening to someone smart who has accepted that he doesn’t have all the answers about faith, relationships and life explore these issues with equally smart people, all of whom happen to be hilarious. I listen to a great number of podcasts at work and You Made It Weird is the one that gets me the most funny looks for suddenly bursting into giggles. The weightiest subjects are always going to be the most fertile ground for comedy, and Holmes isn’t afraid to dig into the most profound questions there are. He has a child-like glee and enthusiasm for the strangeness that reveals itself when people start opening up about what really drives them and what’s important to them, and it results in some achingly funny but deeply thoughtful conversations.