I’ve been practicing mindfulness and meditation for just over a year. The recurring lesson is life happens now. It doesn’t start when the next deadline passes or when that thing with the bank works out. It’s not on pause until you can get the laundry done or until the hardware store has those parts back in stock. Life and happiness are taking place at this moment.
As I’ve been meditating on this concept, it seems more people in my life are bringing it up. Prior to speaking with Pete Holmes for this feature, I paced around the house reading my interview questions. As much as I was excited, I was anxious and looking forward to the end of the day so I could relax. But, once the interview began I felt immediately at ease with Holmes.
His warm personality radiated across the tiny Zoom window and conversation flowed easily. As we wrapped up, I asked Holmes if he had any final thoughts to share. He took the opportunity to remind me, and our readers, to anchor ourselves to the present moment.
“Just take a good, healthy moment today to recognize that there is a still, clear, fulfilled (which means happy), desireless (which means peaceful), presence behind and throughout every single thing you do.
“If you can tap into that instead of experiential or objective happiness, constantly chasing the next thing, the next thing, the next thing … Maybe this is work for you. Maybe you’re like, ‘Once this interview is done, then I can be happy.’ It’s like even during this interview, if you can keep a little anchor in that place that isn’t just content right now, but is made of contentment — is imperturbable. It can’t be disturbed. That, [is what] I would ask.”
I’m reminded of a quote from Stephen King’s Insomnia, “Each thing I do I rush through so I can do something else.” When I read it, it struck me as horrifyingly relatable. What if I rush through my whole life chasing tasks and I miss the essence?
So, dear reader, I invite you to slow down with me and enjoy this interview with comedian, actor, author, and philosopher Pete Holmes. Before his current place in the world of comedy was cemented, Holmes starred in CollegeHumor’s beloved web series Badman, a Batman-spoof depicting a socially-awkward caped crusader in some of his less heroic moments. He’s since headlined several hour-long stand-up specials, Dirty Clean, Faces and Sounds, and Nice Try, The Devil!
His 2017 HBO series Crashing, while short-lived, drew critical acclaim for its endearing, funny, and candid look into the life of an aspiring stand-up comic. The series was semi-autobiographical for Holmes, mirroring many of his real-life struggles to become a professional comedian.
Holmes’ first book, Comedy Sex God, debuted in 2019. A blend of autobiography, philosophical inquiry, and spiritual awakening, the book delivers an engaging, uplifting look at his journey from performing in small-town churches to finding his footing in New York’s comedy scene.
It’s an exciting time for Holmes as Hollywood is starting to recover from the limitations of the pandemic. He is now starring in the primetime CBS series How We Roll. Holmes plays Tom Smallwood, a husband and father who loses his job at a car factory and decides to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional bowler.
In this interview, Holmes shares his take on psychedelics, spirituality, and the progression of his career in comedy. This portion of the interview, excerpted from Episode 100 of the Cannabis Tech Talks podcast, has been edited for length and clarity.
Cannabis & Tech Today: In your podcast, You Made It Weird, you don’t shy away from sharing your experiences. You’ve talked about using different mind-altering substances, from cannabis to LSD. What caused that sea change for you, where you went from drug abstinence to discussing it so openly?
Pete Holmes: Well, not just with drugs, but when I figured out that my parents weren’t watching [laughs] … But I will say the first time I did mushrooms, it’s like the inciting incident of my book because it changed my life. The first time I did psilocybin, one of the first people I told was my mom because she was the one who introduced me to faith, to the idea of a mystery — like all of this being born of something we don’t understand.
When you take a psychedelic, you really feel like you, and I think you’re spending time with that mystery … I don’t want to get too much on this tangent, but I’ve said many times that taking mushrooms was a religious experience for me. I always tell people that it’s not that I saw Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or something talking to me. It’s not what you see, it’s that you realize you are seeing with something. And that’s what mushrooms do, they turn the focus of the seer back on itself in a small way.
C&T Today: You speak with so many cool people on your podcast. I often hear about comedians who have randomly smoked with Snoop Dogg or they have their favorite smoke session story — is there someone you’ve particularly enjoyed smoking with?
PH: Many of the times I’ve been stoned are with Doug Benson — and they’re ridiculous. Something about Doug, I’d like to think he’s leaning into it, but he sure gets annoyed by me. When I’m with Doug, I just go into the madman character and I love being annoying and loud and talking too much. And I’m really not that way all the time. But for some reason, that’s what the fans were responding to. And so now whenever I’m with Doug, I just go nuts.
But … I’ve been at a show where Snoop Dogg was passing around a joint and I didn’t take it, but my friend did. He said it was the strongest weed he had ever had.
When Seth Rogen did my podcast, right afterward he lit up a joint and he handed it to me and it was probably like 11:00 AM. And I was just like, “No, no.” I will say, this is silly — I had to drive home. I had other things to do that day. And I think he did too. But I think he’s very functional with it, I am not. I’m a super lightweight. I’ll take like a 2.5 [milligram] Petra Mint, have you ever heard of those? It’s like a microdose. That gets me stoned, so I declined both of those.
C&T Today: I’m reminded of a part in your book Comedy Sex God, in which you have a recurring question, “What is it?” Like, what is life and what is it all about? You’re older and wiser now. You have your child. Have you started being able to answer that question?
PH: Well, I mean, I don’t want to be too cheeky, but you are the answer to that question. The thing that’s looking out your eyes is the answer to everything. So there are a lot of mystical poets that would say the same thing, that you go out there looking for God but you don’t find it until you give up and turn back and go inside.
That’s a cliche. It’s unfortunate that it’s a cliche because it’s true, which means I can’t summarize it as much as I can remove thinking, calm down, be silent, and get still enough that I can get lost in the thing that is doing the knowing and the seeing inside of me — which is what nobody talks about. It’s the constant of experience.
Rupert Spira gives this great example, it’s like a movie screen. Consciousness is like a movie screen and everything plays on it and you sort of forget that there’s a constant, which is the screen, because it’s obscured by all these images. It’s the same thing with consciousness …
One of the things I really love about people who smoke pot, but not just people who smoke pot, is they’re asking what I would consider to be stock, lava lamp, blacklight poster, dorm room questions like, “What is this?” Or, “What are we doing floating on a rock?” Or, “When you sing happy birthday in your head, how are you hearing that?” It’s funny that those are stoner questions because it’s like — that’s the most important question.
So sometimes I’ll talk about those things, and I’m joking, but I yell at the audience, “Why do you have to be stoned for that to be interesting?”
One of the things I like about weed is it does make you a little bit more childlike. This is what people criticize weed for, it does make you a little less technically sharp. You don’t want to build a bridge when you’re still… but there’s a strength in its weakness. And the strength of its weakness is that when you stop thinking that very Greek logic, which is what we’re all obsessed with, you allow yourself more room to just ask basic questions like, “What is this?”
Often people that smoke pot or do mushrooms or whatever it might be, I don’t know what it is, but it does tend to create a community that’s a little bit more likely to talk about these things. And in that way, a joint is like a little beacon potentially. “Oh, I could talk to this guy, probably.” Like if I saw somebody wearing a rug with a head hole cut out of it, smoking a joint, I’m like, “This guy is probably more likely to want to talk to me about how infinity is expanding.”
C&T Today: That’s a recurring theme for a lot of your work — comedy, sex, religion — do you find those themes have a place in your current project How We Roll?
PH: Well, Mark Gross, who created How We Roll is definitely a fan of mine. One of the reasons he was drawn to me for the role was because of Crashing, the show that I did about comedy. And he was like, “How We Roll is very similar in that you need to want to root for the lead guy who’s taking a chance by following his dream.” So that’s what he saw as the parallel there. When it comes to the show being overtly philosophical or anything we’re talking about, no, not really.
To bring it to earth a little bit more, one of the reasons I wanted to do it is because it just sounded like a lot of fun and the script was really funny for sure. But also during the pandemic, my wife, Valerie and I, we were just watching so many multi-cams [sitcoms]. There’s something about the familiar, especially for kids of the 90s, the stages are familiar. The characters all seem to know each other, which is a real phenomenon on a multi-cam. You spend way more time together.
You have way more scenes with the same people so rapport is built up, whereas on Crashing, it was great but sometimes I’d meet someone that day and then I’d film a scene with them. So we’re not going to have that same rapport, that instant rapport. But on a multi-cam, it’s the same characters a lot of the time. It’s my mom, it’s Archie, it’s my wife, it’s my son. So we build this rapport and you put them in these cozy little sets, like the Cheers set. How familiar is the bar in Cheers or the living room in Friends?
And there’s something so therapeutic in that … This show is like, “Now we’re in a bowling alley and you know this bowling alley. Then we’re at Tom’s house and you know this house.” We build a new set every episode so there are surprises, but there’s something warm about it and for me, nostalgic about it. So getting to do it was really fun. But honestly, these are the shows I’m enjoying watching — especially for some reason over the past three years.
C&T Today: You’ve been able to take advantage of several mediums with your work, from your early creations like Badman, to podcasts, and now streaming. How do you think technology has helped your work evolve?
PH: I’m sort of like an old fogey, meaning I was very lucky to work with CollegeHumor, which is a streaming service. It wasn’t a streaming service when I started, it was a website and they had some video content, but that was a real … Like Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it talks about for example, Bill Gates was exactly the age he needed to be. He was old enough to understand computers, let’s say that’s 12, at exactly the time when computers were made available. So he was the age, but the youngest you could be when computers became available. So that was a hugely fortuitous thing that has nothing to do with how smart he is or who he is. It’s a timing thing.
Similarly, when I did Badman, I feel like it was just the beginning of viral videos and I was so lucky to meet Oren Brimer who directed those and Matt McCarthy who was my roommate who played Commissioner Gordon. I wrote it not knowing that we would do it. I think we did 10 of them, but we didn’t even really know what we were doing.
I feel like kids now, if they made a video like that they would be like, “And this will go viral and we’ll do more of them.” We were just like, “I have one idea. What if they catch Batman when he is trying to hide?” That was it.
All that’s to say is there was a sweet spot for both streaming and podcasts and I was very fortunate to have my sort of Bill Gates moment, meaning for the first time it felt like I was getting into something right as it was taking off.
To hear the full interview, follow Cannabis Tech Talks at cannatechtoday.com/podcasts/.