Actor and comedian Pete Holmes on ‘Dirty Clean’

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Pete Holmes at KCRW. Photo by Rosalie Atkinson/KCRW.

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Yael Even Or

Actor and comedian Pete Holmes had a staunchly Christian upbringing: Christian school, Christian camp, Christian college.

That might help explain why his new comedy special on HBO is named “Dirty Clean.” It’s about masturbating, pooping, swearing, and even his wife’s breasts.

He tells Press Play there’s something beautiful and cathartic about celebrating all the weird things we do.

But when he was just getting into comedy, he had to learn how to be raunchy. “I remember someone saying, ‘that joke would be much funnier if you said A--hole.’ And I would try it. Every once in a while on a late Friday show, or something on the road, I’d try it, and it would work so much better,” he says.

The reason his new special is called “Dirty Clean” is because even when he talks about dirty things, the audience doesn’t hear it that way.

“I’d get off stage, and literally little old ladies would come up and say, ‘We love your comedy. We love how clean you are.’”

Well, those ladies were onto something. Holmes says that in his routines, he leans into a part of himself that's "a little bit more joyful, a little bit more filled with wonder, and a little bit more humiliated.”

He says 99 percent of all comedians he talks to are atheists, and he understands their need to be on the outside. “When I was starting out, I didn't talk about spirituality. And the truth is …I didn't really believe.”

He also doesn’t believe in the thinking that happiness is death to comedy.

He says that when he got divorced for the first time, comedian John Mulaney told him that pain gets in the way. “And he’s right... I’m not Charles Bukowski. I don't write amazing fiction, drunk and sad. I write silly jokes about singing happy birthday in your head...That is what I want to do. And it's hard to do that sort of stuff if you’re worried about your heart, or your livelihood, or if someone’s going through a tragedy.”