Comedian Pete Holmes, the face of TBS' new midnight series, The Pete Holmes Show, has a reputation: He's really nice. It's the first thing people say about him, and they're not just being polite. At just under 6 feet 6 inches, 2 inches taller than lead-in host Conan O'Brien — "Conan's hair is, like, a good four inches, so he's still the big cheese" — Holmes is a superhero whose power is his aw-shucks grin, which he uses to charm people into telling him the truth.
On his Nerdist podcast, You Made It Weird, Holmes woos guests into answering tough questions about sex and religion. When he told Aziz Ansari, "I love that you're a cold, calculating dick!" he sounded, well, sincere.
Sincerity in a late-night talk show host? To a generation weened on Letterman's smirk and Leno's shtick, now that's edgy. But this goofy 34-year-old stand-up comic wants to shake up the system: no desk, no rote "Tell me about your new film!" interviews, no rules. Each episode will have a combo of skits, chats, speeches and stunts, but if one night his monologue is great, he's game to stretch it out past the commercial break, or if the conversation is really sparking, it might be the whole show, or he might throw the outtakes online. And why not —when you're the new guy on at midnight, the only truly shocking thing you can do is succeed.
"Nobody is expecting anything from us, except that traditional talk show format, which I'd like to burn to the ground as quickly as possible," Holmes says. "If people think that this talk show is just another talk show, then we'll have really messed up."
Holmes' dream guest: Ryan Gosling. "If we could do something where he just has to stare and look awesome, I'd be happy."
Holmes' biggest nightmare: knowing that everybody — everybody — rags on the latest talk show host. As a guy who inspires as much joy in his fellow comedians (a breed not known for effusiveness) as a basket of puppies, he's already psychologically preparing for the impending Twitter tsunami of insults.
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"I'm so well thought of right now, I have so few haters," he beams. "This is going to be really difficult for me!"
But at least it'll get him off Twitter — mostly. "That's the only silver lining I can find to the inevitable hate," he says.
At an interview a couple months before The Pete Holmes Show's debut on Oct. 28, the main emotion Holmes is feeling is the main one he always feels: enthusiasm. Make that dangerous enthusiasm.
"We're this new oblong, rhombus-shaped kid that's playing with firecrackers in their backyard. I'd like to think that we'll break some new ground and break some of these rules that these more established shows think are unbreakable," Holmes chirps. "But ultimately, I might also end up blowing some of my fingers off."