Pete Holmes would be the first to say that he’s not just a white guy, he’s the epitome of “white guy”; on an episode of his excellent podcast You Made It Weird, his contemporary John Mulaney called him a “church picnic,” which pretty much hits the nail on the head. That said, it’s amazing just how much comic mileage Holmes can get out of his avuncular, non-threatening, corn-fed persona. “I’m the kinda guy who likes to get to the airport a few hours early, get a few white wines in me, and tell old people they still got it,” he says early into Nice Try, The Devil, his sophomore effort.
When Holmes released his terrific debut album, Impregnated With Wonder, in 2011, he was less of a known quantity, best identified as the voice of the E-Trade baby in Super Bowl commercials. Since then, his podcast—where he interviews fellow comedians and gets them to overshare as much as he does—has helped vault him to new heights, and he’ll be launching a half-hour talk show on TBS this fall following Conan. He makes reference to his devoted fan base in his set (recorded in Austin), and listeners of the podcast know what an excitable bundle of interests and contradictions Holmes can be, bouncing from giggly excitement about kale-based drinks to his marriage and divorce at a young age to his ever-deepening thoughts on spirituality.
Unsurprisingly, Holmes keeps it much more frothy on Nice Try, The Devil, since he’s performing in front of a crowd rather than talking to someone in a studio, and when Holmes is in front of a crowd he is a terrifying, boundless source of aggressively positive energy. Listeners get a good chunk of material from Holmes’ “fun dad” side, as he fleshes out corny jokes and provides a sequel to his goofy, endearing “Pierce, get beers!” gag on the first album with a new bit involving “Juan.”
But Holmes can also trade on his persona to get to more uncomfortable areas. A chunk on trying to escape a bad neighborhood in Atlanta encapsulates the panic of a privileged fellow in a situation he doesn’t need to be in, without feeling preachy or overly dark. He manages to spin a bit about his extreme passion for Ryan Gosling into an indictment of jocky gay panic while remaining silly and surreal.
Fans of the You Made It Weird may be a little disappointed that Holmes never really slows down or gets too personal—he digresses on his singledom and his evolving relationship with religion, but the tone of this album is very much like that of his previous one, just to a bigger crowd. Holmes is essentially rushing onstage rolling a big bandwagon with his face emblazoned on it, and cheerfully encouraging everyone to hop on board. He’s the first to admit that his closing bit, about talking nonsense to telemarketers, is ridiculously frivolous, but at the same time he’s insisting that listeners have the time of their lives while listening to it, and somehow that mix of self-consciousness and arrogant exuberance is irresistible.