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Nothing Average About Comedian Pete Holmes

You know that 30-something friend of yours who doesn’t have kids but already seems to have assumed the persona of a fun dad? That’s Pete Holmes, and that’s how he proudly describes himself these days. Indeed, on first glance, everything about him screams “average white guy” and “non-threatening,” but he’s got a subtle edge, which has helped him earn an increasingly wide pale of work. His growing résumé includes writing credits on NBC’s (recently canceled) Outsourced and Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, stage time on Jimmy Fallon and Conan, a half-hour Comedy Central special, a gig as cartoonist for The New Yorker and the voice of the ubiquitous e*trade baby. He’ll be at Punchline tonight, and he recently took a moment to answer a few questions about his career-in-motion.

So it seems you've got your eggs in a lot of baskets. Do you find it's becoming increasingly important for comics to be masters of several crafts these days, to diversify the funny, if you will?

Absolutely. My feeling is I like to do comedy. If it's funny, it's usually fun and I want to do it. I was never interested in just being a standup, although I do feel that's the cleanest and purest expression of comedy for me as a performer. I didn't have any network television half-hour writing experience until last year and I found that to be a lot like writing standup. It's all jokes, character, point of view. It reminded me of improv, too. They all feed off each other. Improv sometimes led to lines for single panel cartoons. And sometimes single panel cartoons I wrote for the New Yorker would lead to a web series.

I loved your "can't trust adults who eat candy" bit on Conan (and couldn't agree more, personally). Was there a specific nugget of inspiration for that one?

haha. Anyone that likes that bit is instantly my friend. I'm going to record it for the CD even though it's so visual. I want people to guess what i'm doing while they're listening, like I did on old Steve Martin albums. ("There was a big laugh. He must've fallen down or something...") I remember saying that to my friends while we were eating breakfast and they laughed. That's all I remember. I have seen a good number of old people eating Wild Berry skittles and such, so that was the jumping off point. The rest is slight exaggeration for comedy fun.

What's your relationship with (or general thoughts about) San Francisco? Have you toured here before (when and where, if you remember)?

 I've been to San Francisco a bunch. I love it. I grew up outside of Boston so I love the open-air markets and stuff like that, by the water. I first came to SF to be the opener for Demetri Martin's show "Important Things." Demetri is so cool, he asked me to come and do standup before the taping to warm them up and I ended up doing like 45 minutes for one of the best crowds ever. San Fran has such great comedy nerds (and I mean that in a good way, considering myself one) and Demetri has such great fans it really made me fall in love with doing comedy here. That's why he did the taping in SF instead of LA, and that's why I'm taping my CD in SF instead of LA. 

Do you find that audiences are generally more accepting of your set if you incorporate observations on their city? And what do you do when you find you have nothing positive or interesting to say about a city?

 Yeah, I guess that's a little bit of a parlor trick for comedians. I have no plans to make any local references but i'm not above saying "Alcatraz: you had to be there" or something. I've been in towns where there's nothing but a Wal-mart and an Arby's. In that case, you just move on. Talk about how the people seem nice and look good in camouflage hats.

People probably aren't aware, but most TV-watching Americans have likely heard your voice as the e*trade baby, but your voice is kind of just your average guy's monotone (which is kind of the point, I would think). Do strangers ever recognize it? And how were you selected as the Man child?

It's so funny you ask, just two nights ago that happened for the first time. "Aren't you that baby?" I had never gotten that. It was so funny, they must have had super-hearing. I got the job because of my voice, partly, but mostly because I like to improvise. A lot of the lines in the commercials are just things I said to try and make the sound guy laugh. … It's also really cool to my parents, I think they like that more than anything else I do cuz they see it during Jeopardy!

Obviously relentless touring is a necessary evil for a lot of comics. How do you make life on the road feel like home? Or is that impossible?

I actually don't tour that much! For the past 7 years I've been in NYC or LA, towns where you can get onstage a lot and not have to stay in a Super 8. But I do colleges and the occasional club or festival and I love touring. It's like a vacation. I fill the sink with ice even if i don't have anything to keep cold. And I always get a mini toothpaste. I have a really sweet collection.

What does the rest of 2011 hold for you? Any new baskets to throw the eggs in?

Well, "Outsourced" was cancelled, but I got a job writing for a new show on FOX. I'm very excited. I'm not sure what details I can give, so I won't. But it's funny.… While I do that, I plan on doing as much standup as possible, gearing up for an hour special down the road. Who knows, if this taping goes well, I'd have to believe there's a chance i could tape it in SF!