Make it Weird: Oren Brimer on Producing 'The Pete Holmes Show'

Production perfection takes a back seat to sincerity on The Pete Holmes Show.

 

Pete Holmes isn’t afraid to freely quote his therapist, get personal about his divorce, or wax on about losing his virginity, and he encourages guests to do the same. Holmes, who originally gained a cult audience through both his stand-up and blisteringly honest podcast, currently helms TBSThe Pete Holmes Show, which carries his trademark brand of comedy rooted in sincerity. Backed by Conan O’Brien’s production house, the series airs four nights a week, making for a brutal writing and shooting schedule.

Oren Brimer, formerly a field producer for The Daily Show, heads the sketch side of Holmes’ series, which means that anything from firing the Wolverine to figuring out exactly how to capture the filming style of BBC’s Sherlock is under his helm. Meeting Pete after a stand-up set in 2007, Brimer began shooting Holmes’ original scripts before joining with fellow comedian (and Holmes’ eventual roommate) Matt McCarthy to write and direct their own sketches. The trio formed Front Page Films the following year, under which they began producing their own original sketches. With Brimer working as an editor for CollegeHumor and Pete performing in their videos, it wasn’t long before the Front Page crew was making sketches for the comedy site. After Holmes landed a job doing audience warm-up for The Daily Show, popular CollegeHumor fare like the Badman series quickly circulated around Daily Show offices, garnering Brimer a position as field producer in the process.

When Holmes’ own series was greenlit in 2012, Brimer stepped on board as the series’ co-executive producer and segment director. After two seasons, TBS announced in past May that the show would not be renewed, though Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast will continue. Here’s a departing look at the inner workings of one of the most refreshingly strange shows on air.

Get In Media: You’ve mentioned in the past that the show takes a number of cues from Pete’s podcast, which has a very personalized kind of tone to it. Would you mind speaking a little bit about the intimacy factor of the show?

Oren Brimer: Basically, the show is an amalgamation of all the things that Pete does well and I’m part of the sketch side of that. We didn’t want our interviews to be a standard, celebrity-driven, what’s your movie about? sort of thing. We wanted to be more about just getting to know the person. How to be intimate. A way that we do this is by not “starting” an interview. What we’ll do is they’ll just walk in the interview and they’ll just start right away without going “Hi, this is Johnny B. Good and we’re going to be talking.” We do that stuff at the end. What we do is we just get into a natural conversation right at the top and just see where it goes. There’s a little bit of a road map, but Pete often just goes completely off of it just to keep the flow natural and to keep it interesting.

GIM: What do you do if a guest is nervous or cagey?

OB: Cagey? We’ve never had it. I don’t even know what you mean by cagey. Everyone comes in, it’s a very nice and free environment. If someone doesn’t like something they say, we take it out. We aren’t trying to be a hard-hitting show. We’re just trying to show people having a great time and having a great conversation and we aren’t afraid of being a little bit sincere at times. We know that jokes will come because Pete’s funny and whoever we talk to we hope feels comfortable enough to share something that they wouldn’t share on other late night shows.

GIM: Pete has mentioned that you air a lot of mistakes in the show. What are some examples of that?

OB: The best example is an episode that we taped where Pete noticed that the microphone was clicking on one of his buttons on his shirt. He noticed it, stopped the taping, and he said, “Hey guys, do you hear this? Is it bugging you guys as much as it’s bugging me?” The sound guy had to come out and adjust it, but Pete made a couple of riffs, which I don’t want to try to do justice by repeating them now. You have to sort of see it. Then when we were watching the footage back later that night, when we were putting the show together, we said, why don’t we just leave that moment in because it’s genuine, it shows what happens when you come to a taping of the show, and it shows Pete’s ability to riff based on just a situation, to basically turn a mistake into something really funny.

GIM: How does that affect you as a producer and writer?

OB: As a producer, I find it as a fun challenge to try and create a show that is loose and transparent versus a polished, slick show. We hope our pre-taped sketches have a very polished, high production value look and we feel that the live stuff should be live. There are some times where people mess up on SNL. We want to have that with a show that we tape earlier in the day. We want to leave in those moments that are fun to see live.

GIM: What’s your biggest challenge on this show?

OB: We have very little time to make a ton of episodes. We have a 13-week run. In that 13-week run, we have 52 episodes to make. Because of budget and timing, we have to shoot six to nine live tapings a week. It’s so much content to produce so quickly, but we’ve managed to find a system that weirdly works without completely killing us all. Every day that goes by successfully without any hiccups, we are just amazed that it’s working. We’re basically doing a sketch show, a stand up show, and a podcast all in one, and we’re doing four episodes a week and we’re shooting more than that per week. It’s daunting but we’re making it happen.

GIM: How does this stack up to your production work on The Daily Show?

OB: I am in a very different role at The Pete Holmes Show versus The Daily Show. The Daily Show is a field producer [position]. My responsibilities were to pitch, prep, write, go travel, shoot, and be responsible for the editing of one, five- to six-minute segment that would go on The Daily Show. We’d get one done every two weeks to three weeks. At The Pete Holmes Show, I’m responsible for every pre-tape segment of which we roll two to three per episode, and we shoot three episodes per taping. I’m responsible for so much more content at The Pete Holmes Show and so it’s just a totally different animal. I need to let go a little bit of the material because it used to be just Pete and I and Matt McCarthy making everything, and now that we have to create so much I need to let go of it a little bit and teach other people how to write in our style and edit like I like things to be edited to get the right pacing.

GIM: How big is your writing team?

OB: Besides Pete and myself, we have six writers.

GIM: I understand that you do an almost insane number of sketches a day in terms of taping. Walk me through a schedule of how that works.

OB: For example, the Ex-Men sketches from our first run. We shot eight in a day. Pete was put into a bald cap in the beginning of the day and thrown in a wheelchair and then we just started cycling characters through. We broke it down to 45 minutes. We shot it with three cameras so we would get all of the dialogue without having to get different coverage at different times and then we basically cycled them through 45 minutes at a time. The fun part is some [actors] play multiple characters. Thomas Middleditch, for example, is someone we love using and we had him play Gambit and Nightcrawler. We started him as Gambit in the beginning of the day, sent him straight back to makeup to get into Nightcrawler makeup while we’re shooting other people, and kept it going.

GIM: Those are the two best X-men to play.

OB: I cannot speak higher of Thomas Middleditch and his amazing ability to turn lines that aren’t very funny into jokes just in his delivery. We did Street Fighter Red Tape: Vega, which is probably my favorite one, and he decided to make a hilarious character so the jokes had an extra layer of humor. He also did Ken. Again, he took the script and created a character on top of it so every line was funny whether or not it had a hard joke in it.

GIM: How early do you plan and work through what sketches you’re going to do?

OB: Our prep time varies. We had about a month before we taped any live episodes for this run and we had about a month to write and produce the Street Fighter series. When we’re doing live tapings, my time and Pete’s time is much more limited, so we don’t have as much time to write scripts. It gets to be a little bit more of a crunch during our taping periods.

GIM: When you’re looking to hire someone, what type of background are you looking for? Are you looking for people who are coming from a specifically sketch or stand-up background or does it matter?

OB: It doesn’t matter. We have some people who are stand-ups, through-and-through stand-ups. [This is] their first TV writing job and they’ve written amazing sketches and vice versa. People who are really good at sketch and were brought in because their sketches were so amazing also help out a great deal on the monologue. Because we’re a relatively small writing staff and have such little time, everyone needs to be able to contribute to monologues, sketches, live studio bits, interviews. They’re helping us write interview questions. They’re helping edit these pieces. They’re giving their creative notes to these edits because everyone needs to do more than one job when we have so much content to create.

GIM: What do you recommend for people who want to be working where you’re working?

OB: I’ve met amazing writers, amazing directors, amazing producers, amazing editors who are way better than me and they’re amazing. I’m pretty decent at a lot of things and that’s how I think I got to where I am. I’m not saying it’s everyone’s path, but my path was being really good at everything. I can write something, I can direct it, I can edit it, I can produce it, because at the end of the day you have to assume no one’s going to make anything for you. Assume you have to make it yourself and then whenever someone will help you or you get money for it, that will only be a bonus as opposed to being an expectation. I feel like people get bogged down by feeling like they need someone to validate their idea before making it as opposed to just making it.

The final episode of The Pete Holmes Show airs June 18 at midnight ET / 11 p.m. CT on TBS.

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