The 3 Stages of Pete Holmes’s New HBO Stand-up Special Dirty Clean

Pete Holmes in Dirty Clean. Photo: Jason LaVeris/HBO

Pete Holmes has been extremely busy with a new marriage, new baby, and new season of his HBO series Crashing, which might explain why his newest HBO special Dirty Clean feels a bit like a rapidly assembled cornucopia of all the things he’s been itching to say out loud. Die-hard Holmesheads will delight in the full hour as one cohesive offering. But it can also be broken down into three distinct parts: crashing, climbing, and enlightenment.

The first part, which fortunately only lasts about ten minutes, seems like a clip from a future episode of Crashing wherein Holmes, due to some sort of zany mix-up, forgets that he was supposed to record his special and is rushed to the theater, entering just as he’s being announced. He comes out to rabid fanfare but seems a tad lost, as if he’s either forgotten his opening joke or just remembered that he left the oven on back home. After admitting that the special could go either way, he stumbles over a sentence start and says, “What I was about to say is, ‘I’m so glad this is going well. We all want it to be good.’” He rides the audiences’ enthusiasm through a grab bag of bits on getting out of the house, Lululemon, Mike Pence, and new fatherhood until he begins to find his footing. It’s at that point we head into part two: climbing.

Midway through talking about his new baby, something clicks, and Dirty Clean starts to build momentum. Maybe the nootropic supplements had finally kicked in, but whatever the boost, there’s a bevy of classic Pete takes on house pets, his engagement, the perks of being stuck in traffic, and the Waze app. He’s firmly planted in his wheelhouse, feeling confident enough to push the crowd’s expectation of what his brand of comedy is by taking a couple risky swings (that pay off) and doubling up on the swearing. This section of the special gives him the confidence to steer the discourse toward deeper waters in part three: enlightenment.

The remaining material is rooted in the constant personal evolution that has been well-documented over the last few years of Holmes’s podcast You Made It Weird. He’s a wide-eyed seeker, open to exploring his own beliefs, those of others, and what — if anything — brings us all together. He goes deep into the nature of life itself, approaching it first from a higher-power perspective, then aiming a microscope at molecular curiosities before working his way into the infinite mysteries of the human body. On several occasions, he leads the crowd in group visualization exercises involving urination urges, oranges, and the “Happy Birthday” song. Each experiment serves to further his point that our understanding is limited, so why limit our quest for understanding?

Dirty Clean has its fair share of unpolished moments, but it’s also an engaging and expansive assemblage of material Holmes’s has released to date. Below are five of the best bits from the special.

Child Care

Before you leave the hospital, they all say the same thing. Every single nurse — there’s like 20 nurses — they all told us, “Never shake a baby.” Over and over, another nurse, “Listen up. Don’t shake a baby.” There’s posters that say, “NEVER EVER SHAKE A BABY.” Val and I are like, “What the fuck? Who would shake a baby? We’re in love with this little baby.” What they don’t tell you is that you’re gonna want to shake that baby. Oooh, you’re gonna want to shake the shit out of that baby. You’re gonna be tempted as fuck to shake that baby like a goddamn Etch A Sketch …

They tell you when the baby cries to rock the baby, swing the baby. This is code for “kind of shake your baby.” So the baby starts crying a little bit, you shake it a little bit, and it works. But then it starts crying a lot and turns bright red, screaming in your face and you’re like, “Well, it stands to reason …”

That’s Gay

While proposing to his wife on a hot-air balloon, the operator, a whiskered man in a dirty Carhartt jacket, keeps calling everything gay:

He was ruining the day. He kept calling everything gay. Biggest day of my life and he’s up there like, “That’s Janet Jackson’s ranch down there. Fucking gay. I used to work at that deli over there. They fired me. Fucking gay.” I was like, “Sir, you pilot a balloon. You pilot a rainbow-colored balloon soaring majestic over the wine country of Santa Barbara. Maybe cool it on the ‘gays.’”

Lost in Translation

Did you know the movie Three Amigos was released in Spanish speaking countries as Tres Friends?

The N-Word

I was having lunch with a friend. He’s black. I tell you he’s black for a reason, because during the lunch he kept saying the N-word. He said it like 30 times. He didn’t say the word. He kept saying “the N-word.” I was like, “Hey, that’s our phrase.”

The Afterlife

All my friends think it’s dead, over. They think it’s unplug the TV and it’s lights out. They say, “Pete, think about it. Afterlife? It makes no sense. You think an afterlife makes sense? You gotta think about that again because an afterlife makes no sense.” I’m like, “Yeah, I agree with you. You know what else makes no sense? Fucking THIS. Life makes no fucking sense. So I would argue that life sets a precedent for potentially more shit that makes no sense. Does that make sense?”

The 3 Stages of Pete Holmes’s New HBO Stand-up Special