Comedian Pete Holmes has been wrestling with spirituality on his HBO show, Crashing; his podcast, You Made It Weird; and some of his television specials and videos. Now he brings his serious/funny funny/serious take to the publishing world with Comedy Sex God (Harper Wave, May), a book that is part autobiography, part philosophical inquiry, and part spiritual quest.
While writing the book, Holmes imagined himself on a road trip with the reader, where he is the only one allowed to speak. “I want to talk about spirituality more than anything, so a book where no one was telling me I was going on too long was a nice format to unload my real, unbridled passion for this topic,” says Holmes. “This book is my telling you what it was like to grow up religious, lose my faith, and reconnect to the mystery of religion.”
Raised an evangelical Christian, Holmes never questioned the church’s teachings. He was so terrified of doing the wrong thing, he spent his early years hanging out mostly with his mother, essentially becoming what he calls “an indoor cat.” But one question always confused him: “What is this?” As in: what is life, what is consciousness, why are we, what are we?
His traumatic divorce caused him to rethink life completely—“Along with the [Volkswagon] Jetta, I lost my faith”—which set him off on a search to fill the hole where God and certainty used to live. He decided to use that search as the basis for his comedy. It may not be an obvious forum for such a serious dive, but as Holmes says, “I go after connection, making people feel less alone and less frightened. Unfortunately, religion has become the opposite—you’re in or you’re out. Comedy can do a better job in showing that we’re all in this together. When we are laughing together, we feel reconnected, and that is the heart of true spirituality.”
An intense mystical experience with magic mushrooms; guidance from former pastor Rob Bell, who founded the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., but left to speak, write, and preach about more progressive ideas; and spiritual teacher Ram Dass led him finally to the answer to “What is this?” And the answer is: “I realized how strangely selfish it is to think that there is a heaven,” he says. “This now is so vibrant—why put this off as a waiting room for later. I now feel that in this, the question itself is a way to participate viscerally in a sense of awe, gratitude, and wonder at the perpetual unknowing. I am soaking in something very mysterious, miraculous, and exciting.”