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Tuesday
May052009

Inside With: Dave Holmes, Mixing News and ComedyBy: Andrew Singer

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GET OUT THERE AND DO IT The Friday Forty co-hosts Dave Holmes (foreground) and Scott Gimple | Photo: Kevin McShane

Ten years ago, Dave Holmes won 2nd place in MTV's Wanna Be a VJ contest, edged out by a tall and lanky "street kid" named Jesse Camp. But 10 years later, it's Holmes, a native of St. Louis, Mo., who's still on the TV box, having become an all-purpose television host and something of a Generation-X icon. While his particular brand of TV hosting is hard to pin down, one thing is for certain: For the past decade, Holmes has relied on old-fashioned perseverance and hard work to further his career, taking advantage of every opportunity to push things forward. To list just a few credits, Holmes is a host for Court TV's Saturday Night Solution programming block, FX's DVD on TV, CBS's summer series Fire Me...Please, and has appeared on Best Week Ever, Super Secret Movie Rules and 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s. He's also a genuinely friendly guy, which can take you a long way in Los Angeles when coupled with real lasting power. In addition to showing up most recently on Reno 911!, Holmes has kept busy with a live-stage show, The Friday Forty, a sketch-comedy show about current events, which he and co-host Scott Gimple bring to New York's UCB Theater this week. The Apiary recently sat down with Holmes to talk comedy, his career and the secret to being a good host.

What makes The Friday Forty a comedy show and not just a game show?
It's a sketch-comedy show first and foremost, but it has the through-line of a game show: It's 40 questions about the events of the last seven days, while we all drink 40s of beer. The winner gets $40. I co-write and co-host it with my friend Scott Gimple, who created the Saturday morning cartoon "Fillmore" for ABC and writes for NBC's "Life." Scott and I really wanted to write something together, and we were both in a time in our lives when we felt we needed some deadlines to kick us in the ass. We decided to do a weekly, topical sketch-comedy show, but we wanted something to set it apart and keep people's attention throughout, so we added the game show element.

Photo: Kevin McShane
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What other topics might you be covering? Will you be quizzing us on swine flu?
Some of the questions come out through the sketches, some are asked by our cast playing the week's newsmakers, some are posed by us in traditional game-show style. It's basically a great big rowdy mess that we can't even start writing until the night before we do it, so I have no idea what we'll get into. I hope swine flu hasn't decimated the population by then, because that's tough to make funny.

After all the success you've achieved on national television, what made you decide to go back to hosting your own live theater shows?
I don't see what the alternative would be. I mean, I've got the time, so what else should I be doing? I know many people in my position spend their time trying to get photographed at events or whatever, but I don't see what that gets you in the long run. I don't want to be the most famous, I want to be the best -- and I don't know any other way of getting there than by working hard, onstage, in front of an audience. And really, I just love being onstage. I love improvising. I love working sketches out. Even when it's not working, I'm learning something, and just because I've been lucky enough to work in TV doesn't mean I'm finished with my education. Here's my theory: time is going to pass no matter how you spend it, so you might as well spend it getting better at something.

Tell us about your comedic origins.
I've done sketch and improv comedy forever. All through college I was in sketch groups, and when I moved to New York to work in advertising, I had this secret life as an improviser by night. After a couple of years of that, I lucked out with the MTV thing -- I literally called in sick to go to that audition. And while there, I threw myself into getting as much TV experience as I could: writing, producing, etc. Even when I wasn't scheduled to be on-camera, I would show up just to see what was going on and how I could horn in on it.

Once you started doing regular hosting gigs, did you feel your comedy career was over? What made you go back to comedy, years later?
It wasn't that I thought my comedy career was over, I just knew I had basically gotten into the best TV graduate program ever, and I wanted to learn everything I could. In retrospect, I wish I'd done some Harolds and whatnot in that time, but I knew I'd get back to it. And once my MTV contract ended and I moved to LA, I got involved with iO West and fell in with some really talented people, so it all worked out.

What qualities make for a good host?
True story: I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm afraid to look into it, because I don't want to fuck it up. Overall, I find that the qualities that make a good improviser also make a good host: You have to connect with your partner (in this case, the camera), accept and build on what you're given, and look like you're having fun. Which I definitely am. I've found a nice little niche for myself in hosting, so I'll stay here for a while.

When you first appeared on national TV, you appeared to be straight when on camera. Were you straight or closeted off-camera? Was that something you struggled with, or was it not really an issue?
I came out in high school, so by the time I started working in TV, I'd been out for 10 years or so. And by that time in my life, it was kind of a non-issue. Everyone at MTV knew, but there was really no place on "Say What Karaoke" to pull up a stool and get a single spotlight and say, "Hey, folks, let's talk about my sexuality." I did make comments on the air pretty regularly, but most viewers didn't pick up on it. It had always been my plan to COME OUT come out, like in an interview with the gay press, and my bosses were 100% supportive of that -- but it turns out, unless you're kind of fabulous and/or hot n' absy, the gay press doesn't know what to do with you. I finally did a thing with Out Magazine, which got buried behind 1) an anonymous first-person essay supposedly written by a gay MLB player who the editor at the time was allegedly dating (who was represented by a shirtless model in baseball pants, who got the cover), and 2) an interview with Ethan Embry, who was playing a gay guy in "Sweet Home Alabama" (with his shirt off). So you know, my coming out sent shockwaves through the industry. But I'm really, really glad I did it.

You have been featured as Lt. Dangle's love interest on Reno 911! Were you relieved to finally play a gay character, or did you feel pressure to really "gay it up" for the cameras?
Doing Reno 911! is the best time you can possibly have as a performer. Those guys are so smart and funny and cooperative, it's ridiculous. When I went to shoot my first episode, Tom Lennon pulled me aside and told me: "Just remember, we are all playing awful, awful people." And that's great -- it frees you to just let go and not worry about what kind of message you're sending or whether anyone will be offended.

Were you at all concerned about your character being offensive to gays?
Literally every character is an idiot and a racist, so it wouldn't make sense to play anything other than a broad gay stereotype. I mean, I'm playing a guy who owns a store called "Buy Curios," so I don't see him as a gay character as much as just a big, ridiculous ding-dong. Who is supergay.

What has been the general reaction so far?
I think it's bananas that Reno 911! doesn't get more attention from your GLAADs and the gay media. I mean, this is a huge hit show in its 6th season on Comedy Central, and its lead character is gay. Yes, that gay lead character is a dumb jerk, but no moreso than anyone else on the show. But GLAAD dumps a truckload of awards onto the gay neighbors on Desperate Housewives who walk into the frame and say "Hel-LO" twice a season. That's odd to me.

Do you still have the encyclopedic knowledge of music that first got you hired on MTV years ago?
Sometime in the last five years, popular music just started whooshing past me. There is apparently a Lady Gaga now. Were you aware of this? That this is a person and she wears wigs and no pants and people pay attention to her? I keep up with the things I like- I love The Hold Steady so much, it's embarrassing- but I don't have room in my head for top 40 music anymore. As proof, please note that I call it "top 40 music," like I'm a DJ in 1986. But I probably keep closer track of it than most people my age. That's one of the things I love about The Friday Forty -- we HAVE to keep up with what's going on in the world, or we don't have a show.

Any advice for people interested in following in your footsteps as host or announcer? How does one begin getting those gigs?
The industry is changing so much right now. We're at an exciting time in history in that pretty much everyone has access to a camera and basic editing software, and the internet is still a lawless land. So spend some time figuring out what you know best, and then build your own show around it and put it online. That's really all there is to it. Think about this: people are treating Perez Hilton like he has something to offer, and his contribution to our culture is drawing semen on pictures of Haylie Duff. I mean, that's really, honestly a thing that's happening in America right now -- that fucking guy is being listened to. If you're a reader of this website, I'm 100% certain you're cleverer than him. So get out there and do it. I know that sounds like a massive oversimplification. It isn't. Go.

--Andrew Singer is a contributing editor for The Apiary. He performs regularly as "Soce the Elemental Wizard" and blogs for OutHipHop.com. He recently wrote about comedian Greg Walloch.

THE PLUG / RELATED
Catch The Friday Forty FRI, MAY 8 and 15 @ 8PM at The UCBT-New York! | Reservations (May 8)
The Friday Forty Web site
Dave Holmes Web site
Dave Holmes discusses the demise of TRL, and MTV in general

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Reader Comments (3)

I've always been a Dave Holmes fan, because even though he's worked so hard off-screen, his on-screen persona's always been effortlessly funny. He deserves all of his success.

And now I plan to conquer his game show.
I am also a big fan of Dave Holmes. I really like his work.
May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharacter Education
I am also a big fan of Dave Holmes. I really like his working.
May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharacter Education

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