About halfway through his debut album, Pete Holmes describes himself as a “fun dad,” the kind of guy who slings Fresca at BBQs, misquotes hip-hop lyrics and embarrasses his fictional kids. “Tuna melts, dad style!” he shouts, reenacting a scenario of barging in on his kids during a sleepover party. Given his boisterous tone, you can almost hear the man smiling. Later, though, he starts up about annoying things he’s seen strangers do, like when a limo pulls up and without fail one asshole will say, “My ride’s here!” At first this vitriol-filled (albeit over-the-top) rant seems miles away from “fun dad,” but he then reveals, “You know what I realized recently? I’m the asshole in all these examples.”
Even after a story about being charged seven dollars for water at a haunted house and Holmes responding, “Now that’s scary!” you’ll never hear the audience groan. Mainly because Holmes is just as aware of his goofy, whimsical, occasionally hackneyed sense of humor as the audience, and he’s embraced it with a big warm bear hug.
It’s all a part of getting older, and as Holmes explains throughout Impregnated With Wonder, he’s a grown man now. So it’s tempered by the fact that, for example, Holmes occasionally fears someone’s hiding in the back seat of his car late at night. He then walks us through alleviating that fear—reaching behind him as he drives—and explains that while it’s soothing, it’s pretty impractical to, you know, blindly shove your hand behind the seat of a moving car if you suspect a person is there. As he reveals the embarrassing, illogical minutia, he reminds the audience that, yes, he’s a grown man. “This isn’t comedy; this is something I do. I feel around in my car,” he shamefully admits.
Holmes is a showman, confident that his charisma can sell even the most outlandish premises. Thus he’s capable of predicating multiple jokes on a sound; just a sound. He wonders if magicians wish there were an involuntary sound people made after they witness a magic trick—like how standups perceive audible laughter as validation—and proceeds to grunt and groan for nearly a full minute. He utilizes a more whiny grunt when impersonating what every 10-year-old must feel like on the inside, weaving the sound into his breakdown of pre-pubescent angst. At one point he says, “This is my impression of a guy asking his friend Pierce to get beers,” which is all the setup necessary for Holmes to shout “Pieeeerce! Get some beeeers, Pieeeerce!” over and over. There’s nothing deep or meaningful about this bit. It’s pure, unfiltered silliness, and given how excitedly Holmes jumps into it, he’s clearly tickled pink by the ridiculousness of the rhyme scheme.
Holmes is just as easygoing with the audience. Most of his bits start by chatting with whoever’s sitting in front, never picking on anyone but attempting to put them at ease and bring them in on the joke. “Are you dumb, too?” he asks one woman, normally a pretty off-putting question. But Holmes gets away with it because he spends the rest of the bit detailing just how dumb he is, like when he sees the words “non-fiction” and has to literally parse the logic of what that means. He even looks to a young bearded gent throughout the show for affirmation and a funny line or two; during a different take on the Pierce/beers bit, the King (as Holmes christens him for his manly beard) contributes his own rendition.
The “fun dad” persona is completely disarming, serving Holmes when he delves into the album’s more “topical” or “political” moments. He’s as much a goofball talking about Facebook-privacy fears (“I think the government made Facebook to make privacy seem uncool.”) as when he mispronounces “Venn diagram” as “Sven diagram,” requiring a Viking-themed tangent. His takedown of Subway restaurants ends with a visual of spokesman Jared waist-deep in a vat of marinara sauce—as it should. He talks about smartphones and how having infinite information at our fingertips kills the joy of discovery. To figure out the question, “Where’s Tom Petty from?” Holmes explains that there once existed a time when you’d have to go out and talk to people, waiting days or potentially years to learn the answer. Those you’d ask would start pondering the answer themselves; they’d become, “Impregnated with wonder.” Despite the state of the world and also his own inevitable aging, Holmes retains the childlike notion that humor is all around us; that we can and should be surprised all the time.
The album ends with Holmes reading the best Facebook status update he’s ever come across, which had him laughing for days. And because Holmes finds it hysterical, I’m eager to hear what it is.