Metro Weekly

Q&A: How Holmes Found Her Way To The Comedic Haven Of ‘Flatch’

Delightfully blunt, playful comedian Holmes on improvising her way to sold-out standup gigs and starring on FOX's 'Welcome to Flatch.'

Holmes
Holmes — Photo courtesy ID-PR

“I’m not someone who manifests,” declares Holmes, as we dig into a discussion of the rising comic’s life and career, and her breakout role on the first-year FOX comedy Welcome to Flatch. “I have friends who manifest,” she adds. “I don’t do that. I just live day by day, and do what I like, and we’ll see what happens.”

Averse, perhaps, to devising big plans, Holmes nevertheless is dedicated to her craft. Before Flatch, as an eager young improv and sketch artist in Chicago, the performer, who grew up in different towns around the U.S., was simply happy for opportunities to work the comedy stage.

“If someone saw me three years ago, they would be like, ‘Oh, that’s not who I was going to think would get the lead of a TV show,'” she says. “And it wasn’t because I wasn’t talented. I think I was doing a lot of great improv in Chicago, but I didn’t have any agent. I didn’t have any representation in Chicago. I was genuinely doing free improv most nights.”

She kept a day job, while also doing standup once a month, and she wrote a play with friend and Neo-Futurist Theater member Cat Huck. “That’s one of the things I’m the most proud of,” Holmes says. Then, just seeking another avenue to ply her comedy and improv skills, she started posting on Twitter, developed a healthy following online, and found her way to Flatch.

“She would do these little sketches in her car, these different characters. And it was perfect,” recalls Jenny Bicks, who developed Welcome to Flatch, and executive produces alongside Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. It was Feig’s assistant Greg Lubin, now an associate producer on Flatch, who first spotted Holmes on Twitter, which led to her auditioning for the show.

Based on the UK series This Country, created by and starring siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper, Welcome to Flatch unfolds as a deadpan “documentary” look at tiny, fictional Flatch, Ohio. Slacker cousins Kelly (Holmes) and “Shrub” Mallet (Sam Straley) serve as tour guides around the wacky-in-its-own-way Midwest burgh, mixing it up with seemingly every other citizen in the quaint but also surprisingly progressive town.

“I wanted to portray the best version of what a small town can be,” Bicks says. “And what that means, for me, is a world where there’s acceptance, where you’ve got lots of different personalities, lots of different gender choices, sexuality choices, but that everyone accepts each other for who they are. That’s definitely, I think, a pipe dream in a way for me, but I also feel like it can happen and we all need to embrace that.”

The portrayal of tomboyish Kelly Mallet, and casting of LGBTQ performer Holmes, reflects that world of acceptance. “This is such a specific character that we needed,” says Bicks of the initial search for Kelly, the Flatch iteration of a character This Country already had established. “And we knew that if we couldn’t find the right two people to play both Kelly and Shrub, we wouldn’t be able to make the show. And we needed someone who was just odd enough, just unique enough, funny, dry.”

Enter Holmes. “We watched these videos, and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, she’s perfect. Please let her be as good in person.’ We were so scared,” says Bicks. “We were in New York doing casting, and we brought her in, and she was exactly what you’d want and more. Paul and I were so relieved, because if we hadn’t found Holmes, I don’t know what would’ve happened, honestly.”

According to Bicks, Holmes has said she never watched the original BBC series, because she didn’t want it to influence her performance.

“She really made it her own by just being herself. By giving this authenticity and truth, really heartbreaking truth to the character, she brought out all the sides of Kelly. She’s doing things that create this incredibly three-dimensional character, which is what we needed. We’re not doing a sitcom. We’re doing something that has more levels to it in terms of emotion. And she really brought it all.”

METRO WEEKLY: Welcome to Flatch captures the feeling that some towns just have their own special brand of strangeness. Have you found yourself in any place like that in real life?

HOLMES: Yes. I grew up mostly in Omaha, Nebraska. That’s a big city, I feel like, in the Midwest, but there’s a lot of towns surrounding it that are absolutely not. So one of my friends, Colin, who I met working at the Cold Stone Creamery, he lived on a farm a few towns over. And we would go over there all the time when I was fifteen.

I feel like there’s a lot of neighboring cities that had a similar vibe. And something I like the most about teeny towns — I’ve never been close to anyone who lives in one that’s as small as Flatch — but in the smaller towns, I feel like what is fun is that you do get closer with people that you wouldn’t expect.

I think when you’re in a huge city, your friend group is so specifically really, really curated to be almost exactly like you. Although it’s obviously great that people get you, you learn more about yourself when you’re around people that are different. It’s like, “Oh yeah, I am really close to this 70-year-old, because he’s one of the few people on my street.”

MW: Like the episode showing the folks in the Flatch book club. I don’t see them finding any other way to each other, but that community still makes sense.

HOLMES: I love that episode. Krystal Smith [‘Big Mandy’ Matthews] and Taylor Ortega [Flatch historian Nadine] are so, so, so funny. I love them so much. There’s so many unknown people in the cast that are so funny.

Holmes – Photo: Jake Wallach

MW: I was going to ask about the cast, but we’ll get there right now since you brought it up.

HOLMES: You’re like, “Slow down, slow down.”

MW: Had you worked with Sam Straley or Krystal Smith or any of these actors before?

HOLMES: I’m like, “I was born at the same hospital as Sam.” No, I hadn’t met him until the project. I auditioned for the project in February of 2020 — really fun time. And then in March 2020, actually, end of February, me and Sam did a chemistry test in New York. So that was my first time meeting him.

And it was fun, because we were staying at the same hotel and I had to do reads with different people. And this was my second audition, so it was a first big moment where I was just really nervous. And I was downstairs for breakfast and I saw him, and I was like, “That has to be [Sam].” Because everyone else was really rich and fancy, and we were both in overalls. And so I went and sat with him, and we actually had this little breakfast together. And then we went over to do the audition, and it did feel just like a good fit. And I really, really love him so much.

We had never performed together, but we really got to know each other so well, because while we were filming, a lot of people would be on set one to two days a week, where Sam and I were really there six days a week, all day, just for months, so we got really close.

MW: Where did you shoot? Were you basically living the small town situation, or something like what we see on screen?

HOLMES: We shot in Wilmington, North Carolina. And they had us live in Wilmington, but oftentimes we shot in these towns that were an hour away. One of them was Burgaw, and one was Wallace. And they were really, really small populations. And so [production] didn’t want us staying there all the time, just because it might not have everything we need really quickly, and we got to be closer to the production offices in Wilmington.

Basically every morning at 6 a.m., we would drive an hour in the dark just to a teeny little town. But yeah, shout out to Burgaw and Wallace. I love y’all, because there really were some fun characters there in the towns. I’m so grateful that they let us use their space, because we were really in their town every day. And they were really welcoming.

I remember in Burgaw, there was one coffee shop. And I went in. My family came to visit over Christmas, because it was pandemic and I hadn’t seen them for a long time. And so they came and we all quarantined and tested. And I took them to Burgaw one day. We go in this coffee shop, and the woman working there, I asked just about the town a little bit. And she was like, “I was the last baby to be born here in the last 20 years. The hospital doesn’t do births anymore.” Really things like that were existing there.

Welcome to Flatch: Holmes, Seann William, Sam Straley, Holmes — Photo: Brownie Harris/FOX

MW: That’s a really specific piece of knowledge to have about your town.

HOLMES: Can you imagine if you knew that you were the last baby born?

MW: I take it you live in L.A. now?

HOLMES: I do. I lived in Chicago when the pandemic started, and I had lived there for four years. I grew up in Nebraska, but then moved to Florida in the middle of high school. And then I kept moving a lot. I lived in Turkey for a year. I tried to go to Chicago for college, but then I was like, “I can’t afford this.” So then I went back to Florida, because Florida does this thing called Bright Futures. I think because they know their high schools are sort of not always the best, they basically let you go to college cheaper if you do really well. So I went to school there, so it could be cheap. And then right after I graduated — learned absolutely nothing — I went to Chicago to do improv, which is what I always wanted to do.

I lived there from age 22 to 26. And then the pandemic hit while we were filming the pilot. We’d only filmed one day and then we shut down. So I went back to Chicago, I’m quarantining. And you know when at the beginning, we were all like, “It’s going to be a couple weeks.” So I was like, “Oh, we’ll be back soon.” And then it was like, “Oh, this is my new life, being inside here.”

And so after a while I was like, “I don’t even want to pay to live in Chicago anymore,” even though Chicago’s cheaper than L.A. and New York. But I was just like, “What am I doing here?” So I moved to Kansas City, where my family lives right now, to live with my sister for a little. And then right when I got to Kansas City — it had been seven months since we started filming the pilot — they called and were like, “Hey, not only are we doing the pilot, but we’re filming 14 episodes. Get to Wilmington in one week. Ship your car.”

So to answer your question in the longest way possible, which is what I just did, I did live in Chicago, and now I live in L.A.

MW: Could you ever live in a town the size of Flatch? By the way, I caught that the population ticks up or down one or two people every episode.

HOLMES: I love that so much. That’s amazing. Our writers are incredible. Could I live in a town like that? It would depend on where it is, because I’m gay. I love in Flatch that that’s very welcomed. Big Mandy’s queer in the show, and a lot of our cast is genderqueer —

MW: And you’ve got Murray Hill, who’s perfectly cast as Murray the owner of a magic shop.

HOLMES: Right. Literally, we have Murray. That’s the thing. So in that kind of town, yes, I could. But in other small towns, there can be room for growth. If a town was welcoming to everything, I think that, because of my career, it would be hard. But I think I would like parts of it. I think I would do something where I’d live there half the time, and then I’d do a city half the time, because I do like a bustling energy. What about you? Could you?

 

MW: If it were half and half like that, but I feel like you’ve got to be rich to do that.

HOLMES: You’ve really gotta be rich to live in America these days. Especially L.A.

MW: So how did you get started doing live comedy?

HOLMES: My senior year of high school, I auditioned for this straight play. And I got a role in it. And I was like, “Oh, wow. Maybe I could do this. This is really fun.” I had just started watching The Office. My mom didn’t like us watching a lot of TV, but I had started watching The Office on DVDs. And I was like, “This is what I would love to do. This is so fun.”

So then I started researching improv a little. So when I went to college, I was like, “I want to do that.” I auditioned for this sketch comedy troupe. I didn’t know anyone. They called me back. They didn’t let me in. Then I auditioned for it again, similar thing. Then I’m like, “I suck at comedy. Let’s do music or something,” is what I told myself.

So I go and just get more involved in music in college. And I worked at this music venue and just focused on that stuff more. And then I just was still feeling like I want to do improv. So I went for a summer to this iO — ImprovOlympic — intensive in Chicago where we basically did improv every day for four weeks. And it was just for improv nerds. It was all these people of different ages who had saved up to take a little two-month summer thing where you just did improv. So I did that and I was like, “Okay, I do love this. After college, I’m going to come to Chicago and keep doing that.”

But then when I went back to Florida State and I had to survive two more years, I was like, “You know what? If this one group won’t accept me, I’m just going to try to do standup.” So I went and just started doing standup for my first time at college occasionally. My persona has changed a lot onstage with that, because I remember when I first started, I was just genuinely really depressed. And so my jokes were pretty dry, but it was working, but I was very much sad onstage. And now I feel like onstage I’m like [cheerily] “doo-be-doo-bop-bop”. So it has switched a lot. Finally my senior year, there was a different improv troupe that wasn’t a sketch group that I joined.

And then I went right to Chicago and I did all the iO classes. Then I made a team. And Chicago is so cool, because in New York and L.A., you can go to a million standup venues a night. In New York, specifically, let’s say, you could do at least three standup shows a night if you wanted, where they probably have one or two improv theaters. And then in L.A. right now, there’s like one or two, maybe, improv spots, and they’re not doing so hot because it’s coming back from the pandemic.

But in Chicago, there was seven bumping improv places, where you could have multiple improv shows in a night. I didn’t realize I was in a moment of this really, really cool thing. Now I look back and I’m so grateful, because the pandemic really wiped improv out and it’s having to rebuild it right now, where it really was a thing of I just watched good improv all the time.

And a lot of people’s idea of improv is, “Whew, that was brutal to get through.” So yeah, and then I just really fell in love with it and just did it all the time. I’d make little indie groups, and I would do my Harold team. I would make up my own forms. I would do this one that was called Love Improvised where I made us do an improvised romantic comedy every night. It was so fun.

MW: You said you were sad onstage. Were you sad offstage too? Was that a period of being sad, and still doing comedy?

HOLMES: I think I would get offstage and feel… I don’t know. I mean, your early twenties and teens are just so hard, right? I just feel like it’s the worst time ever. You don’t know anything about yourself. Your brain isn’t fully formed. You believe everyone’s opinion more than your own. So yeah, I think I would get offstage and be proud of myself if people laughed, but if they didn’t laugh, yeah, it’s like, kill yourself. Standup just genuinely makes you feel worse than any other art, I would say.

Holmes
Holmes — Photo courtesy ID-PR

Now I’m at a place with it where I don’t have that anymore, because I feel like if I do amazing, my high stays pretty chill. And if I do bad, my low stays pretty chill, too. And I don’t give either very much weight. I just think, “Do I like my jokes? What can I change about them?” When you first start standup, it feels so brutal because you can’t blame it on anything but yourself. I think that I was doing okay, though, in college. I don’t think that I started to have hard bombs until I was older, because genuinely when you’re at Mike’s in Tallahassee, Florida, if you’re a little funny, you are amazing. Once you’re in a big city…

MW: You’ve got to kill in a big city?

HOLMES: Yes, people are actually good.

MW: There have been a lot of events in the news recently dealing with how the live audience relates to the comedian onstage, and vice versa.

HOLMES: Yeah, yeah, “The Slap.”

MW: Well, the thing is, I’m not as interested in asking about that —

HOLMES: Thank God.

MW: Something that’s way more interesting came up, which maybe has already also been beaten like a dead horse, but I’m curious to know your feelings about Louis C.K. winning a best comedy album Grammy at a moment when —

HOLMES: Disgusting. Disgusting, is how I feel. I thought it was so funny that a bunch of comedy theaters were like, “When Chris got slapped, I broke down in tears.” And I was like, “Well, you keep putting this assaulter up on your stage all the time.” So for me, yeah, I feel pretty blunt about that. There’s a ton of white guys who will be like, “Who do you think the best standup in the whole world is?” And they try to whisper, and they’re like, “I mean, it is Louis.” And it’s like, “No, it’s not.”

Of course, I thought he was so funny, but I’m sorry that I can’t watch him without thinking about him locking people in a room and masturbating in front of them. And also, if you’re in the comedy world, that’s been out for so long. When I was in college, I already knew that. People talked about it on stuff so long ago. So yeah, I think that it’s depressing. And I think it shows you white male privilege is so extreme, you can do anything and absolutely just keep being successful about it. So I would say I have a lot of comics I would prefer to listen to and give awards to.

MW: I think a lot of people were in agreement with you. I was surprised myself. But I guess I shouldn’t have been since he was nominated.

HOLMES: I think the last thing I’ll say on it, too, because I know that this is like, “Oh, I have to watch my mouth.” But I’m so passionate about this stuff. I talk about assault and I talk about rape in my set a lot. And it can make people uncomfortable. But for me, it’s so important because I think about that every day. And I know that most AFAB people do, because I can’t go out at night, you know what I mean? It’s one of those things where it’s like, “I would love a late-night stroll,” but you can’t.

The thing that annoys me the most about the Louis thing is that specifically men, or specifically people who obviously have never been raped or assaulted, they compare assaults. They’re like, “Well, he didn’t rape them.” And I’m like, “Why are you in charge of comparing how assault makes you feel?” Because I’m not about to compare all of those. If someone shit in your food and it was this much versus this much, it’s still going to taste like fucking shit.

MW: Racism is like that, too. The people who get to decide what is and isn’t, and how much matters is.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know what it feels like when someone locks you in a room? Like they’re about to rape you. So, anyways, for me, I really don’t enjoy the comparing of that from men and women and nonbinary, everyone has been guilty of doing it. And I just think, don’t compare when it’s something that made all these female comics who are really funny quit their careers. I’m there for y’all. I love you.

MW: When you’re onstage, though, how do you handle hecklers or anybody who’s out of order?

HOLMES: I think I have a privilege of not being always seen as so feminine, and that is helpful. So I don’t think I get heckled a lot in ways of, “Show us your tits,” things like that. I’ve seen other comics be heckled in that way. I would say I heckle the audience. I say that I’m a pretty annoying standup.

So I had this one woman who I loved. I was doing a show in San Francisco recently. And there was a lot of middle-aged women in my audience, which I don’t get to have a lot. I feel like lots of times it’s younger. And so I love to call people out if they’re not paying attention to me.

And so this woman in the front row was on her phone. And I was like, “What are you doing on there?” And she was like, “Checking to see if my son is okay.” And I loved that. So for me, that was a blast because then the whole time I got to go back and be sort of like, “How’s he doing?” So for me, I think that I handle it pretty well, because I haven’t had to have really, really hard situations yet. I think, I like if people are disruptive because I have ADD and I get distracted, and I just let them lead me to another joke.

MW: Being not too femme describes your character, Kelly Mallet. Kelly’s also, regardless of how she presents, really into Dylan, played by Kyle Selig. I know that the show is based on the UK series, This Country, but is there inspiration beyond that show, maybe somebody you know, or from yourself, for who Kelly is?

HOLMES: I love Kelly so much. Kelly, to me, she’s written right now as straight. I didn’t write her. But she’s never said anything out loud. She has a crush on Dylan. I have my own opinions on Kelly’s sexual identity, but I do think that she is just naïve.

Honestly, I still get crushes on guys. I still get crushes on everyone. I definitely think I normally like women more, but to me, her crush on Dylan really reminds me of when you have that childhood thing that is so meaningful. It almost feels a little bit like it has to do with even Nadine [Dylan’s wife]. To me, it has to do with her hate for Nadine, how much she wants to save Dylan, and how much she wants to go back to a childhood feeling.

And especially in a small town, I think that you really can think that you have huge feelings for someone that, if you probably had four more options, would be slightly different too. So I think it has more to do with remembering this childhood play.

But yeah, I think that I bring myself into Kelly by [feeling] really comfortable with not wearing any makeup on screen and not caring about being seen as feminine, even though she still will have crushes on guys, because there are a lot of people like that. There are women who are completely masculine and straight. And I think that is something that’s not represented as much. Oftentimes, am I the problem? Am I shouting, “You’re gay”? Yes, of course.

I had a couple friends, who are nonbinary, text me after they watched Kelly. They were like, “It feels really fun to see someone who could be perceived as sort of genderqueer in a way” — even though that’s not what she’s written, but she does have those vibes — “being able to be so funny and silly.”

I think because we don’t get to see that as much with women. When I think about it, I think of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, but I can’t think of very many characters that are shown a ton of heart that are women where it just isn’t very looks-based. And I think it is sort of a rare thing that Kelly could be… You do wonder, is she maybe gay? And it’s sort of like, “That’s not the point right now.”

I know a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable being onscreen without makeup because society is so shallow, where I really had to get over that such a long time ago, because I was just not going to fit into society’s standards. And so I was like, “I love that I get to wear sweats and have no makeup onscreen. This is a blast.”

MW: We’ve talked about Flatch, the show and the place, feeling really queer-friendly. Do you think that reflects generally more queer-friendliness in Hollywood these days? Because it’s such a non-issue for the characters in the show, which is nice.

HOLMES: I think it actually has to do with who’s in charge, because I think Hollywood still has a lot of room for growth with that stuff. I think oftentimes they’ll cast queer people, but there will be no queer people on the backside. Same issues with race, obviously. And I think that our show does have a diverse writer’s room, as well. We have gay people in our writer’s room. And I think that can show in the writing. I feel like when Mandy talks about her type of [person], where she says something like, “Guys who wear cardigans”… I forget exactly the thing, but it’s something that only a queer person could say, where it’s like, you know the writing is good then too. So I think that it definitely has shown that Hollywood has grown, but I think really Paul and Jenny are to do with that.

Paul really, in all of his stuff, is always pushing past oppression in a lot of ways that I don’t know if people realize it. Something that I’m so passionate about, that I think is a layer of oppression that people just really are still not caring about at all, is fatphobia. I read a bunch on this and love it so much. There’s this girl, Aubrey Gordon, who has this podcast Maintenance Phase. And she also wrote this book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. And I’m obsessed with her.

She’s changed my whole life, because I’m someone who struggled with eating disorders before. And I just know that most women, specifically, but people in general, it really took up such a large amount of our headspace because the BMI was based on a white guy a long time ago. And we’re supposed to fit these standards that our body doesn’t naturally do. But because we are taught that from literal medical professionals, it makes you think that you need to change it. I think then other people feel more comfortable being mean to you and oppressing you because they’re like, “You chose this,” which is not true.

And so for me, Paul is someone who I would say is one of the only people that I can really look at in the industry that I really see him caring about casting fat people, caring about fat people having real personalities, not being the butt of a joke. And it makes me feel so great to work with him because of that, because I think he really cares about queer people. He cares about people being seen, and he doesn’t do it in a way of, “Look at me, I only cast this.” He just does it.

Welcome to Flatch airs Thursdays at 9:30 ET/ 8:30 CT on FOX, with episodes 1-7 currently available for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.fox.com or www.hulu.com.

Holmes performs The Pansexual Bachelor with Holmes on May 3 at Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival. Visit www.netflixisajokefest.com.

Follow Holmes on Instagram at @_holmes_holmes.

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