Weird Metanarratives with Pete Holmes and Joseph Campbell
STORY. What does that word really mean? And why do we tell them? Flannery O’Conner once said that everyone knows what a story is until they sit down to write one. I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life studying how to tell a good one from a bad one (if there is such). Along the way, I became consumed with WHY we tell stories and the METHODS by which stories are told. After reading all I could on these matters, it became quite clear that any conversation about story would involve Joseph Campbell at some point. Campbell uncovered more about story in his lifetime than most anyone had in the past few thousand years. He’s become the “go to” guy for how and why we tell stories. If you’re aware of him at all, outside of an academic circle you might have been involved in, it’s likely because of the interviews he did with Bill Moyers for PBS. In those interviews, much of what Campbell laid out in his books (which can be quite dense) became accessible to the average person. As a bonus, Moyers’s program reveals that Campbell was George Lucas’s secret weapon for crafting the original story for Star Wars.
For those unfamiliar with Campbell, you could boil his most significant work down to the idea that there is one metanarrative in the world – a hero’s journey, if you will. The tenants of this story will be found in every great story that man has created, in every culture around the world. Campbell suggested that there was one hero with a thousand faces. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of Campbell’s theories, but you get the picture. John Truby, a modern story theorist, suggests that Campbell was correct because the hero’s journey mirrors the way human beings solve problems. And in some way, that is what a story is – a problem to be solved.
So where does Pete Holmes come in? For the unfamiliar, Pete Holmes is a comedian, podcaster, and former late night television host. He also might be the most important cultural critic, thinker, and faith advocate alive today. Around the time Kevin Smith made Dogma, the culture began to recognize that just because someone was masterful with profanity, they weren’t precluded from having insight into spirituality and serious matters of the human condition. Smith even upped this ante by including a poop monster in his film. Pete Holmes is the final plank in the bridge that links nerd culture (which nearly single-handedly drives pop culture) to serious matters of philosophy and spirituality. Nerd culture has never been afraid of those topics. Nerds have long discussed the nuances of THE FORCE, what might lie where no man has gone before, what could exist in the afterlife, and a host of other questions considered irrelevant to our post-secular society. Nerd culture is the missing link in the vast chasm between science and faith. Nerds take both disciplines seriously and see the value of what we can prove in a lab and the mythologies we need to have a better society.
In his podcast, You Made it Weird, Holmes presents the most honest, controversial, profane, and yet authentic talk about matters of faith, consciousness, science, art, and narrative storytelling that can be hard in a public forum today. He also talks about how we can be better. Be warned – it’s not for everybody. The easily offended and those who cannot have their beliefs challenged won’t last a single episode. Some episodes are just in-depth discussions of particular comedians and their process, though Holmes always asks them big questions on matters of God. Those willing to invest the time and go on a journey for truth at any cost with Holmes will be handsomely rewarded. He uses Joseph Campbell (or Joey Cams as he sometimes calls him) and his methods to look more closely at our own journeys. He deals with more in-depth questions surrounding faith and religion than any pastor would have liberty to. He isn’t afraid to dive into embarrassing honesty about his own journey at a Christian college, through a divorce, and every other imaginable struggle a person faces living in our modern world. He invites his guests to share with the same level of honesty. And in listening to them, I begin to ask myself the same hard questions. I begin to examine my own journey. I grow. I develop. Sometimes I get weird. But I always become a better version of myself.
For those looking for a starting place on the Pete Holmes’s “You Made It Weird” podcast, try the episodes with guests Mike McHargue, Rob Bell, and Pete Rollins first.
You can buy Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey here.