PETE DAVIDSON IN NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 2014. COAT AND PANTS: DOLCE & GABBANA. SHIRT AND SOCKS: MARC JACOBS. BRACELETS: ST. MARK’S PLACE. SHOES: CHURCH’S. STYLING: MATTHEW TAUGER. GROOMING PRODUCTS: PHYTO, INCLUDING SHINE DEFINING WAX. GROOMING: RHEANNE WHITE/SEE MANAGEMENT.
When Pete Davidson got the call this September informing him that he’d been cast on Saturday Night Live, it was from the show’s producer-creator Lorne Michaels, who told him, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with you, but we’ll figure it out together.” Here’s how Davidson figures: “I’m 21, so, like, dick jokes are all I have right now. There’s a lot of things I haven’t experienced yet, and dick, weed, and cum jokes are kind of my forte.” The Staten Island native, and one of the youngest SNL cast members, made an immediate splash on its season premiere last fall, doing a bit about how much money it would take for him to give another guy a blow job. The internet buzz was tempered by some think-piece accusations of homophobia. But Davidson, who’s young, inexperienced, and bold enough to sometimes make racial and disability jokes in his stand-up, shrugs off the backlash rumblings. “Everybody always has a problem with something,” he reasons.
Davidson’s own miraculous comedy ascension seems composed of a series of big breaks. In his teens he opened for Nick Cannon, which led to a spot on Cannon’s sketch/improv series Wild ‘N Out. In 2013, he appeared on MTV2’s Guy Code, where he met his current girlfriend, fellow comedian Carly Aquilino. On the set of Judd Apatow’s upcoming Trainwreck, he struck up a friendship with the film’s star, Bill Hader, who got Davidson the SNL audition. The lucky streak is fairly recent, though, and is a product of hard work. After catching the comedy bug at 16 while watching Bill Burr open for Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden, Davidson spent the money he made bussing tables on transportation to and entry fees for open-mic shows all around the city, performing at three or four per night. Before that, he says he was a “loser” with one friend through grade and high school. When he was 7, his firefighter father, Scott Davidson, died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, during the rescue effort.
“When my dad died, I had to go to therapy,” recalls Davidson, who wears a chain with a gold pendant in the shape of a badge with his dad’s number, 8418. “My therapist was Afghan. He would be like, ‘How do you think your dad died?’ I always wanted to be like, ‘Why don’t you tell me, man? I know you know.’ Five people will laugh [when this joke is told in a set], and the rest will be like, ‘Hmmmm, no.’ But it’s fuckin’ funny! Things that I feel really sad about, I talk about. That way, if it’s funny, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
The high-profile gig on SNL, too, has allowed Davidson’s humor to triumph over his past. “I smile when I’m in Staten Island now,” he says. “There have been a couple of times when kids that weren’t nice to me in high school are like, ‘Hey, man!’ And I’m just like, ‘Yeah. Thank you very much.’ ”