Pete Davidson on Being an SNL Utility Player, His New Special, and Not Being Treated Like a Make-a-Wish

By

If wunderkind Pete Davidson weren’t so lovable, it would be easy to begrudge his success. After touring with Nick Cannon and showing up on Guy Code, Davidson got a bit part in Trainwreck and subsequently found himself auditioning for SNL at the behest of Bill Hader. Since becoming one of the youngest-ever SNL players in 2014, Davidson has delivered charming "Weekend Update" editorials on everything from gold chains to gun control, roasted Justin Bieber and Rob Lowe on Comedy Central, and is now releasing his first hour-long special titled SMD. In advance of SMD’s October 29 premiere (also on Comedy Central), the 22-year-old Davidson told Vulture about the advantages of being the young guy and why doing material about his father — a New York firefighter who died during the attacks on 9/11 — shouldn’t make people feel bad for him.

You have this ongoing concern about feeling old in your stand-up, but you’re only 22. Where does that feeling come from?
I had to grow up sooner than most people had to because when I was 7 years old I became the man of the house. I’ve always felt older, like, I’ll give you an example. When I go to a party and see people my age, and I see what they’re doing, I think, Fuckin’ pathetic. You guys are acting like fucking losers with your fucking shots and everything in your fucking life is online with your fucking Snapchat fucking filter with your dog ears. I don’t know, I just feel older.

You’re the first to admit that a lot of your material is weed- and wiener-related. Do you think you’ll have this kind of material in your act in ten years?
I hope not. This is just as much stuff as I have experienced to this point. If I’m still doing weed jokes ten years from now, I have failed as a comedian.

If the material in SMD represents what you know now, what kinds of experiences are you seeking out?
I’ve been doing stand-up or working every day since I was 16 — 16 to 23 is a fucking window of time. I haven’t had much time to chill, I’ve been doing stand-up even on holidays and stuff. Working New Year’s. So I’ve been taking some time off and learning how to have a life.

What does that mean to you?
Maybe go to a theme park. I don’t even know what to do. Maybe go to music festival? 

In a sense, you’re the comedy world’s little brother — both in stand-up and at SNL. What advantages do you find in that?
As you can imagine, it’s so frustrating, but everybody treats me really nice. For some reason, being young and going through a tragedy gives you carte blanche to say whatever you want. That’s the perfect concoction, I guess. Having someone die very close to you, and you being naive and young and kind of cute, and then you get to do whatever you want.

How long do you sense that will last?
I feel like some of that stuff’s going away, the 9/11 stuff is going away, and soon I’ll be judged on just my comedy and not this Make-a-Wish thing everybody tries to make it. I might as well have someone playing the violin while I walk everywhere. Feel bad for me, please. That’s what I should have called my special, Feel Bad for Me.

When you do your material about September 11, and your dad’s death, how do you feel when the crowd doesn’t want to go along with you?
I just don’t want anybody to feel bad for me. That’s not why I do the jokes. It’s a really hard line. Clearly, I’m okay. If you don’t find it funny, that’s fine, but it can’t be “Noooooo!” 

How much advice did you get from older comics before taping the special? Anyone say anything particularly helpful?
I had a big advantage and luckily a lot of people helped me prepare. Jim Norton gave me great advice: “You do this every night. It’s not like you’re not funny and all of sudden you have to be really funny. You just do what you do.”

You joke a lot about your mom, and seem to have a close relationship with her, but you’ve mentioned that it’s hard to have her at your gigs. Why is that?
She’s just, like, my mother. She’s just so positive. She always has the same reaction: “That was great!” You want to make your mom really proud, but it’s uncomfortable to have her at your job. 

So it’s more about her attitude than her hearing you say something dark or dirty? It doesn’t bother her when you talk about sending her dick pics, for instance?
Nah, she doesn’t care. I never had that talk with my mother — the birds and the bees. Me telling these jokes is the only talk we’ll ever have.

You’ve found a niche for yourself at SNL in these "Weekend Update" editorials that feel like stand-up. How much sketch or character work do you want to do while you’re there?
I’m open to doing all of it, it’s just not my strong point. When you have 15 people on a show where that is their strong point, it’s hard to get a Pete sketch in. I know my place as a utility. My job is to be the reaction-shot guy — whenever somebody does something stupid, I’m like, “Whaaat?!” But when I do "Update," that’s where I really shine and I’m happy with that.

Do you have some character or sketch you’re really hoping to get on?
Nope! Nothing. Nothing!

So, is the comedy dream to tour theaters and become Bill Burr?
That’s the dream. The Bill Burr road is the road I’d like to take because it’s a smart, fun road. 

I guess the next step is getting you up in front of a hostile crowd in Philly.
Oh, god, that’s the greatest, isn’t it? He’s fucking something else, man. That guy is a genius.