Just a few minutes ago, Pete Davidson came out of a Santander ATM bank frustrated that Chase shut off his account again. This has been happening a lot, the Saturday Night Live star explained—the bank's security measures aren't exactly suited to the lifestyle of a stand-up comedian who just finished a 15-city tour. What's annoying is that now we're at the end of the line at a Chipotle in Midtown Manhattan, and Davidson isn't sure if his debit card is going to work.
“It happened to me at McDonald’s one time,” he confesses to me and one of his best friends, Jeff “Heavy” Danson. “I was trying to buy, like, a small fry and got declined.” The embarrassing memory prompts Davidson to fall into a bit that feels like it could be part of SMD, his first stand-up special, which premieres on Comedy Central on Oct. 29. Fighting back a laugh, he protests that the card decline “could be for so many different reasons! But everyone assumes you’re a broke-ass bitch. ‘Hey, you see Pete Davidson at McDonald’s!? That dude fell off!’”
Frozen debit cards aside, it's probably going to be a long time before anyone actually thinks Davidson has fallen off. In 2014, a then 19-year-old Davidson broke out as Saturday Night Live’s “Resident Young Person.” In his first appearance on the show’s Weekend Update, Davidson, looking like he just got out of high school—because really, he had—quickly made an impression by asking Update anchor Michael Che, “Have you ever played the ‘How Much Money Would You Go Down on a Guy For’ game?” Davidson's answer: "$3,000, if I'm being really honest with myself." The following Monday, publications like The Hollywood Reporter and Salon were labeling Davidson a "breakout star."
In the two years since, Davidson has continued to deliver monologues on SNL that always carry a hint of controversy, but are so funny that it doesn’t matter. His comedy is incongruently lovable: borderline offensive at times, intimate, and boyishly bold. So many of his jokes feel like comments he didn’t mean to say out loud. But when he does—and when you gasp—he just looks at you with a smirk, and shrugs. “I feel like he says what we’re all thinking,” says fellow stand-up Ricky Velez, who’s known Davidson for six years and most recently worked on The Nightly Show. “He takes his insecurities and throws them out onstage. And he’s just really funny, man.” His budding SNL stardom led to a spot on Comedy Central’s roast of Justin Bieber, where Davidson famously made jokes about the death of his own father, a firefighter, on 9/11. The bit made waves, of course, but for anyone who had seen Davidson do stand-up, it was just par for the course.
Davidson, now 22 years old, is no longer the boy wonder taking the world by surprise. With the recent departure of SNL mainstays Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah, Davidson is actually one of the most well-established members of the cast, and he’ll be leaned on as such. And then there’s his stand-up special, the first of his career. SMD (which is either a reference to Davidson’s father’s initials or an acronym for “Suck My Dick"—you decide) is an important step in the arc of a stand-up comedian, both a symbol that Davidson has “made it” and an opportunity to showcase an hour’s worth of material. It’s so easy to look at Davidson as just a kid, because he’s silly and he doesn’t try to hide his own ignorance. But the truth is, he’s grown up, he knows what he wants, and he's only just getting started.
“i feel like [pete] says what we're all thinking... and he's just really funny, man.”
—ricky velez, stand-up comedian
Davidson lives on the ninth floor of a building in the heart of Midtown. The living room in his one-bedroom apartment looks exactly like the living room of the six-bedroom house I lived in during college, right down to the Eli Manning Fathead plastered to the wall and the bong that acts as a centerpiece on his coffee table. A huge, black, U-shaped couch—it's really two L-shaped couches pushed together—is the centerpiece of Davidson’s living room, which also features a window sill cluttered with a Giants helmet, the Big Bang Theory version of the board game Clue, a collection of Harry Potter Pez dispensers, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape that Davidson says he has to cover if he and his girlfriend are ever hooking up on the couch. The apartment is a sanctuary for Davidson, who, after being born and raised in Staten Island, is pretty much over NYC.
"Growing up here, you think this is how every place is," Davidson says while taking a drag from a joint. “I used to be like, ‘Fuck L.A.’ But this is an awful way to live.”
Davidson moved to Midtown from Brooklyn Heights to be closer to 30 Rock, where SNL films, but proximity seems to be the only perk his new digs afford. “Cats and Jersey Boys are across the street—do you know the [kind of] people I see every day?”
Davidson isn’t afraid to admit that like many other comedians, he has a “depressive” streak. He prefers staying at home and getting blazed to hitting the town—which is why we got our Chipotle bowls to go. “I don’t like going out. I’m more of a watch TV, hang out, Netflix kind of guy. I don’t like leaving; I don’t like talking to people. It gives me anxiety. We’re all kind of fucked up a little bit.”
The source of Davidson’s anxieties and bouts with depression are well-documented—mostly by Davidson himself in his stand-up. He was just seven years old when his dad, Scott, was last seen running up the stairs of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel on 9/11. In the years that followed, Davidson was friendless, went to therapy, and had to transfer schools three times. “I didn’t really deal with what happened to me in the best of ways,” he admits. “I acted out a lot. Here is how crazy and annoying I was: My dad died in 9/11 and kids were like, ‘No, fuck that kid.’ It was really rough.”
It wasn’t until Davidson traded after-school activities at 16, dumping basketball for stand-up, that he started to turn himself around. “I felt comfortable with myself.” Not getting invited to high school parties was no longer an issue—he could just go to comedy clubs instead. “I just found out that I was in the wrong community. There are people for everybody, and luckily I found mine.”
After having few friends growing up, Davidson seems determined to cherish the ones he’s made coming up in the stand-up world. “He’s the best person I know,” says Velez. “I lost my mother suddenly this year, and Pete showed up to the hospital the day it happened. He was there for me the entire time.”
Davidson’s apartment door is always unlocked; he leaves it open so that if friends need a place to crash or just chill, they can come through even if he isn’t home. He admits that it’s kind of scary to walk into his apartment and not know if someone’s going to be there, but it doesn’t sound like he’s going to change his policy any time soon. “He’s one of those guys,” Davidson’s friend Heavy says. “He doesn’t have to do these things, but he’d rather take care of his homies.”
“being young, people think i just have my hand up
looking for advice...but i can
figure it out myself.”
Aside from helping him find his people, stand-up has also always been therapeutic for Davidson. In SMD, he mixes a dash of observational humor with a ton of extremely personal anecdotes. He makes fun of his troubled teenage years and his relationship with his mom—which is so close that he admits to sending pictures of his penis to her “whenever I’m worried.” He segues into the last segment of the special by saying, “We’ll do some 9/11 jokes and then we’ll get the fuck outta here. How’s that?”
The special is full of laughs, but its true strength lies in how conversational, raw, and honest it is. Here’s this kid wearing Jordan XI Space Jams and one of his dad’s Ladder 118 shirts, just telling true stories about his life.
When Davidson started, he says he was “just so excited to try to be funny. Now it’s like, I have some shit on my chest. Now, when I’m really bothered by something, I will go to a comedy club and run it out. I always wanted my stand-up to feel like not just a show, but like you’re hanging out with someone for an hour. I like to just talk.”
SMD is also a showcase of Davidson at both his most and least mature. He talks about trying to smoke weed less for his mom, but he also talks about the secret to surreptitiously jerking off around your college roommates. The balance he strikes in the special reflects the strides he’s making to be more topical and grown up on Saturday Night Live. In his first season, Davidson talked about STDs, looking at gay porn, and weed, but last year, he challenged himself to comment on things outside of his comfort zone: Donald Trump, trans rights, slut-shaming. Yes, he still worked some dick jokes in there, but there was a clear maturation. “I was thinking about it,” Pete says as he clears Chipotle off of his coffee table. “Do I really want to use this platform to talk about dicks, or sending pictures of my dick to my mom, or sucking dicks? It just got monotonous. I was like, I have an opportunity to have an opinion—there’s no reason I can’t talk about stuff that’s going on. And yeah, it made me feel better, like I had more purpose.”
Davidson is about to have even more purpose on Saturday Night Live, a show that entered its 42nd season on Oct. 1 after dropping two cast members who did a lot of the heavy-lifting. “I found out there was a change because articles came out,” Davidson says about the departures of Killam and Pharaoh. “I’m not the first person to say this, but communication at SNL—I don’t want to say it’s not good, but unless you ask questions, you will not know what’s going on.”
So far in Davidson’s run on SNL, he’s appeared sparsely in skits, and has been given an occasional platform on "Update" to do stand-up bits. He’s gone full episodes on the sidelines, but he knows that’s going to change now. “Taran and Jay carried a lot of the show—there are some holes that need to be filled this year. I’m excited just to try.” Davidson’s default when talking about SNL is to downplay his impact on the show. He doesn’t belong, he’s just lucky to be there—stuff like that. But he’s more confident than he lets on. “Being young, people think I just have my hand up looking for advice,” he says. “People kind of tell me how to go about my life. People think I don’t know what I’m doing, but I can figure it out myself.”
Davidson admits the world he finds himself in because of Saturday Night Live is surreal. Weird stuff, stuff that he never dreamed of, happens all the time now. The other night, Robert DeNiro dropped by his table at Nobu as he was having dinner with Lorne Michaels, and he barely managed to play it cool. When Kanye West was the musical guest last season, Davidson walked up to him and asked about getting a pair of his signature Yeezy sneakers—to no avail. “I personally asked Kanye West. It’s hard to get a pair of Yeezys in size 12, so I was like, who better to ask? I said, ‘I will pay for them, I just don’t know how to get them in my size. Could I please have a pair of Yeezys?’ He’s like, ‘I got you.’ And never—nothing. I asked Kanye himself and he can’t even get them.”
There’s no doubt that life is going well for Davidson—his first stand-up special is weeks away, he’s set to be one of SNL’s mainstays. But there’s another reason for his happiness: his relationship with Cazzie David, the 22-year-old daughter of Seinfeld creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David. Despite the two frequently posting PDA-heavy photos of themselves on Instagram, Davidson is initially reticent to talk about her. Until asked about her head-on, he only refers to her as “my girlfriend” here and there. I get it; if I was dating Larry David’s daughter, I’d play it down too, concerned that everyone who talks to me is just waiting to hear some kind of Curb-like story. Or maybe Davidson just knows that once he starts talking about her, he can’t stop.
“He’s in love; he’s having the best time ever,” Velez says. “It’s really good to see him find that.”
Davidson and Cazzie David met when her father hosted Saturday Night Live in February 2015. Soon after they were dating, and Davidson got a self-portrait that Cazzie drew when she was five tattooed on his arm. During the SNL off-season this summer, Davidson lived with her. They like all the same things, have the same social anxieties and sense of humor, and travel across the country from New York to Los Angeles on a near-weekly basis to see each other.
Despite what Curb Your Enthusiasm would have you believe, Davidson says it’s never been awkward having Larry David be the father of his girlfriend. “It wasn’t like I befriended him and started sneaking around with his daughter. We’re the same age—she’s supposed to be dating someone my age. Hopefully, he’s happy it’s me. I think he is. He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met, just a genuinely good man.”
When I ask what 16-year-old Pete would say if someone told him he’d fall in love with the daughter of the guy who created Seinfeld and Curb, Davidson nearly spits out the Smartwater he’s been drinking all day. “I wouldn’t believe that at all,” he says. But really, he wouldn’t believe anything about his current life, either. After everything he’s been through—his father’s death, his issues growing up—he’s now truly in a good place, with a strong relationship and an exploding career.
“I’m happy,” Davidson says with a sense of pride. “I mean, I’ve got a fucking Eli Manning Fathead on my wall—I’m doing okay.”