Pete Davidson: Nothing Special

Stay for the Ariana Grande jokes, forget the rest of his Netflix standup act

No matter how bad Saturday Night Live gets, the show’s cast usually consists of hugely talented comic actors. Even its lowliest season features some superstar cast members, suppressed by bad skits. Leslie Jones, for example, just dropped a Netflix special that proved SNL was holding her back. I’d hoped the same for Pete Davidson, and that he’d shine much brighter in his new Netflix special, Alive from New York.

But alas.

“I’m very limited on SNL,” Davidson admits near the special’s end. “It’s very minimal, the amount of stuff I get to do.” And unfortunately, “Alive from New York” makes no argument for SNL giving him more screentime.

Davidson starts off talking about Louis CK who, as a guest on SNL in 2012, tried to get Pete fired from the show for smoking weed at work. “At the time, Louis was a very respected comedian,” he chuckles, “At the time…” I guess I’m just that big of an Ariana Grande fan, that I’d already read this story about Pete Davidson in some magazine.

He then uses this bit as a springboard for some tired jokes about jerking off, and how women should tell men how to make them cum.

 

Blame Jimmy Fallon for the tradition of SNL actors breaking character to laugh at their own hilarity, but Davidson has come to abuse this lazy privilege worse than anyone in the current cast. In his special, he keeps his laughter mostly under control for the first half, but as the special progresses, he snickers at himself more and more. “Sorry, sometimes I say giggly things,” he says, while looking at the ground for notes that are not there.

Davidson goes on to address other of his SNL controversies covered thoroughly elsewhere, like the time conservatives called for his head after he made fun of eye patch wearing Republican politician, Dan Crenshaw, who lost his eye fighting in Afghanistan. Pete repeats his mld SNL joke–“He looks like a hitman in a porno movie”–which feels like self-plagiarism, especially after the third time he says it.

The kicker to that joke is pretty good though: “I made that guy famous and a household name for no reason,” Davidson says, before revealing his whole special’s selling point: “I did [for him] what, like, Ariana Grande did for me.”

Overall, I didn’t love Davidson’s poorly paced, awkward, borderline amateurish standup special. Many of the jokes land without real laughter from the audience. And yet I’d watch another hour of his Ariana Grande jokes. Davidson goes on to say that he did not appreciate the tiny mega-star promoting the size of his penis, which she famously deemed “huge.”

“‘it’s not true,” Davidson implores. “She just has tiny little hands… She [only said] that so that every girl who sees my dick for the rest of my life is disappointed.”

Not to give away the only great part of his standup special, but Davidson adds, “Can you imagine if I did that? If I spray painted myself brown and hopped on the cover of Vogue and started shitting on my ex?” (The media often criticizes Grande for trying to make herself look African American).

Davidson finishes with another bit I have sort of heard from him before: jokes about his dad, a fireman who died in 9/11. “Let’s do some 9/11 jokes and get the fuck out of here,” he says, like he’s more sick of Pete Davidson than I am.

On SNL, Pete Davidson plays a marginal role, but he does write some good standup-style jokes for Weekend Update. And so I’d hoped Alive from New York would show him in full bloom. I’d hoped to see what Lorne Michaels saw when he hired him. But though the fledgling Davidson may show promise as a joke writer, “Alive” feels like a Netflix special that he simply hasn’t earned yet.

Michael Patrick Welch

Michael Patrick Welch is a New Orleans author and journalist. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, Oxford American, Columbia Journalism Review, and many other great venues.

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