When Pete Davidson joined the Saturday Night Live cast a few years ago, he set one of the longtime show’s most startling new milestones. Davidson, you see, was the show’s first cast member to be born in the ’90s, long after the show’s bee-friendly launch in 1975. The now 22-year-old comedian quickly made a splash, though, just like he did when he first started doing stand-up at clubs when he was 16.
Six quick years later, Davidson has harnessed all his stand-up experience into a new special, SMD, which airs October 29 on Comedy Central. In it, the SNL star talks about everything from a stint in rehab to what it was like to lose his dad on 9/11, all of which came up when The A.V. Club sat down with Davidson earlier this week.
The A.V. Club: How has being on SNL both changed your career and your material?
Pete Davidson: SNL has changed my career because it gave it a platform to be seen. And I really feel like the Weekend Update desk is where I am given the opportunity to shine on that show. I’m really lucky, because it’s gotten people to come out and see me when I go on the road, and that’s all I’ve really ever wanted. As a stand-up, that’s all you could ever really ask for.
AVC: What did you have to learn when you signed on to SNL?
PD: I have no idea how to do sketches, believe it or not. I don’t know if you can tell by me not being in any sketches for three years, but I’m not a good sketch writer and I’m not really an SNL-y type guy. But, I know my role as a utility player, and I’ll be there whenever somebody needs a reaction shot or a kid in a classroom shot or whatever.
I know I’ll be given a couple updates a year to shine in and do whatever in. The rest is just being a team player and showing up when you’re asked to. Also, just learning how to be part of a sketch group is really difficult for someone who has been working alone for forever.
AVC: Have you tried to write sketches?
PD: Yeah, and sometimes I get them on. I’d say I’ve probably gotten 15 sketches on in three years.
AVC: That’s pretty good.
PD: It’s not that bad.
It’s a really hard job. Everyone there is super, super great, though, and they make it easier.
AVC: You’ve only been doing stand-up for six or seven years. Have your jokes changed over the years? And how do you think they’re going to change as you get older?
PD: My jokes have definitely changed. SNL has helped with that, because when you’re on SNL you have to kind of pay attention to the news. I feel like my material has gotten smarter now. Just like last year, I got to talk about transgender bathroom problems and Trump and gun control and more important things than smoking weed and my dick.
AVC: Well, to be fair, both weed and your dick feature prominently in your special.
PD: Both those things are in the special. But I feel like as I’m getting older, I’m starting to stray away from that and trying to say more about things that people would like. That’s what Update is so great for—it’s like, “There’s a story this week … Here’s your take on it.” I really like that format. A lot.
AVC: Do you feel like you have to do comedy? Could you walk away?
PD: I have to do stand-up. I have to do something comedy-involved every day or else I will lose my mind. I already am, but I would go more nuts.
AVC: Your mom told The New York Times that when you started doing stand-up, it just made you a happier kid.
PD: Yeah, it made me a lot happier. To be able to spew your shit on other people is really relaxing.
AVC: Is it therapeutic in a way?
PD: Yeah, absolutely. You keep all your shit to yourself and you’re really angry, and you get on stage and rant and people laugh at it. And then you’re like, “Oh. It is okay.” It really helps.
AVC: Your dad was a firefighter who died running into a building on 9/11. When did you start doing jokes about him?
AVC: Yeah? When you were 7?
PD: [Laughs.] Yeah, when I was 7 I was making fun of him.
No, I’d say it took me a year of stand-up to get comfortable enough to make fun of it. Or to even know if that’s something that you can make fun of. Now I try to make fun of it before someone else does. It seems to be a target whenever anybody talks about me. Immediately my dad will be brought up, so I try to make jokes about it and try to make light of it. Because it’s fucking depressing.
AVC: You said “something that you can make fun of.” Do you mean in the sense that you didn’t know if it was taboo? It’s your dad. Wouldn’t you be the ultimate decider there?
PD: Yeah, I feel like I know I can make fun of it.
I’m not making fun of it because I want to make fun of it. I’m making fun of it so I feel better. I don’t want people to think any time there’s a tragedy that I’m going to make a joke about it. It’s only funny to me because it’s personal to me. And that was always the goal. It wasn’t to be this insult person.
AVC: And your jokes are very personal. They’re not about someone else’s dad or someone else’s response.
PD: Yeah, they’re personal jokes about my dad. They’re not like, “Did you yell ‘Geronimo’ before your friend jumped off one of the towers?” It’s not like shit like that.
AVC: You smoke weed to help curb your Crohn’s disease, correct?
PD: Yeah, and I want to be a little more honest about that. It’s okay that I use weed. There’s certain weed that makes Crohn’s disease easier to live with. But that doesn’t mean you should be fucking getting high all day. Too much of anything is not good. There’s an appropriate, medicinal way to use marijuana for certain ailments. I don’t want anyone to think that it’s okay to be high all day, because that’s not my life.
AVC: In the special you even talk about going to rehab to cut back.
PD: It’s not good to be lit all the time and have no clear-headed thoughts. So now, I mostly use weed when I need to eat or if I need to go to sleep. And most of the weed I smoke is CBD, and that’s very low in THC. It pretty much has no THC in there. So, it’s not to get high. It’s for your body muscles to relax and so they’re not in pain.
AVC: Does New York have medical marijuana?
PD: I have medical marijuana because luckily I’m in television and I know the best weed guy in New York. That’s the reason why I came forward with it. Ninety-nine percent of the people who have Crohn’s don’t have that access in New York. When I go to L.A. I can get the proper medicine I need because it’s legal there. But I can’t get it here. You get weed in fucking tin foil here from some guy you don’t even really know. It would benefit a lot of people if they had medicinal marijuana shops in New York so we knew what we’re getting. It could be used to treat our ailment rather than just getting a bag and hoping it’s okay because this guy says it is. That’s why I came out with it. Just to bring a little awareness and try to put a little different perspective on it.
AVC: I was just in Seattle, and the dispensaries there are fucking nuts. There are so many options, and the salespeople know everything about everything they offer. It’s not just, “Here, buy this one kind of weed.”
PD: It’s incredible. The whole West Coast really knows what’s going on with it. And we’re a little late on that.
AVC: Lorne Michaels has talked in interviews about how you like to get high, but are you getting high at work? I doubt it, or else you wouldn’t be that productive.
PD: I’m not sitting in a chair watching cartoons at work. I’m working my ass off and touring and it doesn’t affect my work. That’s what I’ll say.
AVC: What do you want to do in the future? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
PD: I just really want to do stand-up and act in stuff that I like. And do stuff that makes me really happy.
AVC: Do you see yourself becoming a Dane Cook or a Kevin Hart—that is to say an arena comic? Are certain venues more comfortable for you?
PD: I talk too much shit to have someone follow me like that. I have too much of an opinion to have that big of a following. I’ll always probably do theaters and clubs for the rest of my life, and I’m so okay with that. That sounds fucking incredible. I feel like a lot of the stuff I say puts people off or puts them really on. It’s not like a universal liking, like they have. It’s more of a, “I fuck with this dude.” I’m never going to be doing a football stadium.
AVC: Amy Schumer is a little controversial, though, and she’s doing arenas.
PD: She’s incredible. She’s an exception to the rule. I don’t know how she does it but she’s incredible. She’s got balls!
AVC: Trump supporters walked out of her show in Florida recently, too. I don’t know what they were expecting.
PD: I thought that was great. I hope more people do that. I thought that was awesome.
I just said this in an interview today. I don’t want idiots in my audience. So if me coming forward with what my beliefs are is what you need to hear to not be a fan anymore, that’s great. That means next time I show up in whatever said city, your dumb ass won’t be there.
I’m confident that 80 percent of the people that like me are really smart, and I’m slowly weeding the rest of them out.