This season, the young comic mined his personal life — including his relationships with pop star Ariana Grande and actress Kate Beckinsale; his comedic missteps when mocking war veteran Dan Crenshaw’s missing eye; living with his mother; and even his mental health struggles — to inject a desperately needed mixture of laughs and pathos into a show that’s been criticized for growing stale as it continually hammered the Trump administration.
The showrunners might have predicted this would become the Season of Pete. The premiere included a prerecorded sketch in which an insecure Kyle Mooney reinvents himself as a Davidson look-alike. He cuts off his curly locks, bleaches what’s left, gets sleeve tattoos and starts smoking weed at work. Mostly, the sketch mocks Davidson’s lightning-fast engagement to Grande (and the flurry of headlines it generated). Mooney needs a “hot celebrity girlfriend,” so he hooks up with Wendy Williams and the two adopt a baby pig — just like Davidson and Grande.
When Kid Cudi blows off Davidson to hang with Mooney, Davidson confronts the impostor: “Why are you stealing my look and my friends? Don’t you know I have, like, mental problems?”
Mooney responds by pulling out a prescription bottle of pills. “Me, too,” he says.
Later in that same episode, Davidson appeared on “Weekend Update” to discuss his engagement to Grande. “No one could believe it,” he said. “And I can’t believe it. Yeah, I get it. She’s the number one pop star in the world, and I’m that guy from SNL that everyone thinks is in desperate need for more blood.” He talked about living at her place (all he has to do is stock the fridge) and admitted to getting death threats, quickly turning them into a joke by comparing himself to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Overall, though, it was a sort of mission statement: “Pete Davidson” had become a character, and his real life was game for comedy, wrinkles and all.
And boy, were there some wrinkles. Not a month later, the duo ended their engagement, which caused the online celebrity gossip machine to begin whirring with full force. Davidson wasted no time in joking about the situation on-air.
He appeared in the promo for the first post-breakup episode alongside musical guest Maggie Rogers. At one point, he says, “Hey Maggie, I’m Pete. You wanna get married?” When she politely declines, he snaps and quips, “0 for 3!”
In the episode itself, he appeared on “Weekend Update,” ostensibly to talk about the midterm elections (something he paid more attention to after “I had to move back in with my mom”). But he ended the segment on a serious note that seemingly came out of nowhere. “The last thing I will say is I know some of you are curious about the breakup, but the truth is it’s nobody’s business,” he said. “Sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s okay.”
That segment also included arguably the most viral moment of Davidson’s career, when he mocked Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye to an IED during his third combat tour of Afghanistan.
“You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie,” Davidson joked. “I’m sorry; I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.”
“I made a joke about Lieutenant Commander Dan Crenshaw, and on behalf of the show and myself, I apologize,” he said the next week, after Crenshaw was elected to Congress. “I mean this from the bottom of my heart. It was a poor choice of words. The man is a war hero and he deserves all the respect in the world.”
Then, in the season’s most memorable moment, Crenshaw himself appeared alongside Davidson, made some jokes (including some about Grande) and gave an earnest speech, saying, “There’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things, but also this: Americans can forgive one another.”
Though nothing quite as contentious happened the rest of the season, Davidson continued to use his personal life as comedic kindling. He addressed his brief relationship with Beckinsale on a March episode without saying her name in a bit otherwise ostensibly about troubled musicians.
“Apparently people have a crazy fascination with our age difference. But it doesn’t really bother us. But then again, I’m new to this,” Davidson said, “so if you have questions about a relationship with a big age difference, just ask” any number of male celebrities with younger partners, a list he gave that included such stars as Mick Jagger, Jeff Goldblum and Sean Penn.
Davidson even took his darkest moment, a suicide scare, and turned it into comedy when he invited his seemingly unlikely friend and fellow comedian John Mulaney on “Weekend Update.”
“I’ve been spending time with Pete to try to show him that you can have a life in comedy that is not insane, a sober domestic life,” Mulaney said.
“Yeah, and after observing John’s life, I publicly threatened suicide. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t make that joke. But it is funny,” Davidson responded, referring to an alarming social media post that prompted police action. He had posted on Instagram about the bullying he had faced, writing that "i really don’t want to be on this earth anymore.”
Davidson and Mulaney spent the rest of their time on-air discussing . . . the middling Clint Eastwood film “The Mule.”
And that’s the magic of Davidson. There’s always been a school of comedy that involves shedding light on the darkest parts of the human experience, but its pupils rarely take this lesson onstage at SNL. The stand-up comedian knows it, too, even quipping during the season finale in a bit about “Game of Thrones” that he doesn’t like to talk about the HBO show.
“I don’t really like to talk about my personal life,” he said. “I don’t like that attention.”