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‘I kind of got forced to apologize’: Pete Davidson addresses Dan Crenshaw controversy in new comedy special

"Saturday Night Live” doesn’t usually apologize when its satire offends. Here are unique moments when the crew offered an apology. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)
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On Nov. 3, 2018, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson mocked Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost his eye in an IED explosion while serving his third tour in Afghanistan, for wearing an eye patch. In a “Weekend Update” segment ahead of the midterm elections, Davidson compared Crenshaw to “a hit man in a porno movie,” adding: “I’m sorry. I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.”

A week later, the scene that played out on the SNL set was one that fans had probably never seen before. Davidson was sitting next to Crenshaw behind the “Weekend Update” desk — and the comedian was apologizing to the newly elected congressman.

“I made a joke about Lieutenant Commander Dan Crenshaw, and on behalf of the show and myself, I apologize,” said Davidson. He later added: “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.”

Why you’ve never seen a ‘Saturday Night Live’ apology like Pete Davidson’s

At the time, many viewers thought that the apology was heartfelt and genuine. But in a new Netflix stand-up special released Tuesday, Davidson appeared to take a different stance on the controversy that prompted his surprising mea culpa.

“I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” the 26-year-old said onstage at the Gramercy Theatre in New York. “It was like words that were twisted so that a guy could be famous.”

Dan Crenshaw started the week as a punchline and ended it as a star. The real story came before that.

Davidson dedicated a portion of the roughly hour-long show, titled “Pete Davidson: Alive From New York,” to addressing the fallout from his joke about Crenshaw, telling the audience he “kind of got forced to apologize” and pushing back against accusations that he helped get the Republican congressman elected.

The deep dive into the November 2018 incident began about halfway through Davidson’s set when he brought up how he often finds himself in trouble, pointing to the Crenshaw backlash as a prime example.

“I made fun of this guy with an eye patch and then I kind of got forced to apologize ‘cause like people were threatening to shoot me in the face,” Davidson said, noting that his mother was among the group of people urging him to make amends in light of the death threats.

Davidson went on to explain that he had been tasked with roasting politicians for a segment on “Weekend Update.” After seeing a photo of Crenshaw, who at the time was running for Congress, Davidson said he wrote what he thought was “a harmless joke."

Then, just moments before going live, Davidson learned about Crenshaw’s past.

“One of my buddies who helped me write it goes, ‘Hey man, I just did some research,’ and I was like, ‘You just did some research now?’” Davidson recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that guy Dan Crenshaw? I think he might have lost his eye in a war or something like that.’ And I was like, ‘What?’”

Knowing that Crenshaw may have been injured in combat, Davidson said all he could do was “go out there and try to be mindful.” So he dropped the “hit man” one-liner and followed it with the rushed apology.

“I said, ‘Whatever,’ and people were like, ‘You hate America!’” he said. “No, I just didn’t want to be incorrect about how he lost his f---ing eye. Is that a f---ing crime?”

Davidson continued to defend himself, sarcastically apologizing for not having “baseball cards with all of [Crenshaw’s] stats and information.”

But Davidson’s attempt to “be mindful” backfired spectacularly.

The comedian and SNL executives weathered intense backlash from both sides of the aisle as politicians, talk show hosts, veterans and others condemned the bit and called for Davidson to apologize.

That demand was met on Nov. 10, 2018, when Crenshaw, who had just won his congressional race, joined Davidson on SNL. Crenshaw had a chance to throw some zingers at Davidson, including a reference to the comic’s broken engagement with pop singer Ariana Grande. The pair also appeared to share a moment after Crenshaw took time to remember Davidson’s father, a firefighter who died during 9/11.

While Davidson appeared to suggest in the new comedy special that his notable apology wasn’t entirely voluntary, he did issue another mea culpa in response to claims that he was responsible for getting Crenshaw elected.

“I did not make that guy win. That is America’s fault.” Davidson said. “The only thing I did do, which I am guilty of and I apologize for, is I did make that guy famous and a household name for no reason.”