From SNL and Kanye to flying into space: How Pete Davidson became the centre of absolutely everything

·5-min read
The universe according to Pete Davidson (Kevin Winter/John Phillips/Angela Weiss/Jamie McCarthy/Victor Boyko/Michael M Santiago/Kate Green/Getty Images/iStock)
The universe according to Pete Davidson (Kevin Winter/John Phillips/Angela Weiss/Jamie McCarthy/Victor Boyko/Michael M Santiago/Kate Green/Getty Images/iStock)

Earlier this week, news broke that Saturday Night Live comedian and current Kim Kardashian suitor Pete Davidson will be fired into space on one of Jeff Bezos’s phallic Blue Origin rockets – talk about “Big Dick Energy”. Did it matter that Davidson’s trip was axed under mysterious circumstances just two days later? No. If anything, the aborted space voyage only confirmed what keen observers of pop culture already knew: Pete Davidson gets himself absolutely everywhere.

How did a gangly, 6 ft 3 comic – who once described himself as looking like he “should be outside a car dealership flapping in the wind” – end up at the centre of everything?

It wasn’t so long ago that you could be forgiven for not knowing who Davidson was. Born in Staten Island, New York City in 1993, Davidson first tried his hand at stand-up comedy at the age of 16 at a local bowling alley. He quickly made a name for himself on the city’s competitive stand-up circuit, and in 2012 made his first TV appearance at the age of 19 on Failosophy, an MTV show hosted by fellow rising star Hasan Minhaj. The show was dedicated to internet “fails”. In his very first segment Davidson was required to choose which of three dating profile picture “fails” he’d date, room with or call the cops on. One was a guy with a pair of hearts shaved into his chest hair. “I’d bang the dude with the hearts,” was Davidson’s first ever on-air line. These seven words set the tone for his comedic career to come: bawdy and unabashed, but delivered with an earnest sweetness that made him seem relatable.

A couple of low-profile MTV and Comedy Central appearances followed, which led to a small role in the Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck. It was while filming for the movie that he met Bill Hader, who suggested to Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels that Davidson might be a good fit for the famed sketch show. Michaels agreed, making Davidson one of SNL’s youngest ever cast members when he joined at the tender age of 20 in September 2014. Before long he was 69ing The Rock – in a poison dart sketch – and well on his way to becoming a fan favourite.

His appeal was obvious: a down-to-earth freshness paired with a fearless ability to wear his own pain on his sleeve. He spoke openly about the devastation he’d experienced as a seven-year-old when his firefighter father Scott died in the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks. Davidson’s candidness about his loss gave his jokes extra bite. In 2015 he appeared at a Comedy Central “roast” of Justin Bieber and told fellow participants Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart that watching their panned movie Soul Plane had been “the worst experience of my life involving a plane”.

Davidson’s star continued to rise, but he finally crossed over into the pop culture major leagues in 2018 when he began dating chart supernova Ariana Grande. Their romance was a whirlwind one. They got together in May and by the following month had announced their engagement. The relationship made for perfect tabloid fodder, as Grande had only recently broken up with rapper Mac Miller. Davidson soon entered a far more bizarre level of fame, when he became the face of “Big Dick Energy” – a term coined by a tweet from Grande that alluded to his particular appeal. She then wrote a song about him, 2018’s “Pete Davidson”. Even after their nuptials were called off in October, she referred to him again in break-up hit “Thank U, Next”, singing: “Even almost got married / And for Pete I’m so thankful.”

All of this seemed to do wonders for Davidson’s reputation, who went on to date Underworld actor Kate Beckinsale. Their short-lived relationship spurred further tabloid debate, much of it around the fact that she was two decades his senior. Davidson won more fans by pointing out the double-standard that men dating much younger women – naming Donald Trump, Alec Baldwin and Leonardo DiCaprio for starters – receive far less scrutiny. After they split, Davidson went on to have flings with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor, starry couplings which must have given him some preparation for dating one of the world’s most famous women: Kim Kardashian.

Davidson’s current relationship with Kardashian has lifted him to an even higher level of celebrity. That’s down to not just her fame, of course, but to the fact that her estranged husband Kanye West seems a touch obsessed with her new lover. West’s frequent attacks on Davidson have included the song “Eazy”. In it, he threatens to “beat Pete Davidson’s ass”, while its video features a claymation Davidson being kidnapped, buried and later decapitated.

Pete Davidson in his 2020 comedy vehicle ‘The King of Staten Island' (Mary Cybulski/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock)
Pete Davidson in his 2020 comedy vehicle ‘The King of Staten Island' (Mary Cybulski/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock)

All of that tabloid intrigue has come to somewhat overshadow Davidson’s day job. SNL is at least in part designed to make fun of the week’s headlines, but the show’s goal becomes not just confused but hopelessly meta when those headlines are about one of its biggest cast members. Davidson has recently missed episodes due to filming commitments elsewhere, namely a string of movies set to open soon, from slasher satire Bodies, Bodies, Bodies to romcom Meet Cute opposite Kaley Cuoco. He’s also recently announced Bupkis, a show based on his own life, à la Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. It represents a logical next step for someone whose life as a pop culture icon has outgrown his regular work.

Like Kardashian, Davidson is now most famous for being famous. Surely he’ll be hoping an autobiographical show will wring comic gold out of just how strange it is to be inside his unique goldfish bowl. It might be hard to come off as relatable when you’re being mentioned in the same sentences as “rocket ships” and “Jeff Bezos”, but for Davidson, world domination is no longer the ultimate prize: he wants to touch the sky, too.