Although I am a noted fan of celebrity gossip, there is perhaps no celebrity whose personal life I could care less about than former SNL hottie Pete Davidson. The “drama” surrounding the star is monotonous, mostly honed in on the star’s roller coaster of a dating life. Davidson was engaged to Ariana Grande, as well as had newsworthy flings with Larry David’s daughter Cazzie, Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor, Bodies Bodies Bodies co-star Chase Sui Wonders, and yes, even Kim Kardashian.
Big whoop! A dating resume is as boring as it sounds. This, unfortunately, is what the general populace might think of when they hear the name “Pete Davidson.” To some, he’s a serial dater with “BDE” (big dick energy) and too many tattoos. He has two Razzie Award nominations under his belt, for Marmaduke and Good Mourning, in which he starred alongside his good pal Machine Gun Kelly.
This is all to say: Davidson doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation in the celebrity world. But I plead with you all to look past his dating history and whatever other reputations he’s developed over the course of his career. You don’t need to be a Pete Davidson fan—in fact, you can be a hater—to enjoy his work.
I, too, was a bit of a hater before the comic’s biggest starring role, Judd Apatow’s feature The King of Staten Island, dropped in 2020. Why was I supposed to have any semblance of interest in Davidson, whose hobbies were picking up A-List girlfriends and selecting the world’s ugliest tattoos to illustrate onto his body? He’s not for everyone, and he wasn’t for me.
But seeing as it was summer 2020, still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and locked inside, there wasn’t too much else to watch. At the behest of my family, I forked over $20 to Davidson to stream his movie—and boy, was I shocked by how delightful it was.
By no means is The King of Staten Island a perfect film. Disliking the story is understandable, but to only hate—or ignore altogether—the movie because of Davidson’s presence is a stretch. Apatow and Davidson’s story follows a fictionalized version of Pete (“Scott Carlin”), as he comes of age later in life, emotionally dealing with the death of his father in 9/11 and trying to sort out his messy dating life. It’s not that The King of Staten Island is all that original—it feels the same as any coming-of-age story. But as Scott, Davidson is nearly as electric as Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird or Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood. (Emphasis on the nearly.)
Three years later, Davidson strikes hearty comedic gold once again with a similar concept, Bupkis. The new Peacock show, once again, follows the tale of his own life. Just like The King of Staten Island, the appeal of Bupkis lies not with how unique it is—it is essentially a dumbed-down Curb Your Enthusiasm, but with edgy, millennial-centric jokes about vaping, social media, and sex—but how well it sticks to a classic comedy show format to allure its viewers.
Davidson himself shouldn’t be the draw for either film—and similarly, he shouldn’t be what pushes viewers away. Bupkis is fun not only because it is so incredibly short (at a time when Ted Lasso is now an hourlong dramedy, we could use 25 minutes of levity), but it also features appearances from an array of acting legends, like Edie Falco, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, and beloved comics like Charlie Day and John Mulaney. Unlike certain photos of Davidson—and I wouldn’t feel as comfortable making this joke if it weren’t for Episode 3, which expertly teases a wonky Wikipedia photo of the actor at age 15—Bupkis is easy on the eyes.
His personal stories are great, and Davidson is charismatic in just about everything he appears in. In fact, his smaller roles may be even more appealing. I still wasn’t a huge fan of the comic in 2018, when he appeared in Netflix’s Set It Up. Pete Davidson as the gay best friend? Weird! But for some reason, it works! (Or rather, it doesn’t work at all, and I simply enjoyed chuckling at how preposterous the character was. Either way, I laughed, I had fun, and I’m glad he was in the film.)
Right before The King of Staten Island, he also starred in the underrated Big Time Adolescence, as an unfit mentor for a high school student. It’s silly, it’s goofy, it’s only 90 minutes, and it’s streaming on Hulu. There are few things as great in the field of entertainment as a short, charming coming-of-age flick available to stream on any given movie night.
It’s almost like Lorne Michaels, revered producer of SNL, knew what he was doing when he cast Davidson to the sketch comedy show in 2014. Though Davidson has developed quite the image for himself—and both Bupkis and The King of Staten Island work to unpack that fame—I’d argue that it’s worth looking past his reputation to enjoy such watchable comedies. Davidson’s name comes with a lot of loaded history, but the most important part of that legacy should be that he’s an all-star entertainer.