By Sara Fraser
An examination of the rapidly increasing importance famous figures are playing on Saturday Night Live; feat. Pete Davidson.
On Saturday Night Live’s widely popular “Weekend Update” segment with Colin Jost and Michael Che, comedian Pete Davidson is a frequent guest. Known for his self-deprecating humor and eclectic comedic style, Davidson is never one to shy away from controversial topics.
I personally have been one of the few to love Davidson from the very beginning; a loyal fan through his first three seasons when no one else knew his name and his main appearances were as “resident young person,” Chad the monotone bro, and every high school kid ever.
I loved Pete Davidson; the underdog, the cast member who knew he didn’t really belong there, the kid with low self-esteem, with little experience, and almost no classic SNL comedic talents. One of Davidson’s main lines was “I’m not good at sketch comedy. I don’t know how to do that, or write it.”
Davidson was real: Since making his SNL debut in 2014, as one of the youngest cast members ever at age 20, Davidson fascinated audiences with his direct, honest, shoulder-shrugging comedic style. He often appeared as himself on "Weekend Update," where he joked about his personal life, covering topics such as his sobriety, mental issues, and extreme dislike of Staten Island. Creator and producer of SNL, Lorne Michaels, once stated “He has enormous charm on camera and audiences connect to him, and there's an honesty to him.”
This is the old Pete. The inconspicuous, awkward, honest, and sometimes rude 20-year-old I had come to know and love.
Now flash forward to the present, the real reason you probably clicked on this article in the first place, and the reason for Davidson’s newfound stardom: Ariana Grande. In a brief summary of an already short relationship, Pete and Ariana met during Ariana’s appearance as a guest on SNL in 2016. In May of 2018, the couple announced their relationship per Instagram, in July got matching tattoos, in June were engaged, in September decided to raise a pig together, and finally in October decided to call off the engagement, leaving dedicated fans wondering most importantly, who gets custody of the pig?
However the end to this tragic love story, though highly anticipated, had me wondering what all of this publicity meant in terms of SNL?
One of the main components of SNL is that no cast member is more important than the entire show, and one person’s fame should not distract from the show as a whole. This brings into question the special attention the show has devoted to the new coolest cast member, Pete. It all began on the season premiere “Weekend Update” segment, during which Davidson spent three and a half minutes joking about his recent engagement to Ariana Grande.
After news surfaced that Grande and Davidson had split, Davidson’s “Update” feature shifted into high gear. Davidson even jokingly proposed to Maggie Rogers in a promo for Episode 4, which most would agree ended in an extremely uncomfortable silence. The same episode’s “Weekend Update” ended in Davidson awkwardly and earnestly addressing the breakup.
While you may have assumed Pete’s short-lived stardom would begin to fizzle out after the famous fiancée left him, Davidson drew all of the attention to himself one more time on live television. In an Update sketch titled “first impressions,” Davidson ended up insulting a Republican candidate who had lost his eye in an IED explosion, calling Lieutenant Dan Crenshaw “a hit man in a porno movie.” Davidson faced backlash from multiple sides of the political spectrum for offending a veteran, and the controversy ultimately cumulated in SNL inviting Crenshaw to be a guest on Update and get the chance to insult Davidson’s appearance.
All this means that for the majority of this season, SNL has revolved around Pete Davidson: not the comedian, but Pete Davidson: the celebrity.
I personally am a little tired of the new “Weekend Update” status as a platform for Pete Davidson to share issues about his dating life, or lack thereof. And don't get me wrong, I think celebrities’ lives are fascinating. I loved Matt Damon’s spot-on performance of Brett Kavanaugh, as well as the past year of Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Donald Trump.
However, many critics dislike the amount of extremely famous personalities on the show. It is often pointed out that these celebs’ appearances outshine the actual cast members who aren’t given the opportunity to grow or endear themselves to the audience.
So, now it's up to SNL, will the show continue choosing to implement its short-term strategy of hiring famous actors for impersonations and generate higher viewer ratings? Or, will it decide to fairly feature its increasingly diverse cast?