NEW YORK – The first time Pete Davidson performed stand-up, he was 16. It was in front of a handful of people at a place called the Looney Bin Comedy Club in Staten Island. He describes it as inside a bowling alley and a Wendy’s and across the street from an LA Fitness.
“Which is the most Staten Island thing I ever heard,” says Davidson. “I remember when it wouldn’t go well, you could hear people bowling and getting strikes and spares."
As a standout performer on “Saturday Night Live” and the star of Judd Apatow’s new “The King of Staten Island,” the 26-year-old Davidson would normally be able to reflect on those humble origins from a higher perch. But because of the pandemic — and since he was about to move when the lockdown began — he’s back in his mother’s house in Staten Island, living in the basement.
“This is my basement but it’s also my bedroom, which is even more embarrassing,” says Davidson, smiling on a recent interview by Zoom with his bed in the background.
It’s an ironic place for Davidson to be since “The King of Staten Island,” a comedy Davidson co-wrote with Apatow and Dave Sirus, begins with him playing videogames in his mom’s basement. The movie is about him getting off the couch, reluctantly making something of himself and finding some peace with the death of his father.
From the start, Davidson’s gleefully squirm-inducing comedy has been open and self-referential. The first joke he ever told onstage was about when he asked for a car and his mom said he could have a Mongoose. “I got really excited because I thought it was like a German car,” he says. “I thought it was like a Kia Mongoose.”
In appearances on Weekend Update, he often uses his own life for punchlines, self-deprecatingly and bemusedly drawing on the media coverage that has followed him through mental health issues and a high-profile romance with the pop singer Ariana Grande.
And yet Davidson feels widely misunderstood. “The King of Staten Island may change that. The movie, he says, “is 100% me.”