Pete Davidson, Cancel Culture and the State of Comedy

Ryan Hill, Contributing Writer

It’s no surprise that there was one main event on everyone’s mind this past weekend: Pete Davidson’s anticipated visit to the University. No matter how much you know about pop culture and celebrity news, you’re bound to be aware of the constant media frenzy as of late around Davidson. This highly anticipated event led many to wonder how Davidson would react, and to what level he would be his typical uncensored, unabridged self. What we received was a combination of comedic bits fueled by the questions and the energy of the audience, as well as his take on the modern state of the comedy world and his place in it. Given his background, it’s no surprise his thoughts on this topic came off as dismissive and rubbed me the wrong way that Davidson never had before.

I grew up watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) every Saturday night, excited for the current celebrities to have their turn with famous cast members like Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Kenan Thompson. There’s no doubt that Davidson has joined the rank of famous and successful SNL cast members, due to his distinctive personality and his edgy (to say the least) standup. Davidson often jokes about his history with drugs and makes frequent references to his father who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks while serving as a first responder. This apprehensive style of comedy certainly put him on the map, and it makes sense considering he cited some of his core inspirations as the currently controversial Dave Chappelle and John Mulaney. He made several comments regarding their impact on him during the interview on the Sunday, specifically citing Mulaney as a close friend. Given Chappelle’s recent scandal during his comedy special “The Closer” where he insulted the trans community, and Mulaney’s recent news involving his divorce fresh out of rehab, it was surprising to hear Davidson still praise them.

Davidson’s bias towards these star comedians, along with his own comedic taste and flair, can clearly be attributed to his belief that today’s comedy scene is terrible to be in because of the public’s tendency to cancel problematic comedians. I find this to be very generalized and dismissive of our world’s evolving social climate. The fact that many of these recent backlashes are against many of Davidson’s idols explains why he finds PC (politically correct) culture harmful. 

His generation grew up with comedians not afraid to make a joke targeted towards race, gender or a large assortment of other stereotypes. To be fair, and this isn’t all-encompassing, I believe there are appropriate ways to joke around these topics. Some of the best stand-up bits in the world come from Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Bill Burr’s outside look on racial norms during modern times. However, when these jokes are presented in a way that actively dismisses and mistreats whole groups of people is when boundaries need to be drawn. Many fans of the comics will argue that it’s all a part of the joke and they would never mean to do any harm, but even if they didn’t “mean it in that way” people who do have bigoted tendencies will certainly look at these jokes with full seriousness.

Frankly, I’m sure Davidson doesn’t intentionally generalize, and given how he presented himself on Sunday he probably does understand the damage hateful speech may do. To his credit, I believe his comedy strikes a healthy yet edgy balance between what’s appropriate and what’s not. However, he and many other comics in his position surely feel scared to perform comedy now because of fear they may be canceled next. The truth is, these comics have nothing to worry about as long as they can truly check themselves and their own biases before performing what they think is funny, but what others may perceive as derogatory. I’m a fan of Davidson, and always have been, but I just hope he can realize the larger problem within comedy rather than defending his own heroes that have done wrong.

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