The dust may already have settled on comedian Pete Davidson’s set by the time you read this. Maybe you heard his jokes were offensive, and maybe you heard that someone showed him a tattoo he got on his backside.
“He objectively bombed,” Will Morton ’20 told me. Morton is a Davidson fan, and he’s also the tattooed individual. We’ll return to him later.
Davidson, 24, performed about an hour of stand-up to a packed Rosse Hall last Saturday night and was booked by Social Board and the Office of Student Engagement. Davidson is a cast member on Saturday Night Live. His comedy is often self-deprecating, and talks about relationships, sex and family. It sometimes involves mental health, which he didn’t shy away from during his performance. Yet many students found some of his material offensive and were disappointed by his act.
Another comic, Derek Gaines, opened for him. Among other things, he noted that there weren’t many black people in the audience, and made some more jokes about how he grew up in the suburbs. He told jokes about how we consider white kids who can beatbox exceptional, and then hyped the crowd up for Davidson by beatboxing quite well.
When Davidson came out, he appeared tired, and said that he’d taken a lot of Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication. He emphasized that he was having a bad day, and that was apparent. He performed like someone just woke him up from a nap. He walked out and suggested the audience lower their expectations.
Davidson didn’t appear to have a set planned. After a few bits, he tried to wring out a lot of material regarding Gambier, its isolation and its lack of racial diversity. Although the audience laughed after several of these jokes, they really didn’t land the same way after the first couple of times he tried them.
Chloe (Teddy) Hannah-Drullard ’20 reflected on these jokes on Facebook.
“Race jokes can be funny, as evidenced by last night’s opener,” Drullard wrote. “Jokes ABOUT racists are almost always funny. But racist jokes are not funny, nor is it funny to insist that people should laugh at them because ‘there are only four Black people in this room; we could beat the s—t out of them.’”
One joke about the first time Davidson masturbated landed, which involved him tossing a glass of water onto himself at the joke’s climax. And really, he was funny at the beginning of the show, like when he told a joke about how biting it is to call other adult males “losers,” instead of something sharp involving profanity. It showed us how funny he could be, even when clearly he was having an off night and a bad time.
He started to play videos from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Instagram feed, using the mic to amplify the sound.
“What sucks is that the Rock is a really nice guy, and I’m kind of friends with him, but my job is to be honest and talk comedy and this motherf—er’s acting weird, so. There’s nothing behind his eyes,” Davidson said.
Here’s the part you probably heard about. About 50 minutes in, Davidson was chatting with people in the front row. He casually said that he liked a student’s hair, and noted that the student was dressed up in a suit. Davidson said he “must be a nice respectful young man.” That student was Sam Turecki ’21. Audience members booed immediately and Davidson seemed confused and asked, “Oh, does he suck?” Turecki is one of the editors-in-chief of The Campus Constitutional, the new right-wing publication on campus that has been criticized for its treatment of topics like gender identity and male privilege.
The crowd started cheering. The show, already going poorly, was not really the same after that. The room felt horrible in that moment, and the ugliness hung over the rest of the performance. Turecki declined to comment further.
Davidson was very critical about the moment as well. “I am shocked at all of you, no seriously … this is why people kill themselves … it’s because this whole entire f—ing audience just booed one kid,” he said.
Rachel Arens ’18 was disappointed by the show, especially because it had been so hyped by the Office of Student Engagement and Social Board, and she brought up the moment with Turecki in particular.
“I wanted to leave, I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself and the Kenyon community,” she said. She said that she booed as well, and that she regretted it. Morton said something similar, and many students did leave before the show was over.
Maddie Lockyer ’20 explained to Davidson why some students might have felt the need to boo in the Q&A portion of the show.
“While the booing was unacceptable, I thought Kenyon deserved someone to give an explanation regarding why people may have wanted to boo Sam. There are two sides to this story and I felt only one was being heard.” She said she apologized to Turecki after the show and that it was never her intention to hurt him.
“I got the sense that people didn’t really know who Pete Davidson was,” Morton said, suggesting that much of his comedy was similar to the content we saw on Saturday night, and that students should not have been so surprised.
A few hours before the show, Morton got a tattoo saying “mistakes have been made but whatever” on his backside. He showed Davidson the tattoo during the show, and was able to spend some time with him after he performed. He told me that Davidson’s work really spoke to him because he survived a suicide attempt and has struggled with mental illness.
“To see someone with that sense of humor doing things like that around my age with those kinds of problems is something I really appreciate, and something I identify with,” he said.
But in reality: With the extraordinary amount of hype around his set, maybe we should have anticipated some of his content. In 2015, Jerry Seinfeld said he avoids performing on college campuses, and Davidson said one of his favorite comics was Dave Chapelle. Although Chapelle can be hilarious, his recent Netflix special was criticized by some for an insensitive bit about transgender people.
Perhaps Davidson himself said it best once he realized it wasn’t going well. “I’m ripping your school off right now, stop clapping,” he said. “They should just buy a TV instead of getting me to come here, put some f—ing lights on the f—ing side of the street.”