Pete Davidson spent eight seasons as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, a run that undoubtedly saw him go from an unknown stand-up comedian to legitimate fame — though it’s a bit of stretch to say that Davidson was ever all that famous for his work on the sketch comedy show. In the Season 49 premiere, which marked his first appearance as SNL guest host, Davidson acknowledged this dubious and often dark road to fame via the year's biggest hit movie, Barbie. "I'm Just Pete" parodied Ryan Gosling's "I'm Just Ken," retaining the original's faux-soul-searching, though in this case it was about how no one bothered to watch his Peacock comedy Bupkis. The song managed to touch on all of Davidson's greatest hits: the celebrity girlfriends, the stints in rehab, his bipolar disorder, the feud with Kanye West. Was there a reference to Big D*ck Energy? You bet.
This was Saturday Night Live's first new episode since April, when the show's 48th season was cut short due to the Writers Guild of America strike. Now that the WGA and the AMPTP have reached an agreement, the show's writers are back to work. And since the SNL cast members work under a Network Code Agreement, which is a separate contract than the one SAG-AFTRA is currently striking, the show is back with a full roster.
Davidson, who was due to host the show back in May before the strike, opened Season 49 on a somber note, acknowledging the terrorist and military actions in Israel and Palestine and referencing his own history as the son of a firefighter who died in the September 11th attacks. For the first third of the show, the only character Davidson played was Pete Davidson: After the opening credits, he launched right into some stand-up comedy, followed by the "I'm Just Pete" video, followed by a Please Don't Destroy sketch in which he played the traditional "host wandering into the PDD office and encountering some foolishness" role.
As the night rolled on, though, Davidson found himself in more and more sketches, as the focal point or, just as often, a role player. He was, after all, the host, and the host usually appears in almost every sketch. Ironically, in an episode that started off going out of its way to cater to Davidson's peculiar comedic niche, Davidson wound up establishing more of a presence than he ever had as a cast member.
This seemed oddly fitting, since Davidson was never treated like a typical SNL cast member. For his first several years, he mostly just performed barely-tweaked standup comedy bits on Weekend Update. In the grand majority of traditional, non-pretaped sketches, he was either sidelined or struggled to keep from laughing. In his later years on the show, Davidson was much more notable for his extracurriculars than for any recurring character or memorable sketch.
Despite Davidson's crossover fame — he's still mostly known for his litany of ex-girlfriends and the incredulity it inspires that he's blazed a path through Hollywood's starlets — it seemed awfully soon to have him back as a guest host, after only one season away from the show. SNL has definitely been trending towards inviting former cast members back as guest hosts earlier and earlier into their post-SNL careers, but Davidson's career hasn't exactly blown up since he left. Neither King of Staten Island nor Bupkis made much of a mark. And he didn't even mention his current supporting role in the film Dumb Money during the Season 49 premiere.
In a way, Davidson's hosting gig served as the same kind of stunt as Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce walking on for brief cameos. Davidson never quite felt like the same kind of cast member as everyone else. He was subject to his own rules and had his own high-profile alumni benefactors like John Mulaney. "I'm Just Pete" may express incredulity that Davidson became a crossover celebrity, but that's pretty much what he had been for the majority of his SNL career. At least this time around, the show threw him into some sketches.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 PM ET on NBC and streams on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.