Alive From New York is the perfect reintroduction to Pete Davidson

In his debut stand-up special, Alive From New York, Pete Davidson shows he’s ready to step away from the spotlight and expand creatively.

Throughout his time on Saturday Night Live, the person Pete Davidson has always been more captivating and funny than the characters he plays. It took the show’s writers awhile to figure out the best ways to use its youngest-ever cast member, whom they initially seemed to stick into the hole that innovator Andy Samberg left behind. Lately, Saturday Night Live has capitulated to what makes Davidson hilarious — the deadpan, the absurdism, and the self-deprecation.

Audiences have gotten to know Davidson mostly through his appearances on Weekend Update, SNL’s mid-show news segment. In those segments, Davidson often appears onstage as himself, riffing on the events of the week. Based on the glee of Davidson’s new stand-up special, Alive From New York, out today on Netflix, it’s clear the charisma and brutality of Davidson’s comedy work even better in a one-man show than within the confines of SNL’s sketches.

Few comedians establish who and what they are more effectively than Davidson. Covered head to waist in tattoos — though hidden in this performance by his “lady suit” — and with an accent as thick as any, Davidson is a product of Staten Island. He’s also still very young. The clash of that specific point of view with the grand stage upon which Davidson’s been placed is what makes Alive From New York so interesting.

Most non-SNL viewers will know Davidson from his relationship with pop star Ariana Grande. Though Davidson seems not to regret much about the fling itself (except that he wishes he saw a dermatologist before the paparazzi descended), the aftermath drove him crazy. Davidson doesn’t have to do much to get a laugh, but he’s clearly not at peace with how fame works right now. “My biggest fear is I’m going to get shot in the back of the head by a 9-year-old with a ponytail,” he says.

He takes umbrage with the way the media and fans reacted to the way Grande shot him down after their breakup. Grande casually let loose with a personal joke about the size of his package in an interview and recently told Vogue her relationship with Davidson was an “unrealistic” distraction. Though Davidson notes he’s not on Twitter (which he calls “the new pearly gates” in a nod to every comedian’s favorite topic, cancel culture), the way the internet affects his personal life and job seems to really get to him.

Davidson’s approach to stand-up is not unlike his appearances on Weekend Update. Though the constant pecking of jokes is reminiscent of one-liner comedians like Demetri Martin, he brings a nervous energy to the stage that seems to borrow from Adam Sandler, another former SNL cast member to whom Davidson has been frequently compared to. When it comes to his self-awareness and incredibly informal stage presence, Davidson reminds of Louis C.K., the infamous once-superstar whose fall Davidson chronicles from his own point of view to open Alive From New York.

Again, the hyper-personal converges with the highly public as Davidson tells his Louis C.K. story. The star was hosting SNL during Davidson’s first season and complained to executive producer Lorne Michaels about Davidson’s dependency on marijuana. Michaels called Davidson into his office, and Davidson (who has been open about his borderline personality disorder diagnosis and discussed his stint in rehab earlier this year) worried he will get fired. Instead, Davidson says Michaels’ eyes implied they are only having this conversation because C.K. made a stink. Davidson contorted his eyes to say, “Oh, OK, homie,” and they moved on.

One can’t help but think of Davidson’s recurring role as Chad in this series of SNL sketches when hearing this tale. Davidson embraces ridiculousness to highlight the stupidity of the things he makes fun of, whether it be Grande or C.K.

When Davidson discusses the controversy he started when he joked about U.S. congressman Dan Crenshaw’s eyepatch in a 2018 Weekend Update appearance, he resents those who blamed him for the unpopular Crenshaw’s victory in that year’s midterm elections. “The only thing I’m sorry for is I made that guy famous and a household name for no reason,” Davidson says. “I basically did what Ariana Grande did for me.”

While Davidson spends much of his debut special responding to his journey through gossip headlines over the past few years, it’s what makes the timing so interesting. Many know the name Pete Davidson (Grande named a song after him, after all), but not many know him on his own terms. We’re being reintroduced to someone at the perfect time.

With a film — co-written and directed by Judd Apatow — opening in March, Davidson isn’t going anywhere. SNL clearly gave him a platform few other comedy avenues can, but in Alive From New York, Davidson shows he may already be ready to break away from it. As a stand-up comedian, the way he began his career, Davidson is still a little raw and quite referential in style, but with a devastating and developed voice.