Pete Davidson’s destiny was set when he was a kid.
His father, Scott, a firefighter with the FDNY’s Ladder 118 in Brooklyn Heights, was a big fan of standup comedy.
“[Pete] saw that standup made his father happy,” Cris Italia, Pete’s former manager, told The Post. Years after Scott died on 9/11 — when Pete was just 7 years old — “that [memory] was what drove Pete. That was why he was in clubs at 16. He needed to be there.”
It’s also why he sought out a mentor during his teen years, as he bounced among three high schools — St. Joseph-by-the-Sea and Tottenville on Staten Island, and Xaverian in Brooklyn — because of what a source calls “behavioral issues.”
“My daughter went to Tottenville High School with Pete,” Craig Loydgren, a Staten Island-based comedian, told The Post. “He confronted her one day and said, ‘Your dad is a standup comic. Can I meet him?’ ”
Loydgren was immediately smitten by Pete’s personality as well as his talent, and set him up for his first open mike at a makeshift comedy club in the back of a Staten Island bowling alley.
“Everywhere I took him, everyone wanted to be a part of [what Pete was doing]. You knew there was something a little special about him. I told his mom he had the ‘It’ factor,” said Loydgren.
But Loydgren was more than just a career start for Pete. He was also a father figure.
“I considered him one of my kids. He used to tell me that he was my favorite child,” Loydgren said. “My kids used to bust my chops, saying I would do anything for him.”
Comedian Dan Soder, who plays Dudley on “Billions,” was also impressed by Pete’s teenage talent.
“I saw Pete smoking a cigarette,” Soder remembered of spotting the then-16-year-old at the Dugout comedy club on Staten Island.
“I told him he was too young to smoke and that if he quit, I’d sneak him into Caroline’s to see Bill Burr, his favorite comedian. He agreed. [Pete went] backstage and was thrilled to meet Bill. The promise to quit smoking didn’t work, but he’s got Bill in his new movie, playing Pete’s mom’s boyfriend.”
That movie, “The King of Staten Island,” available Friday on demand, is at least partly autobiographical, with Pete starring as a lovable and awkward butt-of-jokes pothead trying to deal with emotional issues while searching for a place in the world.
Written by Pete, his pal Dave Sirus and director Judd Apatow, it imagines how the “Saturday Night Live” star’s life might have shaken out if he had not hit it big in comedy.
Pete plays an aspiring tattoo artist — named Scott, like Pete’s real dad — living with his mom, struggling over the death of his father and unable to cut the apron strings. Things get dicey for the Scott character when his mother starts dating for the first time in 17 years and winds up with a blowhard played by Burr.
While it’s an alternate universe, there are plenty of true-to-life points — Pete actually does reside at home with his mom, school-nurse Amy, although he purchased the $1.3 million Annadale home with her, and he lives in the tricked-out bachelor-pad basement.
“Pete’s mom never dated again [following the death of her husband]. That was a central idea of the movie,” Sirus told The Post. The idea was “to make a story out of every terrible thing that has happened to Pete. Judd saw this as a moment to tell a story not just about Pete’s dad, but everyone who lost somebody that they really care about. You can’t just throw infinite d–k jokes at the movie, which is what Pete and I would have done.”
The film is also said to be something of a love letter to extended adolescence on Staten Island, the borough Pete’s long had a love-hate relationship with — regularly bashing it in his standup and on “SNL,” but also supporting local fundraisers and even sporting a Verrazano-Narrows Bridge tattoo among his acres of ink. Plenty of locals make appearances in the film, including Pete’s best friend, standup Ricky Velez, and even the star’s paternal grandfather, Stephen.
“The idea was to make a story out of every terrible thing that has happened to Pete.”
– Screenwriter Dave Sirus on the Pete Davidson movie ‘The King of Staten Island’
“Pete thought it was hilarious when we decided to let his own grandfather play his character’s grandfather in the movie,” said Sirus. “I never saw Pete so elated as he was when he watched his grandfather learn his lines and be a diva on the set. His grandfather asked the producer, ‘What’s the timeline on this paycheck?’”
The only one missing, of course, was Pete’s father. From all accounts, he would have been tickled by the proceedings. A friend who asked not to be named remembered Scott as a “good-time Charlie.”
“Pete’s old man was a ball buster,” said Loydgren, who knew him from when Scott tended bar. “Pete got a lot from him. I think [his dad’s death] made him. The funnier you are, the deeper your pain.”
“Pete and I can joke about his father, but it is still painful for him,” Sirus added. “People don’t realize that it still feels new for him. He never got over it.”
Pete’s comedic ascent was rapid. Spotted by Nick Cannon, he got tapped to appear on the MTV show “Wild ’N Out” at 19. Before his 20th birthday, he was a touring comic with a growing following and a burgeoning collection of tattoos.
“Probably the first tattoo he got is the most meaningful,” former girlfriend Carly Aquilino, who remains friends with Pete and has a bit part in “The King of Staten Island,” told The Post. “It’s his dad’s [FDNY badge] number.”
All his ink is more than adornment. In a recent interview with Charlamagne tha God, Pete said, “I cut my chest. That is why I started getting tatts on my chest to cover [the cut marks]. It is a release. [When I’m] so manic and so upset, something like that is the only thing that works for me.”
While Davidson was killing on stage, he was hurting inside.
“He was dealing with mental issues as a kid,” said Italia, now a partner in the comedy club The Stand. “There were good days and bad days and he handled it as best he could. Comedy allowed him to go to places where he never would have been able to go otherwise.”
Other comics related. Following a bit role in the film “Trainwreck,” co-star Bill Hader arranged an “SNL” audition for Pete. Producer Lorne Michaels was taken by his jittery style and signed him to a contract in 2014. It landed Pete in the national spotlight and also gave him another “father figure” in Michaels, as he recently said.
But that close relationship has also stoked some tensions at 30 Rock. In his six seasons on the show, Pete hasn’t had as much airtime as other players, but — between his outspoken “Weekend Update” appearances and his high-profile romances with pop star Ariana Grande, actress Kate Beckinsale and model Kaia Gerber — has garnered more of a public spotlight than all of them combined.
In February, an “SNL” source told Page Six, “Pete has a pretty cushy gig, to say the least. The cast isn’t into him. He’s just there — he doesn’t add much.” The source explained that Pete benefited from Michaels’ favoritism, saying the comedian was given time off to shoot the “Suicide Squad” movie sequel in Atlanta and was allowed to skip the show for Velez’s wedding, adding that such time off is “unheard of.”
Two months after Pete split from Grande in October 2018, he posted an alarming message to Instagram, saying, “I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore.” It was an “SNL” show day, and the NYPD was summoned to do a wellness check at the studio. Pete was said to be fine, although he appeared on that night’s telecast only to introduce the musical guest.
Four months ago, he talked to Charlamagne the God about the show: “I’m literally painted out to be this big dumb idiot. I personally think I should be done with that show because they make fun of me. They think I’m f–king dumb . . . I have a weird feeling in that building where I don’t know . . . if I’m the joke or I’m in on the joke.”
An “SNL” source told The Post, “Pete isn’t on [the show] a lot partly out of choice. It’s a point of frustration for other people on the show . . . that he spends a lot of time doing other projects and takes a lot of time off. He doesn’t have a lot of writing duties. He’s pretty anomalous in how little he’s really engaged with the week-to-week making of the show. But Pete definitely brings with him a certain audience, so he gets away with it.”
Despite how “SNL” has changed his life, even from the beginning Pete thought it was an awkward fit.
“He was surprised [he got it],” said Sirus. “His attitude was, ‘Why would they hire me? I don’t do sketches.’ He didn’t know what he would do.”
Besides emotional issues, which his movie character shares, Pete suffers from asthma and Crohn’s disease, which, in terms of the coronavirus, puts him in a high-risk group.
Pete and Sirus are still writing together, but Sirus takes great precautions. “When I go to the basement, I put on my mask and tape it down so the air comes through the mask rather than up and down,” he said. “Pete’s doctor told him he is more vulnerable than other people his age. Pete thinks I’m overdoing it, but I don’t want to be the one to make him sick.”
Pre-pandemic, friends would regularly drop by the basement for gaming and tattoo sessions. While shooting “The King of Staten Island,” Davidson hung out there with Steve Buscemi, who plays a firefighter in the movie, and Sirus, watching Rodney Dangerfield movies.
Lately, “the [only] other person there is Jay Crillz,” said Sirus of Pete’s rapper pal. “Jay doesn’t wear a mask because he’s in [Pete’s] circle of quarantine.”
The current scene is a far cry from the Grande days, when Davidson became overnight tabloid fodder.
“That level of fame was not good for Pete,” said Sirus. “He was not dating Ariana for that. He dated her because he loved her. If Pete could wave a magic wand and never be photographed again, he would die for it.”
The comedian is said to be single at the moment and enjoying the lockdown as a break from the craziness of the world. At home in the basement “is the best place for him to be” right now, said Sirus.
“Women all want to mother Pete. He has a quality where he is adorable and humble and they want to hug him and make him better,” added Italia of the star’s romances. “Women think they can save him. That’s why these relationships don’t work out. He can only save himself.”
Additional reporting by Sara Nathan