SNL castmember Pete Davidson was 7 years old when his father, a New York City firefighter, died as a first responder in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. His dad's badge was later recovered from Ground Zero, and Davidson has worn it every day since.
"I'm very lucky that I have that piece to remember him by," he says. "He was one of the lucky ones that were found."
As a teenager, Davidson found that comedy helped ease his pain, and he began doing stand-up. "My goal was always to just bring light to the darkness," he says.
Davidson explores the loss of his father in the new dramatic comedy, The King of Staten Island. In it, he plays Scott, a fictionalized version of himself who's grieving after his father dies fighting a hotel fire. Director Judd Apatow calls the film a "hopeful story about somebody who starts opening up and getting support."
"We were trying to do something that was uplifting and honest about the struggles that people go through," Apatow says.
While working on the film, Davidson consulted with friends and former colleagues of his late father. He says the conversations helped him process the pain he had been holding on to.
"It's really a part of my life that I'm ready to move on from, and I think this [film] was the perfect thing for it," Davidson says.
On how Apatow and Davidson met, and their early forays into comedy
Judd Apatow: We're both complete comedy nerds. We're fans of comedy in addition to people who started doing stand-up at a young age. I know for me, I first became aware of Pete when we were casting Trainwreck. And I ask Amy [Schumer], "Who should I know? Who might we want to put in the movie?" And the first person she mentioned was Pete. And then we just went on YouTube and watched a bunch of clips of Pete, and they were hysterical. And then she told me he was 20 years old, which angered me, because I was so unfunny at 20. And it just seemed crazy how sophisticated and riotously funny his act was at such a young age. ...
Pete Davidson: I grew up having very few friends and I wasn't invited to a lot of parties and school and stuff like that, so it was the first time that I was able to speak freely and people would actually listen to me, and I really enjoyed that. And I liked how freeing it was. So it just felt really good to have anybody listen to what I had to say.
On using comedy to deal with trauma
Davidson: Comedy is a beautiful escape. It really just frees my mind from focusing on things that might be upsetting to me. And I think it really helped me grow as a person. And I'm really grateful for comedy and having it in my life.
Apatow: I think the thing that we all love about comedy is whenever anything bad happens, for a normal person, it's just bad. But when a bad thing happens to a comedian, they go, "This is gonna make a good bit." And anything terrible in life actually has a positive function to a comedian.
On how working on The King of Staten Island changed the way he thought of firefighters
Davidson: When I was little, when [my father died], I definitely felt that maybe it wasn't a job for people who had families, because of the consequences that could happen if, God forbid, you passed away on the job. But as I got to meet with these firemen and my dad's friends and just see how much they really loved what they were doing, and the sacrifices that they were making, and how important that job actually is, it made me feel differently towards it. And now I think a lot differently. ...
One of my dad's friends and a bunch of his colleagues were consultants on the film, and we got to be in the firehouse and I got to see the camaraderie and the friendships and the bonds that these people had with each other. They were brothers and they were going into battle together. And I just think that it's just a necessary, selfless job to have, and I think it's really important. ... And we're lucky to have people that are willing to do that. They're all heroes.
On posting on Instagram about his suicidal thoughts
Davidson: It was at a time in my life where things were very hectic, and a lot of pressure, and there wasn't a lot of kindness in the air towards me, and I think I just folded under pressure, and I had a true moment of honesty where I reached out, and I needed some help, and I just needed some things to stop.
Now, looking back, knowing that maybe posting something like that isn't the most mature thing you could do. There's certainly other ways to go about it, and I've definitely learned my lesson and know what steps to take to even preventing myself from getting into a place like that.
I didn't have the tools that I needed, or the smarts that I needed, or the information that I needed, to prevent myself from getting into a position like that. But I'm really lucky that things like that have happened because now I know how to handle them. ...
The thing about me is I'm very self-aware and sometimes a little too honest, and I think I have concerned people. And I'm not sure how to answer it, but I definitely am aware of it like that. To me, being honest and open is the best thing you could do because there's nothing to hide. But, yeah, I've definitely caused some concerns and there's certainly some things I'm not proud of. But I think those are the things that have taught me how to grow as a person.
On Davidson being the youngest cast member of SNL and feeling pressure to deliver
Davidson: I am still trying to figure out who I am as a person and as an adult, and I'm still growing and learning. But I was really lucky that I came in. And people like [SNL castmembers] Kenan [Thompson] and Kate [McKinnon] and [SNL producer] Lorne [Michaels], they really were sensitive to my age and the position I was in. And everybody really made it really comfortable for me and a very easy transition to the cast. I felt like family immediately, and they do a really good job over there at that.
Apatow: I think something that, you know, people don't talk much about is the pressure to be funny. It's really hard to deliver. The first show that I worked on ... [was] The Ben Stiller Show with Ben, and I was 24 years old when we first started it, which is a little younger than Pete is now, and we only did 13 episodes. I had no idea how to make a TV show. I was so stressed out I would sit in my room listening to self-help tapes and I would read Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And then when I wasn't doing that, I was praying we would get canceled, because I was so tired. And then we were canceled. My dream, sadly, came true.
But Pete and I, we both started really early, but as a result, we got excellent opportunities early. But it's hard to be thrown from being basically a teenager into high-profile situations where you really have to come through. It is a real learning on the job.
Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guests are Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow. Davidson stars in the new film "The King Of Staten Island," which will be available on demand starting tomorrow. Apatow co-wrote the film with Davidson, and he directed it.
Pete Davidson was 20 years old when he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live." For the past six seasons, he's been the show's youngest cast member. If you're a fan, it's easy to feel like you know him because he's hilarious appearing on Weekend Update as himself, whether it's talking about his mental health issues, dating famous women or growing up on Staten Island, where he's now living with his mother. Here's what he had to say about Staten Island talking on Weekend Update in 2017 with Colin Jost, who's also from Staten Island.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
PETE DAVIDSON: Don't get me wrong. Don't get me wrong. I know Staten Island isn't all heroin and racist cops, you know? It also has meth and racist firefighters.
COLIN JOST: I just want to say what you're describing is not the Staten Island I know, Pete.
DAVIDSON: Well, because they love you, you know, like, because you represent what they could be - you know, a kid who got out. He went to Harvard and now, apparently, according to People magazine, is the world's sexiest joke writer.
DAVIDSON: And, look; the reason Staten Island hates me is 'cause I represent what they are - you know, a mentally ill community college dropout...
DAVIDSON: ...Who got a "Game Of Thrones" tattoo before watching the show.
GROSS: Another thing many of Davidson's fans know about him is that his father was a firefighter who died in service at ground zero on 9/11. Davidson was 7 years old. "The King Of Staten Island" is a fictionalized version of how that traumatic loss affected him. It's a drama with comedy. Davidson's character, Scott, is kind of like the person Davidson might have been had he not become obsessed with comedy as a teenager and started performing. Scott's father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty. Scott has never gotten over his father's death, and although he's in his 20s, he's still stuck in adolescence. He lives with his mother, spends most of his time smoking weed with his friends and giving them tattoos. He's actually a pretty good tattoo artist but has no idea how to harness that talent.
Judd Apatow has written, directed and produced many films and has discovered and mentored many talented comic actors. Films he directed include "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Trainwreck," which starred Amy Schumer.
Let's start with a scene from early in "The King Of Staten Island," when Scott's younger sister is about to leave home for college. His sister is played by Maude Apatow, Judd Apatow's daughter.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND")
MAUDE APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) Be nice to mom, OK? Don't give her a hard time. She deserves a break.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) I always give her a break. I mean, when's - when am I going to get my break? Like...
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) What are you talking about? All anyone ever does is worry about you. I was ignored my entire childhood 'cause of you.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) Oh, yeah. I forgot that my childhood was so dandy.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) OK, you don't get to act crazy your whole life just 'cause dad died, OK? At least you got to know him.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) Well, you're lucky you didn't get to know him - OK? - 'cause that's why you're almost normal. If you got to know him, you would've known that he was, like, the coolest guy ever. And that would've ruined the rest of your life.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) OK, like, but what are you going to do? Are you going to get a job? Are you going to leave the house?
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) I don't know. I'm going to open that tattoo restaurant.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) No. Like, for real.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) I am being real. It's a great - it's never been done before. I looked it up. I Googled it. It's never been done, not even as a joke.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) 'Cause no one wants to go to a restaurant and watch people get tattooed while they eat. It's gross.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) It's the best idea ever. Ruby Tat Tuesdays, where everyone's welcome - chicken and tattoos.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) That's not a business. You know, you got to get your [expletive] together. Time is passing by very quickly.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) That's why I smoke weed all the time, OK? It slows it all down.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) I'm worried about you.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) Well, why now? Like, what gives? You never looked out for me once.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) You're my older brother. You're supposed to look out for me.
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) Are you just guilty 'cause you're leaving? Now, all of a sudden, you're afraid I'm going to die. I was going to die anyway, whether you stay or not.
M APATOW: (As Claire Carlin) Are you going to hurt yourself?
DAVIDSON: (As Scott Carlin) Probably. Yeah, I'm probably going to hurt myself. I don't know how, but, yeah, if anybody could do it, it's me.
GROSS: Pete Davidson, Judd Apatow, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the film. I really love it. Something that you obviously both have in common, you were both obsessed with comedy in your teens. I mean, Judd, you ran around, like, interviewing every comic that you could, and you have a book collecting those interviews. And, Pete, you were doing stand-up when you were 15. So is that a bond between the two of you, that early obsession that has continued through your lives?
JUDD APATOW: It's certainly a bond for me. I mean, we're both complete comedy nerds. You know, we're fans of comedy in addition to, you know, people who started doing stand-up at a young age. I know for me, you know, I first became aware of Pete when we were casting "Trainwreck." And I asked Amy, you know, who should I know? Who might we want to put in the movie?
GROSS: And the Amy is Amy Schumer, who starred in "Trainwreck."
J APATOW: That's right. And the first person she mentioned was Pete. And then we just went on YouTube and watched a bunch of clips of Pete, and they were hysterical. And then she told me he was 20 years old, which angered me because I was so unfunny at 20, and it just seemed crazy how sophisticated and riotously funny his act was at such a young age.
And it reminded me of when I met Adam Sandler when he was a similar age and I was the same age as Adam. I saw him at the Comic Strip in New York really late at night. And I just thought, well, I guess that's the guy. You know, I know it's not me. I think it's that guy. And, you know, Pete certainly has some similarities to Adam in the sense that he's funny, super young and brash and from New York. And I would say this, and I'm sure Adam would agree. He was way funnier at 20 than either of us were.
GROSS: Pete, when you were 15 and starting to do open mics, what was one of the first jokes that you told?
DAVIDSON: I started writing when I was 15. And then when I was 16, I finally got the bravery to try and do an open mic. The first joke I ever told was that I was about to get my driver's license and I was looking at getting cars. And I asked my mom if I can get a car, and she told me that I can get a Mongoose. And I'm stupid and didn't know what it was, so I got all excited. And then pretty much the punchline was, it's OK, I have pegs in the front and the back for the bitches. And...
DAVIDSON: That was my first joke.
GROSS: Oh, jeez.
DAVIDSON: Yeah. So, yeah, so I've come a long way since then.
DAVIDSON: But, yeah, that was my first crack at a joke.
GROSS: So several things I could say about that joke, but did you have to, among other things...
J APATOW: She's flummoxed. She did not expect that. Like, Terry, come on. That's 15.
GROSS: I'm flummoxed. I'm trying to explain my mixed feelings about that joke. It's a very funny joke. On the other hand, I just hate women being called bitches, so...
DAVIDSON: Oh, no. Yeah, so do I. It was definitely - definitely was an immature way of telling that joke, but I was 16, if that helps.
GROSS: Right, right, right. So you're kind of growing up onstage and maturing onstage. It's a time when people are especially awkward, and you're onstage. And you're especially self-conscious, and you are onstage. So what was that like for you to be onstage when - you know, with all of that happening?
DAVIDSON: You know, I grew up having very few friends and wasn't invited to a lot of parties and school and stuff like that. So it was the first time that I was able to, like, speak freely and people would actually listen to me. And I really enjoyed that, and I liked how freeing it was. So it just felt really good to have anybody listen to what I had to say.
GROSS: Why do you think people listen to you onstage and not at a party or in school? And obviously, you're onstage, it's your job to be listened to, but you could've just been heckled. You could've been ignored. People didn't have to laugh and pay attention to you just 'cause they were there.
DAVIDSON: I think I had a really lucky thing going, which was I was really young. There's not many 16-year-old stand-up comics running around. And I think, you know, not that it was a gimmick, but it was like - it was kind of like - I was the only person doing that. So I think it was just, like, interesting to a lot of people. And I think people at first listened to see, like, all right, let's see what this is. And then I think I did well enough that it kept their attention.
GROSS: Pete, let me ask you - since so much of the movie revolves around the character's father's death fighting a fire in a hotel, which is different than your father, who died fighting a fire on 9/11 at Ground Zero. You were 7 when your father died. How did your mother tell you what happened?
DAVIDSON: It was really tricky because it happened while I was at school. I pretty much got picked up and was told I was not allowed to watch television. And my mom really didn't - nobody really knew what was going on because it happened so fast. And they were still getting information. So I didn't really find out that my dad was involved until a couple of days after or, like, a week into it. And then once they started showing missing persons on the television, my mom had to break it to me that, you know, there's a chance that your father might not come home.
GROSS: So when you were 7, did you have a sense of what 9/11 was?
DAVIDSON: I didn't really understand what it was. But I definitely knew that something was wrong and that my mom was scared. And I could definitely sense that there was something wrong in the world.
GROSS: Your parents had divorced six months before 9/11. That must've just, like, added to the trauma.
DAVIDSON: Yeah. It was - I was - we were just getting used to that sort of visitation schedule. And it definitely made things a lot harder, for sure.
GROSS: Your mother had said that you were like a guinea pig in a lab testing the impact of 9/11 on the children of people who died at Ground Zero. What was she referring to?
DAVIDSON: I think when that happened, a lot of people just wanted to be helpful. And by doing that, they made a lot of sort of events where, like, you could go meet, like, the Giants. Or you could go meet some of the Mets. And, you know, like, look, kid. Here's a play station. Like, you know, don't be sad. So I really never got to fully grieve initially because there was so much going on.
And so many people wanted to help that I was kind of in a bit of a spotlight. And it made things a little more difficult than it needed to be. But I think, at the most part, people were just trying to help. And people didn't really know what to do at the time. And it was, I think, the best that they could do. So I don't really blame anybody or anything. I think it was just we were all learning.
GROSS: You know, your character thinks that firefighters shouldn't have families because firefighters are selfish. They miss birthdays. They hang out together and don't go home. Sometimes they don't come home for good. Did you believe that when you were growing up? And how do you feel about that now?
DAVIDSON: I think initially when I was little and that happened to me, I definitely felt that, like, maybe it wasn't a job for people who had families because of the consequences that could happen if, you know, God forbid, you passed away on the job. But as I got to meet with these firemen and my dad's friends and just see how much they really loved what they were doing and the sacrifices that they were making and how important that job actually is, it made me feel differently towards it. And now I think a lot differently.
GROSS: How did you get to talk with them about that?
DAVIDSON: One of my dad's friends and a bunch of, you know, his colleagues were consultants on the film. And we got to be, you know, in the firehouse. And I just got to see the camaraderie and just the friendships and the bonds that these people had with each other. And, you know, they were brothers. And they were going into battle together. And I just think that it's just a necessary, you know, selfless job to have. And I think it's, you know, really important.
GROSS: Was that the end of your sentence? Or did you want to - (laughter) I wasn't sure. I thought it....
DAVIDSON: Oh, no. Yeah. It was really - I just - I got a little choked up there.
GROSS: Oh, OK.
DAVIDSON: I think it's - yeah. I just think it's a really important, necessary job. And we're lucky to have people that are willing to do that. And they're all heroes.
GROSS: You learned about death from your father dying at Ground Zero, where he was fighting a fire. He was a firefighter. I know you've had suicidal thoughts. I know that because you've said that in your comedy. Do you see any connection between having your father die so young and knowing that a life can be taken so quickly and having some suicidal thinking yourself?
DAVIDSON: Yeah. I think, you know, usually a kid learns about death in high school. Usually there's a kid in high school that passes away, unfortunately. And, you know, you're a little older and able to deal with it. And you have - you're able to grieve with people. I was only 7, so it was such a shock. And to have it be somebody so close to me, I think it really taught me that, like, you know, life is certainly precious. And nobody has anything guaranteed.
So being suicidal is just - I always, you know, wanted to be with my dad. So that's where those thoughts come from. I just want to, you know - I really loved the guy. And I just wanted to hang with him. So I think that's where they come from.
GROSS: So he was a firefighter who died on 9/11. Did they ever find his body?
DAVIDSON: Yes, they did. They found him and they found his chain, his badge number and - which I wear - wore from the day they found him until today. So I'm very lucky that I have that piece to remember him by. But, yeah, he was one of the lucky ones that were found.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guests are comic Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and star of the new movie "The King Of Staten Island," and Judd Apatow, who directed the film. They both co-wrote the film. We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLORATONE'S "FRONTIERS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" who now stars in the new film "The King Of Staten Island," and Judd Apatow, who directed the film. They co-wrote the film. The main character draws on Davidson's life.
Pete, onstage, you draw on traumatic experiences in your life, like your father's death. You draw on your own mental health problems. And you turn it into something funny. That's hard to do because you don't want people to feel sorry for you WHEN you're onstage. You want them to think about their own lives. You want them to empathize with you and to laugh. At what point in your life did you feel like you can make that work, that you could transform difficult parts about your life and your feelings, your emotions and make it funny and make it something people would care about?
DAVIDSON: When my father passed and, you know, having, you know, suicidal thoughts, these are things that I really struggled with. And they really are scary. And they scared me. And I think, when you're able to make somebody laugh or make a joke out of the darkest thing, it really - it's healing. And it makes you feel a lot better. So my goal was always to just bring light to the darkness.
GROSS: When you were talking in-depth with firefighters who had worked with your father while you were making your new movie and you were learning new things about your father you didn't know, did it change your impressions of your father?
DAVIDSON: Yeah. Well, when I grew up, I felt this tremendous amount of pressure because I was told from 7, like, your dad's a hero. Like, he's the greatest. He made the ultimate sacrifice. So you know, that's a lot to live up to when you're, you know, young and trying to find yourself. So I always felt tremendous amount of pressure to, you know, try and, you know, match that or top that. How am I ever going to do that?
And when I talked to his friends in-depth about him and I found out that, you know, he had his issues just like everybody else and he was a bit of a party guy and, you know, it was the reason my parents, you know, got divorced - and it really, like, alleviated a lot of that stress off of me. And it made me realize that even though he is a hero, he does have his faults just like everyone else. And it kind of, in a weird way, was comforting because it made me feel OK with my faults.
GROSS: Do you think that was a problem when you were growing up, that you were measuring yourself against a father who you thought was a perfect hero?
DAVIDSON: Absolutely, yeah. I just always wanted to make him proud and, you know, make my mom and sister proud of me. So being told your dad is this, like, almost, you know, untouchable person, it definitely put a lot of stress on me. And it made me feel like I could never amount to anything. But when I talked to his friends, it really helped me, you know, feel better about myself and my dad. It's nice to know that, like, he was human, you know? It's nice to know that he was a real person.
GROSS: Yeah. But it's interesting that your mother kind of built him into this incredible hero when she'd actually separated from him and obviously thought of him as flawed.
DAVIDSON: Yeah. Well, you know, when you're young, you don't really see that. You don't really get that. Like, my mom couldn't be like, well, you know, your dad's doing X, Y and Z. My mom always defended my dad and painted him - because he was a great dad. I had no idea that anything was wrong growing up. So I don't blame her for anything like that because she's just, you know, she's a great mom. And she would never, you know, talk badly about him because he didn't do anything wrong to me or my sister.
GROSS: Were you surprised when they divorced?
DAVIDSON: I was really surprised. I remember the moment. I was like 6 years old. And they sat me down. And they were like, we're getting divorced. And I was like, why? And they were like, you know, sometimes things don't work out. And sometimes, you know, parents can't live together. And that's all that was told to me. And that's all that should have been told to me, I think, at that age.
J APATOW: I remember when I found out my parents were getting divorced. I heard them talking about it through the wall.
GROSS: Oh, gosh. Did you have your ear against the wall as you were listening?
J APATOW: Yes. I just heard the whole conversation. So Pete got no information. I got way too much information.
GROSS: What did you hear?
J APATOW: I'm not telling you, Terry. Get out of here.
GROSS: (Laughter) Come on. OK. Yeah. That's fine.
GROSS: OK. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guests are comic Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and star of the new movie "The King Of Staten Island," and Judd Apatow, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Davidson and with Dave Sirus. We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF HERLIN RILEY'S "RUSH HOUR")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with comic Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," who stars in the new film "The King Of Staten Island" and Judd Apatow, who directed the film. They also co-wrote the film.
The main character draws on Davidson's life. Davidson's father was a firefighter who died on 9/11 at ground zero when Davidson was 7. In the film, the character Scott is in his 20s, still traumatized by his father's death, who is a firefighter who died fighting a fire. But Scott is kind of stuck in adolescence, living at home with his mother, unable to focus on much outside of smoking weed and tattooing his friends. He has mental health problems and worries that he'll hurt somebody emotionally or physically. The people who care about him worry that he'll hurt himself. It's a drama with comedy.
So in the film, your character Scott says, there's something wrong with me. I'm mentally ill. I make impulsive decisions. I'm not OK up here. I get manic, crazy. I'm scared of myself. I don't want to hurt anyone. And he's telling this to his girlfriend, who really wants to be with him, but he's basically telling her, you really don't want to be with me because it's scary to be with me.
And then you, on Instagram - the real you, not the character you play - posted - and this was a while ago - I really don't want to be on this earth anymore. I'm doing my best to stay here for you, but I actually don't know how much longer I can last. All I've ever tried to do is help people. Just remember I told you so.
Have you had fans who've, like, really been worried about you because of things that you've said in character and as yourself?
DAVIDSON: You know, the thing about me is I'm very self-aware and sometimes a little too honest. And I think I have concerned people. And I'm not sure how to answer it, but I definitely am aware of it. Like, to me, being honest and open is, you know, the best thing you can do because there's, you know, nothing to hide. But yeah, I've definitely caused some concerns, and there's certainly some things I'm not proud of. But I think, you know, those are things that have taught me how to grow as a person.
GROSS: Why did you want to post that and say that publicly on Instagram?
DAVIDSON: It was at a time in my life where things were very hectic and a lot of pressure. And you know, there wasn't a lot of kindness in the air towards me. And I think I just folded under pressure. And I had a true moment of honesty where I reached out, and I needed some help. And I just needed some things to stop.
Now - you know, looking back, knowing that, you know, maybe posting something like that isn't the most mature thing you could do, there's certainly other ways to go about it. And I've definitely learned my lesson and know what steps to take to - even preventing myself from getting into a place like that. I didn't have the tools that I needed or the smarts that I needed or the information that I needed to prevent myself from getting into a position like that. But I'm really lucky that things like that have happened because now I know how to handle them.
GROSS: Were there consequences to posting it?
DAVIDSON: I assume so. You know, there's definitely consequences to all your actions. But I've been very lucky that the people in my life, especially Judd, you know, trust in me and love me and care about me. And I, you know, keep that close to my heart and, you know, just try to move forward and be as positive as I can.
GROSS: Judd, you've played such a key role in Pete Davidson's career. You cast him in "Trainwreck" as a result of Amy Schumer telling you you needed to see his work, that he was really funny. And then Bill Hader, who's the leading man of "Trainwreck," called Lorne Michaels of "Saturday Night Live" and told Lorne Michaels, like, you really need to see this guy. And that's how Pete Davidson got his audition and became a cast member. Judd, my impression of you - and we've talked several times before on our show - is that you just, like, really love discovering people and helping them. That's part of what you do. It's part of what you want to do.
J APATOW: Well, I'm a fan of comedy, first and foremost. So when I see somebody, I feel like I'm a kid again. You know, when I see Pete do stand-up, I don't think of him as a young person. It's like I'm the young person, and I'm seeing, you know, whatever, Michael Keaton on "The Mike Douglas Show" for the first time. I get really excited just to be exposed to someone who's great. It's the way you feel, you know, when you hear a band for the first time and you want to run out and get their record. And for me, that makes me want to spend time collaborating with them and helping them figure out how they can express their ideas and their artistic vision in whatever medium we're working in.
GROSS: Pete, you were the youngest cast member of "Saturday Night Live" when you started. You're still the youngest in the current cast. So as the youngest member of the cast and as the newcomer, what was life like for you when you started on "Saturday Night Live," trying to figure out who you were in the cast and how you fit in?
DAVIDSON: Well, I think I was still trying to figure out - and I am still trying to figure out - who I am as a person and as an adult. And I'm still, you know, growing and learning. But I was really lucky that I came in and people like Kenan and Kate and Lorne, they really were sensitive to my age and the position I was in. And everybody really made it really comfortable for me and a very easy transition to the cast. I felt like family immediately, and they do a really good job over there at that.
J APATOW: I think something that, you know, people don't talk much about is the pressure to be funny. I mean, it's really hard to deliver. You know, the first show that I worked on - the first series - I did "The Ben Stiller Show" with Ben. And I was 24 years old when we first started it, which is a little younger than Pete is now. And we only did 13 episodes. I had no idea how to make a TV show. I was so stressed out. I would sit in my room listening to self-help tapes, and I would read Stephen Covey's "7 Habits Of Highly Effective People." And then when I wasn't doing that, I was praying we would get canceled because I was so tired. And then we were canceled (laughter). My dream, sadly, came true.
But you know, me and Pete both started really early. But as a result, we got excellent opportunities early. But it's hard to be thrown from being basically a teenager into, you know, high-profile situations where you really have to come through. It is a real learning on the job.
GROSS: I'm trying to imagine you being a 24-year-old writing "The Ben Stiller Show" and reading all these self-help books (laughter).
J APATOW: Oh, I - the thing that bothered me the most - I mean, I was 24. Everybody on the crew was, like, 40 or 50 years old. And my biggest issue was I was just embarrassed to be the boss. I was embarrassed to even talk because I thought, everyone's looking at me like, why are you here? Why do you have this job? And I would - I agreed with them. I was like, clearly, something has gone wrong that I'm here running the show with Ben. But that is how a lot of us learn our craft is by getting chucked in the deep end and having to figure it out.
GROSS: Did the self-help books actually help?
J APATOW: You know, there was one tape I used to listen to. And it just said, over and over again, I am at peace with the world and everyone in it. I am at peace with the world and everyone in it. I wish you could see me right now because I am surrounded by self-help books. As I look down on the floor, I see a book that says, "Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life," by Dr. Wayne Dyer to figure all that stuff out.
GROSS: I can't even tell if you're kidding or not.
J APATOW: How could I be kidding? If...
DAVIDSON: He's not.
J APATOW: (Laughter) If I was kidding, would I tell you that I also have "The Parent's Tao Te Ching" right next to me and also the book "Five True Things: A Little Guide To Embracing Life's Big Challenges?" You think I'm making these up? They're everywhere. They surround me.
GROSS: (Laughter) Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guests are comic Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and star of the new movie "The King Of Staten Island," and Judd Apatow, who directed the film. Davidson and Apatow also co-wrote the film. We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF AMY RIGBY SONG, "PLAYING PITTSBURGH")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Pete Davidson, a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" who stars in the new film "The King Of Staten Island," and Judd Apatow, who directed the film. They both co-wrote the film. The main character draws on Davidson's life.
Peter, in the movie, your character's aspiration is to be a tattoo artist. And he's always tattooing his friends. Do you have a lot of tattoos yourself?
DAVIDSON: Yes, I'm pretty much covered at this point.
GROSS: What are they?
DAVIDSON: They're, like - they're from, you know, things about my dad to, you know, Stewie Griffin from "Family Guy." There's a wide array on my body.
J APATOW: (Laughter).
GROSS: Stewie Griffin from "Family Guy?" You're going to carry him...
GROSS: ...On you for the rest of your life?
DAVIDSON: Yeah, absolutely.
J APATOW: People think I have tattoos, but it's actually just an elaborate series of moles.
GROSS: I read - and you can tell me if this is true, Pete - that you got some of your tattoos to cover up where you cut yourself.
DAVIDSON: Yes. I got a bunch of those to, you know, fix that problem. But, you know, with a lot of work and, you know - like, just from going to rehabs and talking to doctors and, you know, just all this stuff has been so helpful, especially therapy.
J APATOW: I think, you know, one of the reasons why, you know, we wanted to make the movie about Pete - was excited to make the movie, you know, was to create, you know, a positive, hopeful story about somebody who, you know, starts opening up and getting support. You know, we were trying to do something that was uplifting and honest about the struggles that people go through.
And I know, you know, as a parent and being around so many kids, it really is an age where so many people are feeling so much anxiety and depression. And it feels so much worse than when I was a kid. I don't think we knew the word anxiety when I was a kid. No one said they were depressed.
GROSS: Do you think you were better off not having psychotherapeutic words and psychiatric diagnoses when you were growing up? Or do you wish you had it? I mean, you've been in therapy for a long time (laughter). So obviously you appreciate the benefits of therapy.
J APATOW: For me, I love all of it. I think everyone should go to the therapist. I think everyone should learn about their psychology. I think we're all traumatized in some way. I was talking about some of this with a friend the other day. And we were saying that, when we were kids - I went to high school on Long Island in the early '80s. There wasn't one person who came out of the closet the entire time we were in high school.
So you would assume five to 10% of our class of 500 people was gay. And they did not feel comfortable enough to express themselves to anybody around them. So you know, as a parent, you know, what I see is it's a completely different generation. And I think, in a lot of ways, it's so much healthier that people feel like they can talk about all of these things. And it, hopefully, leads to much happier lives because, certainly, forever, everyone felt like any of these issues, you know, were shameful. And you couldn't just be yourself.
GROSS: Judd, I think it was maybe in the Gary Goldman comedy special that you produced, where he said when he was growing up, the medication for depression was somebody saying cheer up (laughter).
J APATOW: Yes, exactly. Yeah. There was a lot of, stop crying or I'll give you a reason to cry.
GROSS: I remember that one (laughter).
J APATOW: Yeah. People generally weren't that interested in your deep feelings. People didn't sit you down and say, you know, what are you going through? How can I help you? You know, in high school, there wasn't a person that we would go to to say that we were struggling. You know, when I was a kid, a lot of our parents got divorced and it was very traumatic. And we literally just talked to each other. And we knew nothing. And you would just talk to your best friends and go, how are you doing with it? I don't know. What do you need? You want to sleep over? Like, we had no tools. I was actually telling the story to someone the other day about, when I was a kid, my parents got divorced. And I found this book in the house. It was called "Growing Up Divorced."
And I looked at it. And it was about, like, how families deal with divorce and the different ways it affects people. And it was helpful. And I thought it was my dad's book. And about two years ago, I said to my dad, you know, you never talked to me about how I was feeling. And he said, yeah, but I left that book out for you. And I was like, what? He's like, yeah, I left that book out for you to read. And I'm like, yeah, but you never asked me if I read the book. Like, there was no follow up. Like, did you learn anything from the book? So literally 40 years later is the first time he admitted that he left the book out and hoped that I read it. I actually read about eight pages.
GROSS: Pete, did comedy help you take your mind outside of your mind? You know, like, even though your comedy is a lot about yourself, it's still something to focus on outside of just, like, living in the neighborhood of your brain all the time and focusing on insecurities and doubts and problems. It's just so easy to go there when you're unoccupied.
DAVIDSON: Oh, yeah. Comedy is a beautiful escape. It really just, you know, frees my mind from, you know, focusing on things that might be upsetting to me. And I think it really helped me grow as a person. And I'm really grateful for comedy and having it in my life.
J APATOW: I think the thing that we all love about comedy is whenever anything bad happens, you know, for a normal person, it's just bad. But when a bad thing happens to a comedian, they go, this is going to make a good bit. And so any anything terrible in life actually has a positive function to a comedian.
GROSS: What's an example of that from your life, Judd?
J APATOW: Well, you know, for instance, I went to throw out the first pitch at the Mets game, and I was very nervous because I hadn't thrown a ball since I was 10 years old. And I looked at all these videos on TV, and so many amazing people had the most humiliating moment of their life throwing that ball. But as a comedian, I thought, well, if I throw it well, it's great. If I throw it terribly, it's a great story that I will immediately tell onstage at the Comedy Cellar. And, yes, it was a terrible throw into the dirt. And then someone found a picture of me doing it online. And I'm wearing cargo shorts, and I have the craziest look on my face, and my arms are flailing like Jerry Lewis. And when I did my Netflix special, I tell a seven-minute story about everything that went wrong throwing the first pitch.
GROSS: So, Pete, I read when you had your audition with Lorne Michaels for "Saturday Night Live" that he or someone else asked you, so what's your favorite sketch? And, like, you hadn't really watched the show (laughter) so you didn't really have one.
DAVIDSON: (Laughter) Yeah, I didn't - I didn't know it was still on. I was really young and, like, I was still watching "Spongebob" and, like, "Rocket Power" and all these, you know, kid shows on TV. So, like, to me, I was like, oh, my God, I can't - I was just so thrilled that I was, you know, able to even audition. But I knew, like, the Sandler - Sandler was my favorite comedian of all time, him and Eddie Murphy. So I was aware of all those sketches, but my favorite of all time is the Opera Man.
GROSS: You said you were still watching "SpongeBob" when you auditioned. You were 20.
DAVIDSON: I know. I love "SpongeBob." What can I say?
J APATOW: I love "SpongeBob." "SpongeBob's" in the movie. There's a scene where Pete's watching "Spongebob" and I didn't even know you liked "Spongebob." I put it in because I like "SpongeBob."
GROSS: (Laughter) Pete, you know, we've talked a lot about your father during the interview, and there's a lot about your character's father in the movie "The King Of Staten Island." Do you feel having made the movie that - and talked to his firefighter friends, some of whom are in the movie, that you can move past that a little bit now?
DAVIDSON: Oh, absolutely. This was the most, like, healthy experience I think I possibly could have had. And it's really a part of my life that I'm ready to move on from. And I think this was the perfect thing for it. And, yeah, I think it's time that I could move on from it.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank both of you for talking with us. Thank you for making the movie. Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, thank you both so much. Please be well.
J APATOW: Thank you. You too.
DAVIDSON: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Pete Davidson stars in the new film "The King of Staten Island." He co-wrote it with Judd Apatow, who also directed the film. It will be available on demand starting tomorrow. After we take a short break, film critic Justin Chang will review Spike Lee's new film about a group of black war vets who return to Vietnam decades later on a personal mission. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF RARE EARTH SONG, "HEY BIG BROTHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.