Pete Davidson has come a long way from his early days on Saturday Night Live. Though initially seen as an awkward addition to the venerable show’s cast, his boyish looks and blunt comedic style quickly won over fans. However, controversy has followed the Staten Island native both on and off screen. His 2018 diagnosis of borderline personality disorder shed light on past mental health struggles. A whirlwind romance and broken engagement with pop star Ariana Grande kept tabs spinning. Yet through it all, Davidson has leaned into his pain, wearing his heart on his sleeve during comedy sets filled with dark humor, raw vulnerability and occasional poor taste.
Davidson’s latest Netflix special, Turbo Fonzarelli, arrives three years after his last solo outing on the streaming giant. Shot in artsy black and white, it captures a pivotal point in the comedian’s life. Having recently exited SNL after an eight-year run, Davidson took the stage just days after celebrating his 30th birthday. Free from playing a character and the constraints of network TV, he unleashes his id without filter. As usual with Davidson, things get weird fast. Jokes toggle between self-deprecation, childhood trauma and sex. He introduces his mother’s vagina before the five-minute mark.
Signature bits mine humor from celebrity gossip, recreational drug use and his own chronic suicidal thoughts. While far from polished, the set offers perhaps the purest dose yet of Pete unbound. Love him or hate him, the curly-mopped jokester remains a perplexing figure. If nothing else, Turbo Fonzarelli promises a wild ride down the rabbit hole of Davidson’s unfiltered consciousness.
Inside Pete’s Dark Mind
Shot entirely in black and white, Turbo Fonzarelli instantly establishes an artsy, almost somber tone. The stage setup feels stripped down, with Davidson pacing a small area in front of a brick wall. Quick cuts, moody lighting and film grain effects aim for a retro aesthetic that evokes Andy Warhol’s screen tests. It’s certainly different than the usual bright, multi-camera comedy special format.
Yet as Davidson settles in, the shadowy surroundings prove fitting. Always one to mine the darkness, his set explores mental illness, childhood trauma and celebrity gossip with a mix of humor and emotional rawness. He candidly addresses a recent ketamine addiction used to self-medicate severe depression. An early joke imagines him stoned at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, disrespecting her legacy for a cheap laugh. Davidson later gets very real about surviving a dangerous stalker and the limitations of the legal system in protecting public figures.
Pop culture enthusiasts will enjoy Davidson’s tales of misadventures involving A-listers. A bit about befriending Machine Gun Kelly takes some crazy turns. Davidson also obsesses over a childhood crush on Leonardo DiCaprio that sparked early sexual confusion. And despite recently dating Kim Kardashian, he naturally finds time to clown on the reality star’s ex Kanye West.
However, the special’s main thread centers on Davidson’s struggle to accept adulthood. Having just turned 30, he spends much of the set worrying he hasn’t grown up enough, both emotionally and career-wise. Several chunks mock his youthful looks and clothing choices. He also questions whether his arrested development stems from losing his firefighter father on 9/11. In signature fashion, though, he mines this pain for laughs about his mom’s dormant sex life.
Pete Bares His Scars
Davidson wastes zero time setting the tone, opening with a bit about overdosing on ketamine. He admits to heavy recreational drug use to cope with mental health issues. This segues into a story about attending Aretha Franklin’s funeral while messed up. Davidson jokes about stumbling on stage and garbling, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” to her disgusted family. Beyond its shock value, the anecdote introduces major themes like grief, trauma and using comedy to process pain.
It also sets up several callback jokes. Later, Davidson says he related to Aretha growing up without his dad. He quips that if he dies young like her, his mom should alsoCash in on his legacy. This leads to a hilarious chunk about her needing more sex in the aftermath of 9/11 and his firefighter father’s death. In crude terms, Davidson jokes heartwarmingly about wanting his widowed mother to find happiness and pleasure again after two decades of grief.
Never one to shy away from offensive fare, Davidson mines plenty of material from taboo topics. An early bit about meeting a Make-A-Wish child leads to probably the special’s most divisive joke. Davidson admits he’s an odd celebrity for a terminally ill kid to choose. He then feigns outrage upon learning the boy passed before meeting him, joking “I was really looking forward to it!”
Davidson also shares crazy stories about a stalker, including incidents of sexual harassment played for uncomfortable laughs. His tales of involvement with the legal system will definitely trigger some viewers. But he walks the tightrope well, voicing compassion for his tormentor’s mental health struggles while recounting her frightening behavior.
Where the special shines brightest is Davidson’s willingness to showcase his own damage. He gets very personal about his borderline personality disorder, tracing its origins to childhood bullying and his dad’s death on 9/11. A recurring bit also obsesses over wanting facial tattoos before age 40. Davidson explains he feels behind in maturity compared to friends and colleagues. He worries his copious marijuana use has fried his brain and stunted emotional growth.
While still a work in progress, Turbo Fonzarelli shows promising evolution in Davidson’s ability to channel personal pain into poignant comedy. Behind all the dick jokes lies an endearing vulnerability. The peek beneath his manic, reckless exterior reveals genuine trauma. And Davidson deserves credit for trying to make sense of his mental illness and loss in such a public, raw manner rather than hide it. Willingness to court controversy has always been part of his chaotic appeal. But more and more, his authenticity and courage to expose wrestling inner demons take center stage.
The Art of Pete
As a stand-up, Pete Davidson has always defied easy categorization. His shaggy, stoner persona and punchy one-liners evoke classic slacker comedy. Yet focusing solely on laughs underestimates his ambition. While more polished peers like John Mulaney and Hasan Minhaj craft intricate set-ups with surgical punchlines, Davidson meanders messily through free-associated stories, crowd work and intense personal disclosures. His sets unfold more like a raw therapy session than an expertly rehearsed routine.
And that’s exactly why an audience engages so deeply with his comedy, whether cheering him on or howling in outrage. Every show becomes community theater therapy, with the crowd literally going along for the ride as Davidson processes his trauma on stage. Not many comedians dare getting so real about struggles with mental illness, family trauma and suicidal thoughts. Say what you will about him, but Davidson deserves major credit for moving stand-up comedy culture in a more authentic direction.
Of course, he still has plenty of room to grow on the technical side. Veteran talents like Chappelle and Burr entrance with masterful comedic timing, facial expressions and body language. Their theatricality and precision help sell jokes. In contrast, Davidson seems fidgety in his own skin on stage, pacing awkwardly and lacking these refined performative skills. Greater comfortability will hopefully develop over time and translate into a commanding presence that better complements his extremely personal material.
For now though, Pete Davidson has carved out a unique niche that’s resonating deeply. He represents a new generation of stand-up – one that values radical vulnerability and confession over well-honed gags. Turbo Fonzarelli shows glimmers of a more mature style still coming into focus. While he hasn’t matched his potential yet, it’s getting hard to look away.
What’s Next for Pete?
For all its flaws, Turbo Fonzarelli makes one thing clear – Pete Davidson contains multitudes. While often written off as a goofy pothead coasting on fame from his relationships, the glimpses behind the curtain reveal genuine wisdom. Davidson possesses emotional intelligence far beyond his years. Yes, he can still improve greatly on structural elements more common in stand-up. Tighter writing and editing would help realize his potential faster as well.
Yet at its best, Davidson’s comedy surpasses mere jokes to achieve cultural insights. Beneath the dick and fart humor lies profound millennial angst. His willingness to probe agony few publicly acknowledge makes Davidson a true generational voice. Who else speaks so openly about depression, addiction and the link between childhood trauma and arrested development? It takes bravery and nerves to mine such personal material for laughs. Say what you will, but this style clearly resonates with audiences.
So while Turbo Fonzarelli contains misfires and stretches past its welcome, Davidson deserves encouragement to keep nurturing his voice. We need more radically vulnerable comedians exploring life’s darkest corners through humor. As his recent acting roles and increased tabloid notoriety prove, the world remains fascinated by Davidson’s chaotic energy. Still very much a work in progress, one senses his best years lie ahead if he continues down this path.
Pete Davidson: Turbo Fonzarelli
Turbo Fonzarelli reinforces Pete Davidson as one of comedy’s most exciting and polarizing voices. Those craving polished joke writing should look elsewhere. But willingess to bare his soul so candidly deserves applause. Behind all the immaturity and poor taste lies authentic wisdom. Davidson speaks eloquently to millennial struggles with trauma, mental health and emotional stagnation. His therapy session style blazes a promising path for stand-up’s evolution. While still inconsistent, Davidson’s potential as a generational truth-teller shines bright.
- Raw emotional vulnerability and willingness to get very personal
- Addresses important themes like mental health, grief, etc.
- Davidson's natural charisma and offbeat humor
- Some very funny highlight bits (Make-A-Wish joke, mom's sex life, etc.)
- artsy black and white visual style
- Overlong runtime leads to some dull stretches
- Comedy writing is loose and unstructured
- Immature, offensive jokes alienate some viewers
- Lacks polish and precision of more veteran stand-up acts